Episode 34 – Are We What We Eat? With Ella Mills
Listen to this episode here!
In this episode Rachel is joined by Ella Mills; creator of the insanely popular food blog Deliciously Ella.
Ella healed herself from a devastating disease through plant based food and a healthy lifestyle and has since dedicated her life to inspiring the world through the art of cooking. They talk about how our eating habits affect our lives, the emotional connection we hold to the diet we were raised with, adding broccoli to your pepperoni pizza and how when it comes to making good choices for your body, learning by doing is the best way! Ella shares how she went from never giving food much thought to vibrantly glowing with health, and how she turned what was a small personal blog into a hugely successful business with 70+ employees. They also talk about the difficult side of social media, what it’s like to have millions of people following your every move and much more.
[001:34] Rachel: Hi, and welcome to another episode of From The Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl. I am beyond excited to introduce to you someone that has been a major inspiration in my own life for a lot of years and that I’m so happy to have as a guest on the show, Ella Mills, otherwise known as Deliciously Ella. Ella is an award-winning author, plant-based entrepreneur, and the creator of the insanely popular blog DeliciouslyElla.com that has over 130 million hits in the past years. Her first book, the most purchased debut cookbook ever in the U.K., and a New York Times Bestseller came out in 2015, and she has since released three more best-selling books, opened a line of delis, created a #1 rated app, created a line of beauty products, and launched three food product lines that are stocked in over 5,000 stores. Holy shit! It’s safe to say that this girl is a superstar manifester. I’m so excited to have you on the show! Welcome to the show, Ellaaaaaa!
Ella: Hi! Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be hear. I’ve been a fan for a long time, of yours, so I’m honored to be here.
Rachel: Oh my god, your resume is just insane. (laugh) Does it feel-
Ella: (laugh) It’s been a really crazy couple of years.
Rachel: Oh my god. How have you fit this in in such a short time? I’m just reading it now. It’s crazy!
Ella: I have no idea, honestly.
Rachel: (laugh) So much has happened so, so fast. I mean, do you remember, we met, like, I don’t know what year that was. It feels like a really long time ago we met in, um-
Ella: Yeah, it feels like such a long time ago!
Rachel: Uh, it was in London, it was for a shoot-
Ella: It must have been a couple of years ago.
Rachel: Right! I mean, it must have been … I don’t know, 2013 maybe?
Ella: Yeah, it must have been like, yeah, about 3 years ago, exactly. You were just finishing up and I was about to do mine.
Rachel: So crazy! And it was for that weird shoot for the Daily Mail, I remember.
Ella: Exactly, we had very very strange hair and makeup. I looked like I was about 70 in the final picture.
Rachel: It was the weirdest thing ever, ever. I had to wear like a pencil skirt businesswoman type outfit, it was very-
Ella: Yeah, and mine was all floral.
Rachel: And I remember looking at you and I was like, “Oh my god, we do not fit in here. We are so awkward here.”
Ella: No, that was before I was comfortable enough to say, “That is not me, I will not do that.”
[004:00] Rachel: Yeah, me too. I was like, “Okay, I’ll go along with this.” But no, that was definitely not it. But I’m so excited to have you on, and it’s such an interesting time in my own life too, because I am, since one month, or a month and a week now, back to being 100% plant-based, which is … a huge thing for me. So having you on the show right now is perfect.
Ella: And what was the inspiration to do that?
Rachel: I had a guy named James Aspey on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. Have you ever heard of him?
Ella: It rings a bell, yeah, definitely, I’ve gotta listen to that episode.
Rachel: Yeah, so he’s a vegan activist, but really in it for the ethical reasons and for the animals. He’s all about core values and how you live life aligned with love and kindness, and how eating animal products doesn’t really go with that. And also I think now that I’m breastfeeding, it clicked for the first time that when I’m eating cheese or eating ice cream, you know, a baby has to be taken away from it’s mom for that to happen. And I just managed to totally ignore that major fact about how dairy is produced. (laugh) So …
Ella: Right, of course. Yeah, having a baby I’m sure makes that resonate even more.
Rachel: Oh god, it connected so deep. I’m so excited to have you on. I know there’s a bunch of people that have gone vegan since a couple of weeks back with me, so that are really excited to get into the funner side of things. So, when it comes to actually preparing exciting foods, and your awesome breakfasts, and I had so many questions already pouring in through social media. But, for anyone who is listening who maybe isn’t already following you on social media or hasn’t read your book, I would love to kind of start from the beginning, because you have such an interesting story.
Ella: Okay. Okay, well the beginning, it’s so long, I’m going to try to keep it short enough that I don’t bore everyone.
Rachel: Yeah, let’s maybe start like … yeah, 2011-ish, I’m thinking there. Right before the beginning of the blog.
[006:00] Ella: Yeah, don’t worry, I won’t give you my whole life history. But yeah, in 2011 I was a student. I was studying in Scotland, and it was the end of my second year there, and out of nowhere, really, I got very unwell, and I spent about four or five months in and out of different hospitals in London, having so many different tests, and at the end of that I was diagnosed with something called postural tachycardia syndrome, which is almost impossible to say, even harder to write. It’s basically a condition that affects your autonomic nervous system. So I was struggling to control my heart rate and my blood pressure, so when I would sit down my heart rate would be normal, and then I would standup and within a couple of seconds it would be 180, 190, my blood pressure would go down, and I would, obviously as a result be unbelievably dizzy, blackout. And I also had, at the same time, very bad chronic fatigue, tons of digestive problems. I felt like I was 9 months pregnant for the best part of two, three years. And I also had complications with infections. I had a bladder infection non-stop for almost 2 and half, 3 years. I was on antibiotics every single day, I had to do antibiotic drips, and there were all kinds of other things. It was honestly absolutely miserable.
