Paleo Guru Danielle Walker

Writer and blogger Danielle Walker is living proof that a restricted diet doesn’t have to feel restrictive at all. When she was twenty-two, Walker was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that led her to make serious changes to her eating habits — going gluten-free, grain-free and Paleo — which had incredible effects on how she felt. Ever since then, she’s been spreading the word. What started as a blog of recipes called Against All Grain, turned into a cookbook…and then three more.

Her recipes prove healthy eating never has to be bland, and you can still get creative in the kitchen while avoiding grains, lactose, and legumes. Walker gave us restaurants, kitchen staples, and even alcoholic beverage options that make going Paleo seem much more do-able…

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day? 

I’d love to start out with poached eggs over spinach and avocado with hollandaise smothered on top, a big side of fruit, and an (caffeinated) almond milk latte. But I rarely have time for anything that fancy so I usually have a smoothie or a couple of pasture-raised eggs pan-fried in ghee and a banana. Plus a cup of decaf (I’m breastfeeding) with cashew or almond milk.

For lunch, I would eat a fun new salad every day if I could. The Barbecue Chicken Salad recipe from my Meals Made Simple cookbook is my current crush. The dairy-free ranch dressing on there is my absolute favorite! I also really love my Thai Salad with Shrimp and Spicy Almond Dressing.

For dinner, I would choose to go with seafood, like a nice piece of wild salmon with sautéed vegetables and maybe some sweet potatoes roasted in ghee and garlic, or just a simple comforting soup. The Leftover Roast Chicken and Vegetable Soup from my blog is a current staple with the cold, rainy weather we have been having.

You didn’t ask about dessert, but I’m a sweets girl so either a piece of dark (like 85% or higher) chocolate or one of my Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I make them mini-sized now so I don’t eat too many!  

How do you practice beauty from the inside out?

I eat a paleo diet, so that is my number one way to take care of myself. I am a Mother of two, so I don’t get as much time for myself as I’d like. I do love to take walks with my five-month-old in the morning when the fog is still thick and I can just spend some time being quiet.  

What are your morning and nightly beauty routines? 

I don’t wear much makeup during the day, but when I do, I remove it night with coconut oil. I swear that stuff has dozens of uses! Otherwise, just a quick wash of my face with a mild soap and then a thin moisturizer is my standard routine.  

What’s your personal mantra? 

Do what works best for you. I’m in an industry where certain diets or workouts are pushed hard, all the time, and it can be a little too abrasive for me at times. I came to this way of eating because it was what was best for me and my body. I try to share my story to help others, but never force it on anyone or make them feel like they are wrong if they don’t eat that way. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet in my opinion.  

How did you convince yourself to completely change your diet at the age of twenty-two? 

I was diagnosed with a very debilitating autoimmune disease at twenty-two. The medications were making my symptoms worse, and I spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Through my own research, I found that diet could help, so I took matters into my own hands and changed my diet, despite all of my doctors saying it would not prevent or cure my disease. I saw a drastic improvement and knew that I had to stick with it if I wanted to be able to enjoy my life, my family, and food, and not be completely ruled by my illness.

What do you find to be the best health benefits to going paleo? 

Paleo cuts out processed foods, along with grains and dairy, which are all culprits of inflammation. So many of the ailments in our country are inflammatory-based, so people can find relief from a variety of illnesses. There are so many different things that people are using a paleo diet to help – from simple things like sleep or headaches, to autoimmune diseases.

If people are looking for a weight loss option, is paleo a good fit? 

People that choose this lifestyle tend not to focus on the weight loss, but rather on the fact that they are transforming their bodies into the healthiest version of themselves. However, yes, many people find they lose weight when they cut out all of the refined sugars, and processed foods. I think when you start really paying attention to what you are eating, where it is coming from, and what is in it, you make more conscious choices and naturally lose some weight. If you are focusing on weight loss, then paleo is a great choice in conjunction with a good workout routine.

Did you find going paleo affected your skin positively? How so? 

I have to be honest; I got good skin from my mama. I rarely had breakouts before going paleo, so I’m not sure that I would have noticed a difference myself. That being said, I have a ton of followers that use this lifestyle to decrease symptoms from things like rosacea, psoriasis, and acne and they have all noticed a huge difference.

