In The Path, we spotlight different women making a difference in the fashion, beauty, wellness, and medical aesthetics industries. Here, Sakara® Life founders Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle shares their roads to success.
It was never Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle’s plan to start an organic meal delivery service. They never intended to be the talk of the town, grace Forbes’® “30 Under 30” list, or dine with Oprah. They never envisioned writing a bestselling cookbook or calling Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen clients, and they certainly never planned to change lives through food. Yet since founding Sakara Life in 2012, that’s exactly what these ladies have done.
Duboise and Tingle, both 33, have been best friends since attending grade school together in Sedona, Arizona. After moving to New York City in their early twenties, where they embarked on two very different career paths (Tingle in the demanding world of finance, Duboise with medical school), the two young woman hit serious low points in their lives.
Duboise’s rock bottom came from a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, beginning from around age nine. “It’s my earliest memory,” she recalls. “I learned how to count calories and carbs, but what I did not learn is how to build a body I felt really good about.” As a med student, Duboise was working with a cardiologist at St. Luke’s® Hospital, where she witnessed patients struggling with late-stage lifestyle diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, many of which could have been improved by living more healthfully. Around the same time, she embarked on a 21-day retreat back in Arizona that included a weeklong water fast. “My body retaliated, and I ended up really sick and in the hospital back in New York,” Duboise recalls.
That moment that really hit home for her. “I had been dieting for so long, trying to create this body that I thought I had to have and wanted to have, jumping on all these different bandwagons to get it,” she explains. Her experiences working in health and managing her own health issues were a sign: “What I really needed to do was get back to food as medicine, so I went on to study nutrition,” says Duboise. “Luckily, Whitney was at rock bottom with me, so I wasn’t lonely down there,” she quips.
Tingle’s downward spiral came from a decade-long battle with cystic acne that started well before she moved to New York. “I literally tried everything you could possibly imagine,” she says. “I bought every cream and treatment from all of the infomercials; I bought everything from the store that promised me clear skin; [I took] prescriptions for hormone pills and rounds and rounds of antibiotics; and I did isotretinoin too, which is a very serious drug, and none of it was working.” It soon occurred to Tingle that she needed to find the root cause of her acne, rather than just treat the end result.
[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any medication.]
“No one was asking me what I was eating, if I was stressed, if I was drinking water, or even if I was going to the bathroom regularly,” she shares. Once she moved to New York for her career, though, her skin went from bad to worse. The non-stop lifestyle and long hours of the financial industry, constantly going out to eat, and drinking alcohol all seemed to exacerbate the problem — yet the advice she was given in New York was all the same, Tingle says. “The voice inside me was just shouting at that point: ‘Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.’”
Simultaneously, Duboise had just been hospitalized after her water fast, and left her stay with her own “aha” moment. “We were like, what should we be eating?” says Tingle. “Let’s go back to what we learned as kids growing up, knowing that nature is powerful and that food is medicine.” They also looked to the knowledge Duboise had gained in her various science courses about nutrition.
They began creating their own recipes and meals. To do so, they fused the Eastern beliefs they were surrounded by as kids in Sedona with the Western science and nutrition that Duboise had since learned working in medicine. Then, Sakara Life was born. “We definitely didn’t start a business the normal way, in which we came up with an idea and went out and raised a bunch of money,” says Tingle. “We just healed ourselves, and then a friend asked to try it, and then a friend of a friend, and so on. It built up organically, and we thought, ‘OK, maybe this is a business.’”
In the roughly seven years since its launch, Sakara Life, a plant-based subscription meal service (with offerings such as DIY pulled jackfruit tacos and superfood oats with a raspberry smash), has taken the country by storm. “We’re not a diet,” explains Duboise. “We’re not going to tell you what not to eat. The point is that you eat this way most of the time, but you can still reach for that martini or fries without feeling like you shouldn’t have, or like you’ll have to make up for that.” Instead, the science behind Sakara is to lower inflammation, ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, and to heal the gut.