Rachel: Do they know what brought this on? Did you ever get clarity there?
Ella: No, they didn’t really know. No. I’d gone from kind of being completely normal to not really being able to do anything, almost, every night if felt like. I basically … I was so confused and overwhelmed by everything and I didn’t really know how to deal with it, so I kind of just shut myself away from … I didn’t really want to open up about it. I tried opening up to one or two people. I didn’t get kind of the best response and that sort of put me off and made me feel like there was definitely something wrong with me. So I honestly just sat in bed and watched the Kardashians for years.
Rachel: (laugh) Oh god!
[008:00] Ella: And my whole life just disappeared into reality TV, and eating all the pick a mix and the candy I could find. It wasn’t, you know, I really wasn’t addressing it, I didn’t want to deal with it, I was really embarrassed about it, and I would just, I cried nonstop. And then I hit a real rock bottom and I realized that, you know, obviously the way I was living my life wasn’t enjoyable for me, but at this point I didn’t really care. I’d kind of lost all sense of self-care. But I did realize how much it was affecting the few people that I still felt very connected to, especially my mom. And she had done everything for me. She was unbelievable. She always said, I’m sure you feel that you’re always as happy as your least happy child, and I was anything but happy, and I think it really was bringing her down as well.
So from there I was really convinced that I did have to make some kind of change. I had to help myself in some way. So I started looking at what else I could do, and I researched online, obviously, because everyone turns to Google at a point of desperation, and I came across all of these people who had had all kinds of issues, and they were managing various symptoms with a supportive lifestyle and diet and nutrition, and I thought that was so interesting. To be completely honest, not something that I really wanted to connect with before I guess, less about what you were saying, Rachel, about being vegan. I had kind of just ignored it all and I thought, “Okay, I’m not a massive gummy bear, so you know I can’t be what I eat.” But I really started to connect with the idea of the impact it could have. But I couldn’t cook, and I didn’t really know what healthy food was. Healthy food to me always seemed like rabbit food. Kind of grated carrot, cucumber, or diet food. And I wasn’t interested in either of those.
[010:00] And so I thought I should learn to cook and try and make this plant-based food, putting plants the center of my plate, something that was interesting and exciting, but also something that would give me a hobby and a purpose and a passion that wasn’t just watching The Kardashians and Grey’s Anatomy. And so I started writing as a blog, on DeliciouslyElla.com. And that’s really how everything came about.
Rachel: Do you remember what your first post was, or your first food-related attempt?
Ella: So one of the first ones, which was one of the ones that I was most excited about was that I was really … I always still do have like a big sweet tooth. I was a kind of Haribo addict at that point. And I was really, really struggling coming away from refined sugars. A friend of mine said, “Oh, you should try dates. Amazing.” And I kind of looked at them and they’re like brown, squishy … I was very, very kind of put off by that. But I was trying to be open minded, so I tried one and absolutely loved it. It was sweet and gooey and delicious, and I absolutely loved it. And then, so I started eating those, and then I started dipping them into Almond Butter, and I was like, “This is really good.” And I thought well how do we blend all of that together? Because I was really missing chocolate. So I was dipping the date in almond butter into cacao. But the powder, and the powder, it was quite kind of chalky in your mouth. So I thought well we’ll blend this all up together and I think we could do something delicious.
So I went out and I bought my first food processor, and I was so excited about it because I was going to do this blend. And I got it home, and I blended up my dates and my almonds and my almond butter and cacao powder. I put it all in the fridge because it was so gooey, and I was like, “It probably needs to sit for a minute.” My boyfriend at the time came over and I was like, “Oh my god, you have to try these. I think I’ve cracked the … I’m going to be able to do this healthy thing now. These are so good, they’re going to be so good.” I had only tried a small bit of the mixture, so I then gave him like a massive chunk, like a proper brownie size, and he bit into it and he spat the whole thing out and started kind of putting his hand in his mouth, like picking it out. And I was like, “Oh my god, what have I done?!”
[012:00] Ella: And I hadn’t taken the plastic off the blades!
Ella: And so I made this like raw brownie, gooey, date-almond mix, and it was must filled with chunks of plastic blade. So that was not that successful. But, I then remade them and they were really yummy, and they’ve been really popular since.
Rachel: (laugh) I love that! I mean, it’s really a trial and error thing. I really love how you just started from scratch. Did you have any friends that could inspire you or that you could talk about this with? Did you have any people in your family that were into this at all, or were you just really alone trying stuff out in the kitchen?
Ella: So my family, at point one, thought I was insane, because I was not, I was the least healthy eater by a mile in the family, and I was the first … like, I would never ever ever order a kind of salad-based meal in my life. So I was like, “I’m going to be plant-based, I’m going to live off vegetables, I’m going to be so healthy!” My mom was like, “What are you going to eat? You hate that food!” But she was so, so supportive, and she did the whole thing with me. When I was at home and I was cooking, she would eat every single thing that I tried, and I’m sure some of it was disgusting and completely inedible. But she was so open-minded to it all, and was the first person to try the sweet potato brownies and all kinds of kind of funky concoctions, and she was amazing and so enthusiastic, and I’m so forever grateful for that.
