Over ten years, thousands of recipes, and three NYT Bestselling cookbooks, Danielle has become a beacon of hope in the autoimmune world, helping millions of readers suffering from disease, allergies, or chronic ailments find freedom and experience deep healing. Now, in Food Saved Me, Danielle pens her first memoir, reflecting on the journey that brought her here: a decade-long cycle of diagnosis, trauma, debilitating sickness, remission, recovery, setbacks, hope, and healing.
Can you tell us, who is Danielle Walker?
I’d say she’s a survivor that’s passionate about spreading the word of how food has the ability to heal us from within.
Your journey is one of inspiration and amazing resilience, can you tell us a bit about your background and journey?
When I was 22, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects your digestive system. After several hospitalizations and multiple doctors telling me that my life would be one full of medications and hospital visits, I decided to do my own research and look into alternative ways to heal my body. I started looking into the food that I was eating and began to do intensive research into my symptoms in correlation with diet. I learned that I could manage my symptoms and live a normal, active life, however – I didn’t want to commit to eating a bland salad or steamed vegetables for every meal! The kitchen became my laboratory when I couldn’t find the resources that we have available now and I knew that what I was doing for me would be helpful to another person experiencing the same thing. I started a small blog to share the recipes I was creating and that’s what I’ve been doing for fourteen years now.
Let’s talk a bit about your book, “Food Saved Me,” what is the motivation behind it?
There were moments in my journey when I honestly felt (even though I knew it was impossible) that I was the only person going through this specific experience. My prayer is that my story inspires and provides hope to everyone who has ever felt betrayed by their body. When you’re diagnosed with a life-long, debilitating disease, it’s easy to kind of give up and say “This is it. This is my life from now on!” I immediately felt that things were just out of my control and there was nothing I could do about it. My faith and the unwavering support of my husband Ryan helped carry me through those times when all I wanted to do was wallow in self-pity and resign myself to my diagnosis. I want my story and my journey to be that support for someone else; to be that voice that says, “you got this and it’s not the end of life as you know it, it’s just different.”
You speak about having taken back your life, from suffering to healing. Can you explain a few ways you did that and what lead you to take control of yourself and your life/well-being?
I first started by asking a million questions. It’s the very first step that I took to feel like it wasn’t just me going along with my diagnosis and accepting a fate of living a life committed to medications with debilitating side effects, sometimes effects that were even worse than the disease itself! Asking questions, however silly or redundant they may sound, seems like a simple action but it placed me in an active role in my road to recovery. I also had a strong support system in my husband and family and establishing that foundation from the beginning was crucial to all of my eventual successes.
I was driven to take control because of my desire to live a full, active life. I grew up in a family with strong traditions that involve food in some way. My fondest memories are of me cooking with my grandmother and mother and I want my kids to have those memories too. It warms my heart to think of my recipes being passed down for generations, allowing everyone, regardless of dietary restrictions, to come together and create fun, new memories.
How has the response been when sharing your story?
It’s been overwhelming, to say the least. In Food Saved Me, I was able to add hundreds of testimonials from people like me that have been able to turn their health around by committing to changing how they fuel their body. And not just digestive diseases. There are stories from others in the book with everything from Multiple Sclerosis to Diabetes, to chronic migraines to Rheumatoid Arthritis.
It’s always a privilege when readers email me their stories or share them in the comments on my social media. I am continuously amazed that people trust my recipes and feel comfortable in sharing what can sometimes be incredibly personal and/or painful to divulge. But in every story shared is the collective narrative of keeping hope alive and listening to your body and what works best for you.
What is the most important part of your message for people with chronic illness and autoimmune diseases?
I say it would be to always ask questions, don’t be afraid to seek second opinions, and listen to what your body is telling you. And also, what works best for one person may not work for the other, so it might be a continuous process of trial and error until you find a system that best agrees with your specific dietary needs.
What advice would you give someone that is struggling with chronic health issues that modern medicine cannot help?
I would say don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and search for alternative ways. Become your own advocate, and always be active in your own healing.
You’re an advocate for self-care and taking care of our bodies. What are some of your daily routines, when it comes to self-care? Why becoming your personal advocate, is so important?
I like to get up before the kids and have some alone time to gather my thoughts for the day or catch up on some reading. While at first, I wasn’t a fan of getting up earlier than what I already had to, I’ve really come to enjoy those quiet thirty minutes or so when it’s just me and a warm cup of coffee or bone broth. I’m also slightly obsessed with my Peloton bike; after my hospitalization in 2019 I had to slowly work my way back to any kind of activity and I’m happy to say that I’m back to riding a few times a week. It’s such a testament to how our bodies can recover and come back even stronger than before.
What would you like people to gain from this amazing interview?
If I were to summarize my goal in one word, it would be “hope.” Through my story and so many others that have traversed the same complicated journey of dietary needs, I just want to provide hope. My wish is that the readers of Food Saved Me will relate to and take comfort in the fact that yes, making huge long-term change is hard, but it’s not impossible and it gets easier.
Do you have any last words that you would like to share?
Be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process of finding what works best for you.
Featured Image provided by Danielle Walker