“All the results that people see — everything from weight loss to skin clarity and more energy — is not just some momentary result of taking a pill; it’s really getting to the root cause of things and healing the body, and people can feel results for months and years to come,” says Duboise. And people are lining up to truly seeing those results, because Sakara servesd customers in every state, and preparing over a million meals in 2018 alone. It’s also become more than just a healthy meal delivery service. Thanks to Duboise and Tingle, Sakara is now a lifestyle, encompassing the worlds of health, nutrition, and even beauty. Here, the ladies share more about their plans for a Sakara world, as well as their beauty routines, “She-E-O” wisdom, and how marriage and children affect it all.
Spotlyte: You both credit your early interest in "mind-body-food connection" to growing up in Sedona —why do you think that is?
Danielle Duboise: Sedona is kind of this hippie, spiritual, new age place where we really grew up with this understanding of mind-body-food-medicine.
Whitney Tingle: People come to Sedona from all over the world in search of all different forms of healing. My parents were entrepreneurs and developers, but my father also practiced as a reiki healer. Danielle always jokes about how in Sedona, you go to a restaurant, and your waiter will also be a yoga teacher or a psychic as well; It’s kind of like how in L.A., your waiter is always an actor or a model and “in the industry;” Sedona is just a different industry. Food as medicine and food for healing was very much a part of all of that.
When you’re raised with that, you don’t understand that it’s very special. When we left Arizona and moved to New York, we realized how special it really was, and we almost forgot that when we were out on our own. We had to re-find it again through our journeys and eventually through Sakara.
Spotlyte: How did the idea for a prepared meal service business come about, and how did you know it was ready to expand?
DD: It didn’t start out as a business. It really started because Whitney and I each hit rock bottom, for different reasons, and we needed to come up with a solution to get back to feeling good, so we turned to food as medicine.
WT: We started to pull from some more Eastern modalities, a lot of what we had learned growing up in Sedona, and paired it with some of this cutting-edge nutrition science. We put together what we now call our nine pillars of nutrition, which we consider to be the most important aspects. We created some recipes just for ourselves around them and started to eat that way, and after just about two weeks of doing that, we really started to see a change — in our bodies, in my skin, in our digestion, and our energy levels.
We knew that this was something we had to continue with, and once we saw that it was changing us — and changing our friends and neighbors who’d requested it — we knew that this was much bigger than just us. It put us on a mission to share the nutritional philosophy of Sakara Life with as many people as possible.
Spotlyte: When did you know you really “made it?”
DD: We always used to say that when we could deliver to our moms, we’ll know we’ve made it, and that happened in 2016. But we’ve also been lucky to have a lot of celebrity support, and now we’ve had everyone from Lily Aldridge and Kate Hudson to NFL players and country stars — all the people we looked up to and watched on TV and listened to their music.
Spotlyte: Is there any one celeb endorsement that you're most proud of?
WT: Well, Oprah did nominate us for one of her Supersoul 100SM, and we got to have lunch with her, which was amazing.
DD: I’ve been a huge fan of Drew Barrymore since I was a little kid. She’s so charismatic and beautiful and authentic, so when we got to meet her, it was definitely a big moment.
Spotlyte: How have you adapted your programs to accommodate new trends and changing tastes in the food and nutrition arenas since Sakara Life was founded in 2012?
WT: We don’t follow trends, but we do like to think about the people who inspire us — like Madonna and Beyoncé, and how they are constantly reinventing themselves — and we do that in a way that tries to bring new inspiration to the program.
DD: We’ve done things like our recent partnership with Michelin®-starred chef Mike Bagalle from Alinea® [a restaurant in Chicago, Illinois]. It’s amazing that people with [his] kind of classical chef training are also now interested in making their food healthy.
Spotlyte: Starting a company like Sakara Life seems extremely demanding. How do you handle work-life balance?