[014:00] Then I had one girlfriend who was Canadian, and her mom had, growing up, been really into healthy living and kind of an outdoors-y lifestyle. More kind of Californian inspired than it felt up in Scotland at that point. So she bought me a spiralizer, and was like, “Oh, you can make spaghetti with courgettes,” and that was a kind of interesting revolutionary moment as well. So those were two people that kind of initially were supportive when everyone else thought I was mad.
Rachel: (laugh) When everyone else thought you were mad. I have my own cooking fail, actually, with one of your recipes, the one that you just mentioned, the sweet potato brownie? Because when I got your first-
Ella: Oh yeah, we’ve done a new and improved version of those.
Rachel: Oh, you have a new and improved version. But I … I forked up the original version because I made them and then they looked so delicious in the book, and then I had … my husband Dennis was just kind of looking at me like, “You’re going to make brownies with potato? I don’t want to be a part of this at all.” And then I did everything, and I forgot to add the chocolate! Like, I forgot to add the cacao.
Ella: Oh no! That is a really important component of them!
Rachel: (laugh) It was basically like just sweet potato, like, in a pan. And I couldn’t figure it out, and then I was like, “Ohhh…” (laugh) So yeah, I’m going to have to try–
Ella: We all do that kind of thing.
Rachel: I know, the brain farts. It happens. But how long did it take you, because this was one of the questions I got a lot through social media, because there are so many people out there that are struggling with different types of illnesses, or maybe just not feeling overall balanced or healthy in their lives, and they were wondering, you know, how long does it take to actually feel a big change when it comes to health? How long did it take you?
[016:00] Ella: I mean, I think it’s so different with everyone, I guess it’s hard to give a kind of concise answer to that. For me it took, like, best part of two, three years to kind of stabilize things and feel sort of normal, as such. I don’t know if anyone can ever feel normal, if that’s a thing, but more like my old self, and kind of actually a more energized version of. But I guess I was also starting from a very low base, so I would presume most people would potentially have slightly quicker luck than I did. But it was definitely the most worthwhile thing that I ever did. And I think with some of these things, in the world we live in, especially with kind of online element of it, I feel like we’re all so used to everything happening immediately, and it definitely for me was a kind of question of patience and relearning the way I thought about how things happened. Have the patience to keep going and keep trying and keep persevering and kind of see those slow incremental gains. And also it would go up and then it would go down, you know? So you’d feel like … I definitely, I think the bit that I found the most challenging was that I would feel that I was working really, really hard at this, and I was eating my broccoli and my quinoa, and I was starting yoga, and I was trying to do meditation, and I was trying to do all of these really … things. My doctor put me on an exercise program that I was doing, and I was completely dedicated to trying to get better, and I would have a few days where I felt an improvement, and then for no reason it appeared the next day. I would feel so much worse again, I would be stuck in bed for a couple of days.
My mom was always the one to remind me that each bad day that I was having at that point was better than the bad day I had had two, three, six months beforehand. But at the same time, it kind of breaks your heart when you feel like you’re trying so hard at something and now that you’re going backwards. And that was definitely, I think, from a personal perspective, one of the biggest challenges, to kind of find that new outlook of patience, which is probably not my biggest strongpoint.
Rachel: Mmm. And what did your doctors think? Because I’m assuming at some point you stopped taking all of the medication. Did they think that what you were doing was totally crazy? Or were they supportive of that, from a medical standpoint?
[018:00] Ella: I think to begin with they were thinking I was maybe mad, but at the same time, they were really supportive of it and then after … I didn’t come off my medication until I felt kind of stable to do so, and that was just over two years after I made a big change in my lifestyle. And I’d worked really closely as well with a nutritionist who had helped with certain areas that I was really struggling with, like my adrenals and my cortisol production, and then I got, as a result, doing this for two and a half years on antibiotics, and that was incredibly helpful as well.
Rachel: Of course, of course.
[020:00] Rachel: That’s such a … it’s such a huge life change, and it’s really an amazing thing that you did this on your own. Because I struggle a lot with the fact that whenever we do go through illnesses or lows in our life, it’s very rare to have a real life doctor say, “Okay, maybe you can heal this with your lifestyle or how you live,” you know? I have a sister-
Ella: Yeah, I don’t think that’s something-
Rachel: Yeah. They’re not really (laugh) I guess, you know, mostly addressing the symptoms and maybe not the underlying cause of why illness happens the way it does.
Ella: Yeah, and I think one of the biggest challenges is that, you know, everyone is a little bit different. So for me, being plant-based has been an amazing thing. But I’m sure that’s not right, or connects to absolutely everybody. So kind of finding what it is for you, and I think as well with this explosion of health and wellness, which is definitely something which I think is amazing. I think also sometimes we look at people, we’re like, “We’re going to emulate exactly what they do,” and that’s not necessarily exactly the right path for us, but it’s instead a kind of great place of inspiration.
And I know I had that. Like, so when I was trying to make changes, I would come across people or ways of doing things and I would think, “Oh, okay, well that’s worked for them, maybe I should do that,” and it was like all raw food, and I was like, “I live in London. It rains every day. Our local produce is carrots and potatoes. It’s not tropical mangos. This is not going to be, I don’t think, the right thing for me. It’s way too cold for that.” But for a week I was like, “I’m going to try this, I’m going to try that,” and you’d kind of go through all of it, and then after a while you’d think, “Okay, take a bit of this, take a bit of that, inspiration from here, inspiration from there, and then I’m going to put that into my life.”’
