The co-CEO of Sakara Life -- a wellness company that offers plant-rich meal delivery programs and other products and services aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle -- Danielle DuBoise "is on a mission to transform lives."
Modern Luxury sat down with DuBoise and discussed how she met co-founder Whitney Tingle, their goal with Sakara Life, what it means to "eat clean, play dirty" and even debunked a big plant-based diet myth.
Read our full Q&A below.
For those of who aren't familiar with your brand, can you give us an introduction?
I usually like to explain it starting with our mission. We are on a mission to transform lives and put people in the driver seat of their health. So ultimately, what Sakara is, is we give you the tools to sit in the driver's seat of your health, whether it's food supplements [or] lifestyle tips.
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How did you meet your co-founder Whitney, and what brought you to the wellness space?
Whitney and I have known each other since we were little kids, seventh grade, and we grew up in a small town in Arizona that's kind of very new agey. She was a new kid in class, and I offered to let her borrow a pencil or something like that. We were literally best friends ever since. What brought us this mission is using this food and this technology, really, to help us transform our own lives. It wasn't a business when we started it. It was our own solution to our own needs. And Whitney was dealing with pretty bad cystic acne. Not pretty bad. It was really severe. It was all over her face. It was really painful. She was dealing with major scarring, which you can imagine affects everything from your sense of self to confidence to how you show up in work life and personal life … And it started when we were kids. My journey was a lot more around yoyo, dieting, disordered eating patterns, my relationship to my plate as a young woman, learning that your worst is wrapped up in how you look and your thinness. I just went to dieting. I think I started dieting around the age of nine … I have a little girl, and it just breaks my heart to even think about that. It really put us on a mission to heal ourselves. She moved here to work on Wall Street. I came here to study medicine, and the stresses of life at that young age made everything worse. So her acne was at an all time worse. My relationship to my plate was at an all time worse, and we both hit rock bottom … We started Sakara [when] we were 25. I had just come out of nutrition school. Whitney was trying to start her career at that time. We studied nutrition and we just came together and said, let's transform our lives. And we built this nutrition program and this meal planning schedule, and we cooked ourselves and ourselves, which is a lot of work, but the results were so transformative that it put us on this mission.
Did you grow up cooking in the kitchen?
No. And people ask me all the time, they're like, okay, how do you make this? And I'm like, I don't know. This is why I started this company. Because truly, something just happened to our fridge here in the office the other day, and it went out. And so all my meals went bad overnight. And I literally don't know what people do when they don't. And I recognize it's a very privileged thing to say, but for someone who is conscious of their health, wants to do the best for their health and make good choices, which so many people I know are, you go out into the world and it's virtually impossible. You have to be on the defense everywhere you go. So I just put it to the side and I eat whatever when I have to. But yeah, it's such a life changer, a game changer, to have your nutrition ready to eat, waiting for you absolutely, completely changes the structure of your life.
Could you tell me more about the concept of “eat clean, play dirty”?
Yes, it's one of our core sentiments, and it's ultimately how I help people not hop on the bandwagon of diet mentality and diet culture and not use Sakara as a diet, because anything can be a diet if you create your own rules around something so equally.And play dirty is this idea that joy is a nutrient. So sometimes that glass of wine, those French fries, that extra three slices of pizza, whatever your thing is, brings you joy. And that itself is a nutrient. And we have to fill up on that, too. There [are] no rules at Sakara, there's no list of things that you can't eat. We call it “eat clean, play dirty.” And that sense of play is also a nutrient and cleanness. And I will tell you that studies show that guilt has real biological impact. That it actually makes the food worse for you than if you would just enjoy it. Our bodies are amazing and can counteract quote, toxins with how we approach them.
Walk me through just a typical day in the life of being a founder of a company.
Oh, my gosh. It's mayhem. I'm not going to lie. I have two young children. We have a big team. We have just about 300 employees. We deliver all over the country. I've been CEO since we started. And it's very different running a business when you started and you have to do everything. So now with people doing everything and we have to manage the people, it's very different skills. It's [a] very different prioritization. So I learned something every day. My schedule is like back to back to back to back … The culture here at Sakara, even though we have an amazing culture and unlimited vacation days and no guilt if you need to take time off, we all just kind of like eat together and work together all the time. Except I try [to] always drop my kids off at school since I can't be there for pickup. Come to the office, run around, do fun things like this. Little finance meetings, operational meetings, strategy meetings, innovation meetings. And then as founder, I'm like, I think someone who's just coming in as a CEO, like you care so much, almost to a fault, where I probably don't need to be in half the meetings I'm in. But you care so much to a fault. But that's a learning curve too, because you also never want to get in the way of the amazing team that you hire. And then I try to be home for dinner in the kitchen.
What are some myths about plant-based diets that you like to debunk?
Myths? Plant based does not mean vegan. We have a term for vegan. We don't need another one. The whole point of plant based is you base your diet on plants. It doesn't need to mean that you are only plants. And again, it's one of the reasons we started using it was because it wasn't restrictive. And I think unfortunately, it's become kind of overused and misused. And now it's just another restrictive approach to health. And studies show if you can get 30 different plants into your diet every single week, that then you can start to optimize your gut. Plant based diet means optimizing your gut with plant rich nutrients.
How has working with influencers or content creators or even celebrities influence the growth?