WT: I really, truly love what I do, and I get to work with my best friend. At certain points throughout the day, we might also talk about [our] personal lives — just like when we’re hanging out together in the real world, we might talk about work life. I also do make sure that I take time for certain self-care practices that I need in order to fill my cup, so that I can continue to give to Sakara and to my husband and to my family.
DD: It’s tough. We give our all to Sakara, and we are on a mission. This is not just a passion project. What keeps us going — even in the midst of difficult operations and logistics — are the client testimonials. Remembering why we’re doing this definitely helps us keep the balance. I just had a baby about a year ago, and she keeps me balanced, too. She demands my full attention when I’m with her. That can stress some people out, but I try to surrender to it, and it allows me to be with her when I’m with her.
Spotlyte: What are your number one rules for eating right and maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
DD: Really focus on quality. Make sure you’re getting as many high-quality, organic foods as you can. People often think that eating a salad is good for you, but it so depends on what makes up that salad. And it’s tough because you can’t see organic, so it’s something that’s difficult to get into the mass consciousness. But focus on quality, and don’t be afraid to ask questions at your farmer’s market or at a restaurant. Making sure that you’re getting enough greens every day is really important, so we recommend at minimum six cups of leafy greens every single day.
WT: Eat the rainbow — get enough colors and plant diversity. Eating enough plants in general is super important. You don’t have to only eat plants to be healthy, but you can’t be healthy without eating plants.
DD: People love to focus on what not to eat, and that’s easier and more seductive, but it usually leads to some kind of diet and guilt cycle. I usually tell our clients to really focus on what you should be eating every day rather than what you shouldn’t. The more you eat this way, the more it also allows you to go out and enjoy that cocktail or fries or whatever it is, and your body can actually handle it much better.
Spotlyte: Are there any foods or ingredients that you eat especially with your skin in mind?
WT: Our program is really designed to help skin, but what I realized was that I didn’t have a skin problem, I had a gut problem.
DD: It’s all the same things: make sure you’re eating enough of those leafy greens to feed the good bacteria and starve out the bad. Make sure you’re eating your water, not just drinking it — meaning you get enough water-rich produce onto your plate every single day. Make sure you’re getting enough micronutrients and trace minerals, like those that are found in our Beauty Water DropsTM.
WT: Water is the true fountain of youth, but to get your body to actually absorb and use that water, it needs to be the right kind of water with the right mineral content.
Spotlyte: What are your philosophies when it comes to beauty?
WT: Beauty definitely starts from within, and outer beauty begins with inner health.
DD: I obviously believe that, too, but just to have a bit of a different perspective . . . People can say they’re eating well and not have fun with it. When I was a dieter, I always ate what I thought I should and followed the rules, and there wasn’t a lot of joy in that. So at Sakara, we focus on the joy factor. When you’re genuinely happy and genuinely feeling really good in your body, that’s when your skin shines.
Spotlyte: Does your focus on natural ingredients extend to your skincare routines?
WT: I’d say we follow the same philosophy as with our food: you are what you do the majority of the time. So, most of the products that we use are clean, but if every once in a while, we want to do something that might not necessarily fall into the clean category, then that’s OK, too. Much of the makeup that we wear every day — if we’re even wearing makeup — is clean, but if we have a fancy event to go to, or a photoshoot, and we want to use non-clean makeup to get that camera-ready look, we won’t worry about it.
Spotlyte: What are some of your can't-live-without beauty products?
DD: Our beauty water drops for sure. A probiotic, and I personally really love the Goop® Exfoliating Instant Facial. I love Barbara Sturm, especially her hyaluronic serum. I really love True Botanicals® and the face mist. We also have Beauty ChocolatesTM that I haven’t been able to take since I’ve been pregnant, but they change your skin in two weeks. They make it more plump, so you’re like a grape, not a raisin, and they even have clinical trials behind them.
WT: We also use Suntegrity® with SPF in it quite a bit.
Spotlyte: What beauty and wellness treatments have you tried? Which do you do on a regular basis?
DD: I do microcurrents with my facialist once a month. We do acupuncture for general wellness.