[022:00] Rachel: Yes. And I love that, it’s on your website as well, I was browsing through it yesterday. At the very top in the about page it says, “Deliciously Ella is all about celebrating what you can do with delicious plant-based ingredients. It’s not about diet or deprivation. There is no one-size-fits-all, and everything I do can be adapted to suit you.” So perfect!
Ella: Yeah, because I meet people sometimes that say, like, “I love what you do, I’d love to do it, but I can’t do it because I love pepperoni pizza.” And it’s like, “That’s okay!” You know? You can still … you can have more broccoli and more lentils and more cauliflower and not have to give up everything that you have enjoyed previously in your life. It doesn’t have to be black and white. And I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions with health is that people always try and put it into the diet box, and that’s where it goes so wrong!
Rachel: Yes. I have that struggle a lot, or my husband has that struggle a lot because he loves the pepperoni pizza and chicken wings and ribs and, you know, all of this stuff. And he’s under the impression that if he were to really change his diet, he has to let everything go that he loves. So, no more drinking beer and no more eating ice cream, no more of this and that. And I’m always trying to just encourage him to eat more greens, or have a green juice once in a while, or a salad with your stuff.
Ella: … I completely agree.
Rachel: Yeah, and I think it’s a much better way to go about stuff. But it’s also really hard. I have, one of my sisters, she’s 16, and she’s always sick. For the last year, she’s always coughing, she’s always sniffling, she’s always on antibiotics for something, and she just … she eats so much dairy and meat and pizza and just the worst types of food, and I’m really trying to help her make just a little change to see if it will help, but it’s not … Like, nothing I say works, and I think the more I talk about other types of food, the bigger her aversion is to it. So it’s like she wants to eat more crappy food just to prove a point!
[024:00] Ella: Yeah, I definitely found, so my best way of doing it for people, because when I told so many of my friends that this is what I was doing and this is what I was eating, they just looked at me like, “What? What is that?” You know? And I’d like have a green smoothie and they’re like, “It looks like you’re drinking a swamp.” So, actually, I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to talk to you about it anymore, I’m not going to say anything, but I’m going to invite you for dinner and I’m going to cook for you.” And I realized that if I said to someone, “Do you want to come over for a vegan, refined-sugar free, wheat free meal…” No! I mean, that doesn’t sound yummy! That sounds like you’ve taken everything out and not put in anything. Honestly, I think it’s fair to say not many people would be jumping up and down for that.
But if I said to them, “Do you want to come over? I’m going to make us a coconut cauliflower curry, and I’ve sautéed garlic and onion and celery with mustard seeds and turmeric and cumin seeds and paprika and cayenne pepper, and then we’ve cooked it in coconut milk with cauliflower and potatoes, and we’ve wilted in spinach and spicy chickpeas, and we’re going to serve it with rice and I’ve got a hot cinnamon maple apple crumble. Do you want to come for dinner?” They’d be like, “Yum!”
Rachel: Oh! I want to come for dinner!
Ella: And that’s the difference. Yeah, well you should come for dinner! But that’s the difference, I think. You have to celebrate it and say like, these ingredients are delicious because we’ve cooked them with these spices, and we’ve added this and we’ve done this, and sell it as something so yummy. Whereas as soon as you say, “Oh, it’s boiled broccoli for dinner,” people are like, “Okay, I’m not going to do that.”
Rachel: No, that’s such a … yeah, going about it with positivity and love … And I’m really certain that that’s why, I mean, that has to be the foundation of your success. Because you’re … I was talking to one of my friends yesterday, she’s a chef, she lives in Sweden. And I said, “Oh, I have Deliciously Ella on the show.” And her first thing that she said, she said, “Oh, she seems like she’s the kindest person.” Like, that’s the first thing she said.
Ella: Oh, that’s so nice!
Rachel: Not about the food, but she’s like, “She seems so kind.” And I really think that when you look through your platforms, you really have this very welcoming feeling. It really feels like everyone is welcome. There’s no judgment here at all. And it’s a really refreshing thing to have, especially in the social media world.
[026:00] Ella: Yeah, that’s so important to me because, like, fundamentally, obviously, it’s great to take care of our planet and be ethical in our decision making and all the rest of it, but also at the same time, I think there’s an element of being understanding of what’s possible and what works for people. So, to me, I think the whole thing that has to change is the mindset. I always say to people, “If you went out into the street right now and you went up to a 14 year old kids and you said, ‘Is pizza cool? Are fries cool?’ They would all say yes. But if you said, ‘Is broccoli cool? Are lentils cool?’ I’m pretty sure everyone would say no.” And so my big belief is we have to change the way people see the broccolis, the lentils, and elevate that to that of the pizza and the chips. I’m not saying that you should never eat those again, but you need to also eat broccoli because fundamentally we know we need to eat more vegetables, it’s really good for our bodies, and we don’t do enough of it.
You know, I know in the U.K. only 27% of the country say they get their five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and that’s because mostly it’s not very yummy. So we’ve got to change that perception. But to do that it has to be something that works for everybody’s life and isn’t a kind of regimented diet with rules so people think, “Well I can’t do that because I’d have to change everything.” And instead it needs to be something, I always say, if it’s a vegan who cooks our meals three times a day every single day, I’m so happy that we can be a helpful resource for them. I’m so happy we can give them great ideas of things that they could make. But equally, if someone is the biggest burger lover in the world and we get them eating broccoli and excited about that broccoli dish for the first time, that to me, in some sense, is a big win because I want to change people’s perception of that. I want to get people excited about it.