Your favorite, easy, at-home paleo breakfasts anyone can make? Lunch? Dinner? 

I missed a good hearty bowl of oatmeal after first making the switch, so my Banana Nut Porridge is a favorite. It’s super simple to make and is so nice on a cold morning! My Italian Baked Eggs are also really easy to make and always a crowd-pleaser. I use almond meal, coconut milk, and tomato paste to create a tomato-cheese-like sauce that is so delicious.

I find salads are easiest for lunch, or leftovers from dinner. I love to cut up a bunch of vegetables and cook extra protein the night before for dinner so I can throw something together quickly. I always keep a bottle of homemade salad dressing in the fridge.

For dinner, try to utilize your slow cooker to take some of the stress out of mealtime prep. The Sesame-Orange Chicken from my first cookbook, Against all Grain, is a huge fan-favorite. Serve it over some cauli-rice and you have a meal!

What five items are essential to have in a paleo kitchen? 

Coconut oil, a spiralizer, a good blender, and lots of fresh produce and grass-fed or pastured raised proteins.

Could you give us your favorite restaurants in NYC, LA and San Francisco for paleo options? 

I tend to not seek out paleo or gluten-free restaurants, but prefer to find restaurants that are known for good quality food and then make modifications if I need to. Thankfully, so many places these days are familiar with this way of eating and easily can accommodate you. Answering this question makes me realize that I really need to get out to eat more when I travel. I started picking hotels based on how good their room service was because I’m always so spent at the end of the day that I don’t want to sit through dinner.

In New York, Hu Kitchen (which actually is a paleo restaurant) is one of my favorite places to stop in on each trip. I also just had lunch at the Little Beet Table, which was great! Freeman’s has been on my list forever, so I’m hoping to get in there when I’m back in the spring.

It’s been so long since I’ve eaten in the LA scene (we went to college down there but that was way before my days of paleo and I ate “college” food) but I think it’s fun to eat at Cafe Gratitude to try some of their innovative concoctions and a lot of it tends to be paleo friendly. I hear Patina in downtown knows paleo well and has a menu that caters to it, so I’ll have to try that next time I’m back!

If we’re going for something casual in San Francisco, Roam burgers is fantastic and has grass-fed beef as well as some other more unusual options for burgers. They also serve gluten-free buns or do them lettuce wrapped. We also like The Plant or Pacific Catch for something quick. Limon Rotisserie in the Mission makes an amazing Peruvian-style chicken, or for a nicer meal, I love the fresh seafood at La Mar, or the hearty fare at Park Tavern.

What’s your advice to someone that’s gone paleo for two weeks and is having thoughts like, “When will this feel normal?” or “When will the bread cravings stop?” 

Keep at it. It’s really tough in the beginning, but the more you flip-flop, the harder it will be to commit. Give it at least a month to start, of no cheating. Then reassess and see if you’ve noticed any significant improvements. If you have, focus on those to keep propelling forward and don’t look back! Try new recipes a couple of times a week to keep things fresh and exciting, but depend on a few staples the other nights at first to make things less daunting and overwhelming.

Is there such a thing as Paleo alcohol? If so what is it? If not what’s the lesser of two evils? 

Well, that’s best decided by the individual. If you are really trying to eat like a caveman, then the answer would be no. But most of us in this movement are just trying to revert to traditional foods, not foraging or hunting our own food, so there’s room for a little fun once in a while. When I drink, I go for wine because it’s grain-free. I’m partial to a Cabernet or Petit Syrah. I also love tequila and mezcal, which come from a plant so you’re safe there. I have a killer margarita recipe on my site that swaps the sugar-laden syrups and liquor for honey-syrup and is a hugely popular recipe. Some people like to drink hard cider as well.

In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s ‘the new potato’ in wellness? 

Bone broth, aka your Grandma’s good old-fashioned chicken stock!

Read Danielle’s full Paleo Diet Guide and check out her tips for dining out on the Paleo diet

*Danielle Walker, photographed in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.