Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive track. Because the disease cannot be cured, living with Crohn’s can be incredibly strenuous for those affected, requiring constant medical attention. Dane Johnson has battled Crohn’s disease, but today, lives a full and active lifestyle as a model, nutritionist, and entrepreneur.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jacket by Selected Homme
Khahlil Louisy: Dane, when we first met at a fashion presentation last year, I only saw a healthy and obviously good-looking model. Not that it is written on one’s face, but I had no inclination that you battled Crohn’s Disease, until you shared your story with me. Let’s go back to that time when you found out that you had the auto-immune disease. How long ago was that and what was life like back then?
Dane Johnson: I found out about it 8 years ago, but had my first symptoms 12 years ago. Back then, I had never heard of the disease – I had zero knowledge about functional medicine. I ate fast food multiple times a day, drank a good bit of beer, and worked out as a hobby. The best way to explain it, is that I was a young kid who didn’t know better, and was ignorant of the importance of health. But I was looking for something to be a catalyst in my life.
Two moths after I was diagnosed, I quit my corporate job and took a one way flight to LA, with zero friends or family there. I decided to chance a dream of living in Southern California and perhaps traveling the world as a model and actor. This lifestyle change was what I wanted deep down and had a positive effect on me taking the natural healing path that I did.
I may be wrong, but Crohn’s Disease isn’t one of those illnesses that you hear much about and for many, it remains a mystery, unless someone close to us is afflicted. What was it like having to learn about the disease and then adapting your daily life around it and your rehabilitation?
I tried to ignore it for years – luckily, I was already into healthy habits, which made it a bit easier at times. I became shameful at times and suppressed all my feelings on it. It wasn’t until I had the feeling that the life I wanted to lead deep down, was the same life I needed to lead to heal Crohn’s. Then it became empowering and the shame of having gut health issues started to disappear. I don’t let it effect me and I’m so grateful to understand gut health – it’s extremely important for a long life .
You mentioned that you lost a tremendous amount of weight. Where were you mentally when that was happening? I imagine your confidence may have been impacted then, so how were you dealing with your social environment during that time, and did being in the fashion industry have any impact at all? Thinness is often – mostly – heralded in our industry, particularly on the high-fashion side of things.
I was on massive amount of drugs, including Dilaudid – legalized heroine, that kept me completely spaced out. I remember one day, detoxing back at home, I completely broke down, begging for an escape with my family staying at my place in Santa Monica, trying to keep me going. I was completely tramped and it took lots of love around me, to stand up to Crohn’s disease and kick that sum’ bitch right in the teeth!
Coat by Selected Homme, Shirt, Original Penguin; Pant, Krammer & Stoudt; Shoes, Florsheim
I’m very interested in learning how to overcame any esteem or confidence issues. It could not have been an easy road and I imagine, for people going through the same thing now, they too would love to know how to get past it, mentally.
I’ve always chosen to follow what I know, not exactly what I feel. I’ve been scared the whole time, becoming a model or dealing with crohns. I’ve broken down many times and locked myself in my room for days at a time, trying to escape my life. Once I chose to have faith in my ability to grow, I knew all I needed to do. what do the step in front of me and everything else would take care of it self. Once I got into that flow, I started feeling unstoppable, and my imagination took over with great confidence and love for life.
Flow is a steady stream of positive energy which is addicting. Human beings cannot be defied, we are godly, we are creation – you must first have an experience before you change how you feel. That first step is just as much about that experience as it is productivity.
What were some of the biggest changes you had to make in your life to live with the disease and how did that lead to your work now as a Nutritionist and Health Coach?
I had to make health my number one priority. Once I did that, I had to see this as an investment in the life I wanted to live – not a sacrifice of my Friday night parties, or lack of drinking alcohol.
You still model. Do you find it difficult balancing what can be a very physically demanding job with your healthy lifestyle?
I did for many years – it was extremely difficult, especially when I was having severe symptoms. Now, it’s about being smart and preparing, especially if I’m going to be doing a job overseas. However, I spend most my time working in the Northeast market, which makes this issue much more manageable.
What I pack makes or breaks my healthy lifestyle goals. If I pack correctly – no problem!
Let’s chat about your work now. How are you using your experience with Crohn’s Disease to help others who are dealing with the same condition?
Yes , this past year, I was able to help hundreds of others dealing with Crohn’s and Colitis, achieve remission, avoid surgery, or follow their goals of becoming drug free. We built custom programs for them based on their needs and experiences, through my SHIELD program.
In particular, I helped one father of two in London, go from extreme symptoms and facing surgery to remove part of his large intestine and colon, to complete remission as a vegetarian. We hit all his goals and were able to achieve this in an amazing time period of 10 weeks.
What is your grooming routine like? Any specific products you use for skincare and hair?
I use a face lotion called DERMA E and a Vitamin A retinol. I also add in a vitamin E Oil with Aloe Vera, when I spend a lot of time in the sun.
I tend not to use hair products and try not to wash my hair too often, because I think it ruins it. Using vitamins and minerals helps a lot with skin health and hair health as well.
And your fashion choices, any brands in particular that you go to? Tell us about your style.
I don’t like branding, so I get a little annoyed with many brands. Some times a simple Levi’s jean does the trick and other times, I like to get nice pieces from John Varvatos, Vince, and Theory. I ave also found some awesome things at thrift stores. Love to have my own style.
Finally, we want to know, what is Dane Johnson doing next?
Next, I’ll be partnering with brands and movements which I feel represent my life mission. To create win-win scenarios for business, human rights, environmental sustainability, and all around beautiful experiences.
CCLifestyle will be rolling out more books and products, which will show others how to take their health into their hands.
I’d love to partner with brands on a mission, while I build out my CCLifestyle and my non-profit EfundyouHealth.
Coat & Shirt by Life After Denim; Pant, Mavi Jeans; Shoes, Florsheim
Dane Johnson at Wilhelmina Models, photographed for BONNE New York by Todd McVey, Styling by Khahlil Louisy, & Grooming by Stephanie Paulino