[029:11] Rachel: But one of the hardest things, I think, is that it’s not accessible everywhere, and I think that was … because I was vegan for a long time, and it was so easy. I was living in Costa Rica and I had an abundance or tropical fruits and organic foods, and everywhere was like a little organic vegetarian café. It was so easy, I never had to think about it. And then, when I moved to Aruba which, at the time, so this was seven or eight years ago, there’s only fast food here. Fast food and expensive restaurants, then. There was no kale or spinach or any type of greens in the grocery stores at all. No farmer’s markets, nothing grows here. So, I think within a year of living here, I had transitioned back to dairy, like, a little bit at a time because I felt like … I would kind of have the excuse, like, “Oh, there’s nothing for me to eat,” but I think I’d lost the natural passion for it. I felt disconnected all of the sudden to what I was eating. I lost the community and I lost just the energy around it.
[030:00] Then, you know, I had years of just eating dairy, feeling kind of crappy! (laugh) But telling myself, “Oh, but it’s okay, I drink wine and I also eat sweets, so eating dairy for me is like something I know is bad, but I do it consciously, at least. So, I mean, you need that accessibility and the community around it. At least, I mean, for me it’s a really important piece, and not everybody has that option.
Ella: Definitely, and I think that’s where social media is amazing, because it can connect you with a community all over the world where you can get ideas and inspiration.
Rachel: Right. But what would you say to someone who maybe does-, because I know you’re trying to change that, and you are changing that, especially in the U.K. with accessibility and how healthier foods and healthy foods are available. But for someone that maybe lives in a places where they don’t have … they don’t have access, you know? If there’s not that easy way to go to … maybe it’s easier to go and grab a slice of pizza for lunch than it is to grab a healthy salad. What would your best advice be for someone who is in that space, where they feel like they’re really alone?
Ella: Yeah, so I mean, I think the first thing is you have to do what works for you, and what’s reasonable for your lifestyle, and kind of not feel guilty about that, and I think that’s really, really important. We all have times where we’re traveling, we’re not somewhere we’re familiar with, we don’t necessarily have the options we want, and that’s okay. And I think when you start kind of beating yourself up for that, that’s when healthy becomes too complicated because you start having feelings of guilt, and those don’t belong in the room at all. But, at the same time, I think sometimes there is a mindset shift that we also kind of need, because so much of those things are about habit, and I do think sometimes making a healthier choice is often something that requires a little bit more time and a little bit more effort.
[032:00] But at the same time, it doesn’t have to be massive. I like to focus on more kind of simple, easy to get ingredients. When I first started doing this, I was kind of inspired by that whole world or superfoods and powders and things like that, and then I started working really hard and working like 14, 15 hour days where I didn’t have time to get lunch, and I was like, “Oh my god, health But at the same time, it doesn’t have to be massive. I like to focus on more kind of simple, easy to get ingredients. When I first started doing this, I was kind of inspired by that whole world or superfoods and powders and things like that, and then I started working really hard and working like 14, 15 hour days where I didn’t have time to get lunch, and I was like, “Oh my god, healthy is not all spirulina and chia seeds.” You can add those in and that’s great, but if you think that you have to have adaptogenic mushrooms to be healthy, then we’re in real trouble, because those are not easily accessible. Most people do not know what to do with those, where to get them, they’re expensive, etc. And that’s where, to me, it became so much more about celebrating local ingredients and easy things like beans and chickpeas.
Often when I’m working and I have really intense weeks, I’ll go home and I’ll make a chickpea chili or something, and I’ll sauté up garlic and celery, chuck in all my herbs and spices, mustard seeds, things like that, and then chick my chickpeas with a spicy tomato sauce for half an hour or so. It’s one pan, you don’t have to chop anything apart from some celery and garlic, takes two minutes. You put the lid on it, it all cooks in one pan, you stir in some spinach in the end, let it cool, and then freeze it. Obviously eat it at the time, but you can make double the batch, and the only effort you have to do to make twice the amount is to chop a little bit more celery, a little bit more garlic, you know? Put in an extra teaspoon. It’s so so easy, and you could make 10 portions of that which go into your freezer, or you take to lunch for work and things like that. So I do think there are kind of easy little add-ons and things like that that we can do that do make, if we want to make a healthy choice a little bit easier.
[034:00] Rachel: Definitely, definitely. And I think, you know, preparing your food actually requires that you think about what you eat. And we are so accustomed to this idea of grabbing whatever is on the go, in the moment, and then what’s accessible is usually the lesser healthy version. But I think having that community around is so important, and having people that inspire you to make those choices as well.
One of the questions I got yesterday was from someone who said … It was so funny how she asked it. She said, “Ella must have nights where she just eats toast.” (laugh) Is it true?
Ella: Everyone does!
Rachel: So would you say, what’s your favorite laziest meal?
Ella: My favorite … In the summer my best thing is sautéing cherry tomatoes with olive oil, loads of sea salt, and that on sourdough toast, that’s like my best thing. So quick, so easy. Tomatoes are so good when they’re in season, and I eat a lot a lot of that and peanut butter toast as well. I think that’s the other thing is because you see through Instagram, Instagram is always so shiny, you’re like, “Oh, they must cook five course meals for every meal,” and obviously not. No one lives in an Instagram bubble. Not at all. Or I eat porridge for dinner, you know? Just oats, almond milk. I’ll have an almond butter banana, and again, it takes three minutes.
Rachel: Oh my god, you’re making me so hungry right now! So, I mean, what was the … because, of course along the way all of this really exploded for you, and you now have millions of people that follow you and read the blog and follow on social media and buying the books and all of this. What’s been the biggest challenge, you think? Taking this from a very personal journey and making it into this big business and a brand, which is what it is today?
