3 Times Best Selling Cook Book Author Danielle Walker
photography | JENNIFER SKOGSource:
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), one in five people suffer from autoimmune diseases, with women more likely than men to be affected. For some who get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it can be a scary, new chapter in their lives. But it does not have to be. I had a great conversation with Danielle Walker, who is the author and photographer for the New York Times Best Selling cookbook, Against All Grain. Danielle Walker, who is also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, wanted to show others suffering from all types of diseases or allergies, that they can still eat amazing meals, and have a full and healthy life.
When were you diagnosed with your autoimmune disease, and did you feel the effects growing up?
I was diagnosed at 22. Surprisingly, I did not have any symptoms growing up and there weren’t any warning signs. It just kind of came on overnight. I started getting intestinal kind of issues for a couple of months. When things were not starting to get better, I started having doctors take a look. After quite few different tests and seeing a few specialists, I finally got a diagnosis. It was a very quick process.
During the process, did you have some misdiagnosis or doctors not knowing what’s going on?
Yes, I did. I had to see about 5 or 6 different specialists before it was finally diagnosed. It was a frustrating and confusing process, and somewhat frightening. I heard all types of explanations like, such as, you may have Colon Cancer and we may have to do some screening, and you just may need to eat more fiber. So, when you’re faced with questions and no answers, you start to go down the rabbit trail and self-diagnose yourself. You get online and start to read about all different sources and start wondering if you have this or that. It was definitely a frightening time, and really confusing.
Were you married when you found out you had an autoimmune disease?
Yes, we actually just got married. My husband was my high school sweetheart and we graduated college. I was diagnosed two months after we got married.
How did you husband handle the news— because I know it is a life changing thing? You have to watch everything your health now, and worry about the foods you eat and about cross contamination.
My husband was extremely supportive. He was my advocate during the diagnosis process and throughout everything. He was there for me through all the doctor’s visits, managing my care and demanding all the answers we needed. He was incredible, always there and very supportive. He handled the dietary changes and the sickness, especially how incapacitated I was for a while, which I am sure took a heavy toll and affected him. He was my rock, he dealt with the emotional side of it kind of on his own, because he never wanted to share it with me. He did not want me to deal with everything else. He was so strong through it, it was incredible.
Wow, that is great and interesting. Now with the food, were you a chef before creating all these meals to not affect your autoimmune disease, or did you just like cooking?
To be quite honest, I was not too into cooking. I had a mom and a grandmother who did all the cooking when I was growing up and since I was young and just graduated college, I was not doing too much in the kitchen. I was just doing convenience cooking. The cooking was really borne out of necessity. I was not a chef or anything, I studied marketing in college, but because there were not much that I could eat when I realized I needed to change my diet and my lifestyle, I just went into the kitchen and started experimenting and creating things. It was a lot of trial and error and I just taught myself.
Tell us some of your favorite dishes you created so far.
Wow, it so hard to pick. I probably created over 700/800 recipes, since I started. Some of the things that I love, are the things I missed eating when I was growing up. For instance, I created a grain and dairy free lasagna. I have always had fond memories of Lasagna from my grandmother and mother. kind of that comfort food. Some sweets, that are big favorites of ours, is this chocolate chip cookie recipe that has become a big fan favorite, and something I love making with my kids and something they love to have after dinner. Those are two of my favorites that we make often.
Your book is a heaven sent to many of your readers who suffer from autoimmune disease and other things that limit what they can eat and can’t seem to get a great tasting meal, because it triggers their symptoms. What are some of the feedback you have gotten from your readers and followers?
I have 3 books now, even though, after the first one, I didn’t think I would ever do more. I thought that was it. I did not know I would have the chance to continue writing them. So, when I did the first one, I really put my heart and soul into it and wanted to make it an all-inclusive book, where people can get it and feel that this is all they need for the rest of their life. They can cook from it every day and still enjoy food. They can open it and feel like they can enjoy food again. They can feel that food does not have to be boring and bland. That is feedback I am getting from everyone. The book re-introduces a lot of joy back into people’s kitchens; into their families and they don’t feel deprived, as they thought they were going to have to when they got their diagnosis, or when they found out they are going to have to change their diets. It’s great when they realize they can enjoy food again. They can go to holiday parties and bring the food that people can enjoy and still have those memories and emotions tied to it— just made slightly different. That is definitely the best feedback. Of course, the ultimate goal of having all this food and having things laid out is, that people feel better. The overwhelming response is, that people’s lives are changing because they were spending so much time sick, and in the doctor’s office. Now they are able to get back to their normal life, and feeling better. They are also enjoying their family again and just eating good food, which is what everybody wants.
With so many great things that have happened since you have been diagnosed, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment since?
Well, all three of my books have become best sellers. In terms of professional, that is my biggest accomplishment. But honestly, on a personal level, getting to hear from the millions of people who have had their lives changed because of my work.
Congrats on that, both professional and personal. That is inspiring. What advice do you have for people who have been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and finding out that the way they eat, has to completely change?
Well first of all, autoimmune disease is triggered by stress, so my first advice would be to try to minimize any stress. Just try to work through it, breathe and know that it is not the end of your life, you can still be vibrant, healthy and happy. Just do not give up. I think it easy to just feel like you have to give in to the disease but there are definite ways to fight it and have a healthy and happy life.
It was great speaking with you, and this was so very informative.
Thank you, It was great speaking to you as well.