WT: We also do the infrared sauna with HigherDOSE® monthly. We like the Jillian Dempsey® Gold Bar, which is like a face vibrator. Eating Sakara Life cleared my skin, but I do have some scarring, and it definitely helps with that. And I can’t even tell you how many lasers I’ve tried! I’m a big fan of the Skin Laundry® laser, which is a combination of YAG laser and IPL and is really good for redness. I do the double pack on the highest setting, and I do that whenever I feel like I need it, especially if I have events of anything coming up. I also like Clear + Brilliant®. I’ve tried microneedling with PRP once, and I used to get PRP injected into my scars, which was great, but it was difficult to keep up with and really time-consuming.
Spotlyte: What are your thoughts on injectables?
DD: If [you like the results], then do them. I don’t think we’d ever say that we’re against it. I think if it’s something that helps people feel like their best, most confident selves, then why not? It’s just like anything: you are what you do the majority of the time. Our motto is “eat clean, play dirty,” so if that’s your play dirty, then good for you.
Spotlyte: How would you classify your skin type? What are your biggest concerns?
DD: Mine’s tough — there have been so many hormonal ups and downs with pregnancy and since pregnancy, so my skin has definitely changed. I’d say my skin is more on the sensitive, dry side right now. I’m still breastfeeding, so I feel like I’ve given her everything. [When you’re] postnatal, you just have to do a little bit more because you’re sleeping less, juggling a little more, and breastfeeding. I’ve had to find more time for facials and make sure I wash my face before bed — you don’t have the luxury of forgetting about things.
WT: We’re both in our early thirties, so [it’s been a lot of] transitioning from our twenties to really taking care of our skin, setting up good habits, investing a bit more in our skin, and dealing with preventative [care] and anti-aging. I’d definitely say that my main concern is my acne scars and keeping up the radiance.
Spotlyte: Danielle, how did you adapt to being pregnant as far as your eating, exercise, and beauty routine goes? How about right after?
DD: That’s really when I doubled down on food as medicine and eating Sakara every single day, at least in the final two trimesters. During the first trimester, I was on the heavy protein diet for nausea. I really noticed the results. You’re just more sensitive [during pregnancy], and your swings are bigger. It’s a good motivation to stay eating the same things most of the time.
I definitely switched to low-impact workout, so nothing too hard — only things that made me feel good at the end and not exhausted. You’re giving so much energy to creating this little life that you need things that fill your cup, not deplete you. For beauty, no real changes. I mean, when you’re pregnant, your skin is amazing, and then post-pregnancy is when I’ve just had to pay more attention.
Danielle, what are the biggest lessons you would like to teach your daughter, Star, about beauty?
DD: That it’s a reflection of her state of mind and her state of being and state of health. The most important thing is that she feels like she’s in her power, and however that manifests in the world is up to her.
Spotlyte: What are your biggest beauty indulgences — treatments, products, or otherwise — that you partake in when you have the time?
DD: I personally like being really low-maintenance. The only thing that I really care about is getting my roots touched up. I always feel much better when I have that done. But I don’t like having my makeup professionally done or anything like that.
WT: I love a good set of lash extensions, and we both like getting gel manicures.
Spotlyte: When do you feel your most beautiful?
DD: The days I feel the best are the days that I have at least a little bit of time for everything on my list. Even if I don’t get as much time to get ready in the morning as I’d like, when I get a few moments to do the things I love to do, it really helps.
Spotlyte: If you could offer one piece of advice to busy readers who want to be health-conscious but feel like they don't have the time, what would it be?
WT: Making one healthy swap in your day is a great place to start. So, for instance, making a healthy smoothie in the morning will really start your day off with a lot of nutrients. A lot of people reach for a bagel or muffin, or eat a bowl of cereal, or skip breakfast; but these things first thing in the morning can really destroy your gut and start you off on the wrong foot. Making that healthy swap to a great breakfast like that can make a huge difference.
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