[036:00] Ella: Um, gosh, so many things. There’s kind of the practical side of keeping the lights on and not running out of money, not being screwed over by investors and all the rest of it, which we’ve had. Like any small business I’ve had all kind of run-ins with and moments of panic, but I think on a personal level, which is, I guess, completely fitting for your podcast, is that I think it has been that sense of vulnerability because of putting yourself out there into the world. Because I never meant to do what I’ve ended up doing with Deliciously Ella. Initially it was all a very, very personal journey and I was sharing it to kind of inspire myself. Then there was this great community that started around it. But it was really me just talking to the community and that was that, really.
But then when my first book came out and the press picked up on it, it kind of exploded. And then suddenly people start talking about you, rather than to you, and that was a very, very strange realization. At that point you’re kind of talking to a much wider audience, some of which have no interest whatsoever in healthy foods or plant-based food, the whole thing is ridiculous for 100 different reasons. And suddenly you’re out there and people have tons of opinions on you without having met you or actually even read anything you’ve ever written. And that’s a kind of quite terrifying thing. And I was really young when that happened, I was 22 … No 23. And when that was all kind of exploding, and I’d basically spent the last couple of years on my own, because I was still kind of recovering from my illness, and I was still, I think, in many ways physically getting better happened a lot quicker for me than mentally. My self-esteem and views on myself had got so low during that period, I felt so pointless and useless and had such a negative view of myself. So to kind of get that back up to something where you could suddenly stand up in a room full of people and say, “I’m Ella, this is what I believe,” and not mind that people don’t like you, and not mind that people are criticizing, that was a kind of … I mean, it’s still something I’m working on. I’m sure that’s something that people work on forever. But that was definitely my biggest, biggest challenge.
[038:00] Rachel: And I think specifically in the U.K., I feel like the U.K. and the U.S. are like a different world when it comes to press and media. There’s so much, everything is kind of sensationalized, or there’s a little big of drama to find from everything.
Ella: Yeah, always!
Rachel: Always! I mean, really. In the U.K. I’ve had really weird articles written about myself in, like, U.K. magazines that are just totally-
Ella: Yeah, it’s so weird! You know, we had one where I had been traveling a lot for work, and my book had come out in lots of different countries, and I’d been all around Europe in different places doing media for that, and then I was exhausted. So Matt and I decided to take a week holiday, and the Daily Mail wrote an article about how we were bad parents to our dog because they counted up all the days that they’d seen I’d been away via social media.
Rachel: No. … NO!!
Ella: And the dog is co-owned by me and Matt, so I had been away working, and the dog had been at home with his dad and so beautifully looked after, and then when we went away for a week, he was staying at my mum’s who has a dog the same age, the same breed, who is best friends with him, who lives down the road. He was in great hands. He’s the most pampered dog on earth. That is one thing they don’t need to have a news story about. And I was just sitting there reading it being like, okay, so now I’m like a bad person because I don’t love my pet?
Rachel: How is this news!? (laugh)
Ella: I know, I know. And there was another one earlier this year, Matt’s, my husband’s, mom got very ill and she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and we’d been in the hospital for kind of two weeks and had a big surgery and it had been this kind of unbelievably traumatic time.
Rachel: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.
[040:00] Ella: Oh, well thank you. But I’d had my birthday in the middle of this. The guys in the office had posted on our social media page a picture of me from our wedding with a big cake being like, “Happy Birthday Ella.” And again this story was picked up in the press about how I had poisonous flowers on my cake, which I did not have. And there was this whole article about how I tried to poison my wedding guests.
Ella: And I’m just sitting there in the hospital just being like, oh my god, are you joking? There was a whole thing on Twitter, like, “Deliciously Ella, not so natural after all.” Just, like, oh my god.
Rachel: OH MY GOD! (laugh)
Ella: There is like seriously priorities in my life right now. I didn’t try and kill my friends! It’s a year later, they’re all alive, everyone survived, no one died, it’s fine.
Rachel: (laugh) Everyone in the wedding is still alive. Oh my god! That’s when you just have to go, like, okay, there’s important things for me to focus on here, bring my energy toward. This is just not one of them.
Ella: Exactly. And I think that’s when it comes to, like … one thing I’ve tried to learn is dividing criticism into two, and the first is constructive criticism, which is always helpful, when people say, “You know, I think that’s too spicy, or I tried this and I find that hard to understand.” Anything like that, which obviously criticism is never your favorite thing to hear. It’s great when you hear someone loves something, but at the same time, like, that makes you better and it makes sure you triple check everything, and I think you learn a lot from that.
But then you have criticism like that, or when people start commenting and I’m sure you have 3,000 stories of the same thing, where people start commenting on your pictures and they’re like, “You’ve put on weight, you’ve lost weight, your voice is annoying,” and it goes all around. Or, “You tried to kill your wedding guests.” Or someone emailing in being like, “You’re getting married too fast! Your marriage isn’t going to last. You’re making a massive mistake!” Like what the hell?
Rachel: Oh, thank you.
[042:00] Ella: Matt and I work together, and I write our newsletters, and I sign the newsletter, “Love Matt, Ella, and the Deliciously Ella Team.” And I had this email from someone saying, “You know, I used to really respect you as a female entrepreneur, and I saw your newsletter today and it broke my heart because suddenly there’s Matt with his name first.” I was like, “Oh my god. I wrote it! I just thought it sounded better! I thought Matt and Ella sounded better than Ella and Matt, in this context. It didn’t mean anything! (laugh) I feel like you just have to ignore that.