The most beautiful thing about being in this work is that we have the opportunity to transform lives. And so the marketing engine, so to speak, kind of runs itself. Because if I get to transform a life, they want to tell everyone, like, you know how it is. If you find something that really works, whether it's nail polish that never chips or food that really changes your life, you want to share it. And so that's been a really beautiful part of growing the brand, is watching people want to be in service to other people. And I think that's why the community here is so strong, because you want to help people, you want to be in service. I think that's an innate desire for all of us. And so when you find something that works, you want to share it. So it's been amazing to watch other people share their experience with Sakara, because my story inspires some people, but they might not see themselves in my story. So when you share your story, you're inspiring someone who sees them crossing you with it. Whatever issues you were going through, you needed to overcome.
What is your favorite meal right now?
I just had our waffles. They are so good. I had them as a snack because I was out [all] morning. They've been on the menu for so long. They're delicious. We also just came up with this new meal that I asked our chefs to create. I was inspired by some film noir movies, and I asked them to come up with, like, a totally black and white meal from all of them. They did. And it's so good. It's, like, made with hummus. And they use this black sesame dressing.
You often say there’s no such thing as “falling off the wagon.” Could you tell us more about that?
That's really back to that “eat clean, play dirty” sentiment. Diet taught me to count calories and carbs and points and pounds, and they never taught me how to build a body that I felt really good in. And then to keep that feeling. Like, if I want to feel and look into my body, I have to do extreme things and either restrict or count or measure. And it's such a joyless and stressful way of living. And you constantly feel like if you don't follow the rules and you are failing, you are falling off the wagon. And I like to feel like it's just life. There's literally no wagon to fall off of. Someone just told us that and we believed it.
Where does the name come from?
The name of it is a Sanskrit word and it means with form. The manifestation of all of our thoughts and things giving it form and for us, food as the foundation was really what allowed us to reach for our dreams. It’s like taking all your hopes and dreams and bringing them to fruition. How do you do that? And for us, it was nourishing taking care of ourselves, and I think it was a big learning curve that that's where it always has to start, no matter what you're trying to call it.
What advice would you give someone who is just beginning their health journey and their wellness journey?
Two [possibly] contradicting things. One is no one knows your body [like] you. And the goal of putting [yourself] in the driver's seat is to review that. That idea of a gut feeling is real and it comes from a healthy gut. The more you can create and cultivate a healthy gut, the more we call it body. A tip in to what your body is telling you instead of what most guys tell you, which is like how to curb cravings and blah, blah, blah. How do we listen, how do we tune in? Because our body is always talking to us. And then two is find the right practitioners. We might know ourselves the best, but whether it's our health or our kids or our family or our mental health, we all need help sometimes. And find the practitioners that know you are the expert on your body are fine if you ask questions, don't bully you into doing things.
Did being a mom change your perspective of health, wellness or balanced diet?
I just have so much respect for parents. It's so hard to prioritize yourself. However, you can make it easy, so you have to make less decisions for sure. And then sadly, on the other hand, it also made me realize how unfair our food system is, that healthy food is a right, it should not be a privilege, and how not having access to healthy food perpetuates with ADHD, and we're linking that to things like food additives and coloring. But those are the foods that are provided in underserved communities and neighborhoods. So we do a lot of work, help educate families, schools, [and] communities.
What is your favorite dish to order when you're dining out that is equally delicious and nutritious?
I don't know about nutritious. Usually when I go out, I enjoy it. It's very hard to find a restaurant that's serving organic food, not using soybean, corn oil … In New York City, you walk by all the restaurants, and so you're seeing what's getting delivered in the kitchen. It's like the salad dressing is … is a vegetable oil. So even a salad is not likely healthy. So just enjoy it. Order what sounds good and then cook at home. Order Sakara, do what you can to take care of yourself when you're not out and about. But what would I order? I mean, I love pizza [and] a good cheese plate is hard to say no to.
What are your favorite ways to just stay motivated and to eat healthy?
At this point, it's a non-negotiable for my mental health and what allows me to do the things I want to do. For so long, my diet was, like, the center of my life, and now it's just the thing I do so I can go live life. And I think that's a really important transition that I want to help a lot of people go through. We can become obsessive, think that our lives are going to change if we look this way, but once we kind of find what works and do it, it's like, I don't want to not feel this good. So it's not even like I don't even think about it because I feel so good eating this way. But to not eat this way would be like, why would I do that to myself? Because then I don't get to go do all the things that I do and have all the energy.
Favorite NYC restaurant?
Three quick tips for eating healthy on a budget?
I would say farmers markets are a really affordable way to find cheaper produce. As you think about how much it costs to take a plant, a vegetable, whatever it is from a farm, put it in a truck, cold truck, then get it to a grocery store near you and then get it off the shelf … Our apples are from Peru. It's so expensive to get food to the grocery stores, and we pay that. If you can go to [a] farmers market, you get to not only support local farmers, but you get a cheaper price. Find the things, buy the things organic where you eat either the whole thing, including the rind. So things like greens, things like strawberries, things like apples, pears, where you eat the whole thing, splurge [on] organic. But there are things like bananas, oranges, things like that, where you don't eat the whole thing. The other thing … we do a lot here, and we talk about a lot here … Make sure you're eating enough minerals. Our water is really strict to minerals. It has to go through a lot of processes to be clean. It's stripped and then it's full of chlorine. Make sure you have a water filter. And then we have our beauty water drops to remineralize your water.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy Of The Brand