Rachel: Oh my god! But that’s the thing, if you listen to everything, yeah, you just go crazy.
[044:15] Rachel: My biggest struggle right now, and it used to be, but I mean years ago, back in the early Instagram yoga days, because then what I was doing was a little big controversial and it wasn’t really accepted to mix yoga with social media, and no one was really doing that then. So I got so much … I had a really hard time back then. But now, the hardest thing is motherhood and mothers online criticizing other mothers.
Ella: I can’t even begin to imagine.
Rachel: I didn’t know that this was a thing! Like, I had no clue that it was a thing! So even before I had the baby I would post like a picture of, “Oh, here’s the crib, we’re excited.” And then I would get, you know, 4,000 comments about the fact that I’m going to kill my baby or suffocate my baby because there was a blanket there. And I’m like, the baby is not born yet. The baby is still in my belly.
Ella: Yeah, I’m just making it look pretty for the picture!
Rachel: Like, come on, you know? There was like a bunny in there, it had like a little stuffed animal, they’re like, “Oh my god, your baby is going to die!” I’m just like, okay. And then I have to think about that every day now, because I really don’t want to start that fire of drama anymore. And I didn’t used to think about it that way, but there’s something about specifically moms and babies that make people totally crazy. So I actually l think about that more now than I ever did in a yoga context, that I’m a little more mindful about what I post. And sometimes I give little disclaimers like, “P.S. My baby is alive and well.” (laugh)
Ella: Here’s a picture of her smiling.
Rachel: Here’s a picture of her smiling, like, we’re all okay. But yeah, it’s really hard. But it’s also just a distraction, I find.
Ella: Yeah, completely.
Rachel: I mean, if you know what you want to do and what you want to create in life, I think a really important part of that is keeping your eyes on the ball and focusing on what it is that you’re looking to create with good intentions, and then everything else is just kind of noise and lessons, hopefully.
[046:00] Ella: I completely agree. I think if … that’s the ultimate lesson. I think I’ve had kind of one … I’ve only ever had a couple of moments that got so bad that I’m like, “I can’t do it.” When we were opening the first deli, Matt and I were so torn because everything I had always done and the way I ate was plant-based, and it was all vegan. But the way Matt ate wasn’t. And one of the whole things we found was that it was really hard to find places that made it feel accessible and welcome to everybody. Because, you know, I’d say, “Matt, let’s go to this vegan restaurant,” and he’s say, “No. I don’t want a vegan meal.” And he’d say, “Let’s go here.” And I’d say, “No, I don’t want that, because I want a vegan meal. That doesn’t have good options.” So, we decided, initially, and we have actually changed it since then, but initially decided that we would do all vegan menu and then as optional sides, as add-ons, we would have organic salmon and organic chicken, because we felt like that would maybe open it up to a wider audience and get people coming and and trying the broccoli and trying it all and trying everything and being like, “Wow, this is delicious. Maybe I could have a meal of this.” And we got hate mail like you wouldn’t believe, oh my god.
We had like two weeks of just never-ending hate mail, people saying, “I’m going to come and kill your dog. How would you guys feel about that? Understand how that makes everyone else feel by the fact that you are doing this.” And it’s so frustrating because you just think, “Okay, but we’re trying to open this up to a wider audience. We’re trying to get people to think vegan food is yummy, and this feels like a way to get people through the door. And people won’t necessarily even try a bit of it if they feel like it’s too alien for them.” And after about 18 months as plant-based and vegan became more accessible we took it off the menu. But to begin with I think it was still so new in London, it was so unfamiliar, vegan was a kind of quite shunned word, and it definitely felt like the right thing to get people just more open-minded to this kind of food, but it was just unbelievable the reaction people had. They were so angry at us. I was like, “It’s organic, we’re really trying to source it from the best, most ethical thing we can. You don’t need to have it, we just want people to feel like they’re welcome here.”
[048:00] Rachel: Right, and it’s such an emotional thing, and I think that’s also a big reason why, yeah, veganism is a shunned word, and people have that aversion to it. And I mean you speak more about plant-based and healthy foods and delicious foods, but you don’t use the word vegan that much, I’m sure for those reasons? And it’s just it makes it more accessible.
Ella: Yeah. I want it to be something everyone can tap into, and I guess not everybody is ready to be a vegan, and I want to respect that decision of theirs and encourage them just to try more plant-based foods.
Rachel: Exactly, exactly. I mean, yeah, you do what you have to do to reach the most people, and you do such amazing work in the world. But that’s the sad part about this end. And I had a lot of these conversations as well. I was nervous about even sharing, “Okay, I’m going to be vegan again now,” because I know what if I would fall off the wagon? What if I would, you know, two months from now, decide to stray back to something else? I would get that hate mail, I’m 100% certain, because people are so emotionally attached.
Ella: Yeah, I know. I’m sure. And that’s where it becomes so challenging because ultimately, like, I do think we have to respect everyone’s individual decisions to do what’s right for them.
Rachel: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, to not alienate. And I mean I try to do that with yoga, and that was also a hard thing for me in the beginning because I decided, okay, I’m actually, you know, in the beginning I was trying to make it look as if I was this perfect, pure, healthy person that just does yoga and drinks green smoothies and that’s my whole life. And then when I realized pretty early on that I wanted to be myself in every way, and that meant sharing that I also drink wine and sometimes I’ll go dancing and have a shot of tequila, and you know, I can still be a yoga teacher, I can still practice yoga, I can still lead a spiritual lifestyle and be relatable and normal and drink wine. And that was not very well-received in the beginning.
[050:00] Ella: But you know I think that’s one of the things, this image perfection that everybody feels like they have to have in their life. It’s such an intangible, impossible thing.
Rachel: Yes, to be perfect.
Ella: It’s not possible, it’s not a thing.
Rachel: Right, and then they think, “Oh, I could never try a yoga class because I’m not that person, or I could never eat more plant-based food because I’m not that person.”
Ella: Right. And I can’t go to a yoga class because I can’t … I remember one of the first yoga classes that I went to and there were people that were doing like handstands into wheels into this, and I was like, “I cannot do that.” And kind of trying to get yourself into that mindset of like, that doesn’t matter. Try and reach your toes!
Rachel: (laugh) Try and touch your toes now.
Ella: And, you know, I’ve been practicing now for five years and suddenly now you’re at the stage where actually you can start doing all of those inversions and those fun stuff, but yoga still means the same thing today as it did … the idea of perfection that I think scares people off so much because they think, “Oh, I won’t look like the person on Instagram all the time.” I guess that relates to the toast question. Does Ella ever eat toast for dinner? It’s like, yeah, of course, I am a human, a fully-fledged human. I am not simply an Instagram profile.
Rachel: Exactly, exactly. And I mean that’s one of the … making it accessible, I think, in the way that you do, and I hope a way that I do in yoga, it’s just it brings more people to the lifestyle. I think, in the end, that’s the point, you know? To make this really inviting and welcoming.
Ella: Exactly, that’s exactly the point. And it was so interesting when we launched our product, initially Starbucks were our second customer. And we had lots of people, again, write in and say there were so unhappy about it because they don’t pay their taxes properly and all the rest of it. You know, and that they’re not that vegan friendly, and all the rest of it. Which again, I completely understand.
[052:00] At the same time, my response is that we’re creating this to make finding natural plant-based options accessible, available in the mainstream. It’s amazing to be in Whole Foods, they’re an incredible brand, massive respect for that kind of brand, but at the same time, they don’t need us. God knows how many other amazing products they have in there that tick those boxes. Everybody who is walking into a Whole Foods is already having a connection with that kind of more natural lifestyle. But in Starbucks it was the first thing on till in the U.K. that was anywhere near, like, it was the first kind of vegan thing, it was the first thing that didn’t have so many additives and refined sugars and things like that. For us, that was the ultimate success, to bring something which is so different to previous offerings to the forefront. That’s, I think, where you get challenged, because people want this kind of completely ideal world, but a completely ideal world isn’t going to change anything, for most people.
Rachel: No, I mean, and how exciting is that!? Walking into a Starbucks and knowing that there’s a plant-based option to snack on with your coffee!?
Ella: Yeah, exactly! To me that was the biggest, biggest piece of pride. Getting it into the more mainstream is where I feel like that’s the biggest win, because it’s so exciting to see people become receptive to that, and have that option available to people, which wasn’t previously there.
Rachel: Exactly, exactly. So, I mean, you have so much going on right now. I mean, a line of food products and delis and a beauty line and books and the app and the blog and … What’s the future for you? Do you already know what the future has in store?
Ella: So hard to say, to be honest, because everything’s changed so much in the last couple of years. In so many ways. A) With my health, it’s so stable right now, more than I ever could have imagined, which is incredible because that opens up so much possibility of what I can do. At the same time, if you had asked me if I had ever run a business I would say not a million years. I’d be the last person I would have thought to do what I do, in that sense. We have 70 people on our payroll now. That’s terrifying, but it’s also unbelievably unexpected.
[054:00] Rachel: Incredible!
Ella: So I guess I just want to keep going. For me, I had two aims. Like, on a personal level, I really really feel passionately about trying to change peoples’ perception of healthy, plant-based food. I guess on the surface, on Instagram and everything it’s all very positive and celebratory, and to me that’s the right approach. But at the same time, when you get underneath it, I think there is a serious message. The U.K., there was a study yesterday saying the U.K. has the highest obesity levels in western Europe. They said only about ¼ of the population eats their five portions of fruits or vegetables a day. And, you know, we’re not … you know, we’re spending millions on lifestyle-related diseases. We’re not in a great place with our health. Something does have to change, and to do that we have to be more excited about eating some more plants. No one has to do anything exclusively, but we do have to have a mindset shift. So I feel really passionately about making those resources and tools available for people as and when they want to tap into them, so continuing to share tons of content, tons of ideas, make it uplifting, make it positive. That’s my big focus.
Then, from a business perspective, I want to keep growing Deliciously Ella, and I really want to make it a massive company, because I want to show people that you can do things on a big scale that’s still socially responsible and positive, both for us, for the planet … I’m working at the moment on transitioning everything that we have to plastic free, which is going to be a massive project, but it’s really exciting, and I hope we can kind of use it to show people there are other ways of doing things.
[056:00] Rachel: What an amazing, amazing vision for the future! I can’t wait to tag along, and hopefully see you in London and have dinner sometime soon!
Ella: Definitely! Absolutely, that would be the best!
Rachel: Thank you so much for inspiring all of us and for coming on the show!
Ella: My pleasure! Thank you so so so so much for having me.
Rachel: Give Austin and Matt a hug from me and all of my fur babies.
Ella: I will!
Rachel: (laugh) Thanks!
Ella: Thank you!
[End of Episode]
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