28 Sept 2022

Ella Mills on finding her purpose, feeling like a ‘complete weirdo’ and demystifying plant-based diets

Ella Mills on finding her purpose, feeling like a ‘complete weirdo’ and demystifying plant-based diets

Ella Mills celebrated a major milestone this year, marking 10 years since she posted the first recipe (spiced sweet potatoes with an avocado cream) on the blog she titled Deliciously Ella.

Now a multi-million pound company with a staff of 50 run by the food writer and her husband and business partner Matthew, the brand was born out of a “horrendous situation”, when Mills, now 31, was forced to drop out of university due to ill health.

“I had lots of digestive issues, I had chronic fatigue, chronic pain, I had a consistent UTI for four years,” she says on a Zoom call from Deliciously Ella HQ. “I was on antibiotics, I went into hospital for antibiotic drips, I was on steroids, I tried beta blockers…”

Eventually diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome and prescribed drugs that still weren’t working a year later, the then 21-year-old was running out of options. “I just hit an absolute rock bottom with my physical health, but also with my mental health,” she recalls.

Taking matters into her own hands, Mills – who was born in Warwickshire, and is the daughter of former Labour MP Shaun Woodward – decided to overhaul her diet, cutting out meat and processed foods, which she found worked wonders for her health, and gradually she came off all medication.

Teaching herself to cook from scratch and sharing her experiments online, the culinary seeds were sown and the novice cook’s following began to grow – today Deiciously Ella has 2.1m followers on Instagram.

Today, plant-based cookery has well and truly hit the mainstream, but back then it was a different story.

“Ten years ago, you felt really lonely and like you’re a complete weirdo,” Mills says. “Going out for dinner, I’d be like, ‘Do you have anything that’s plant-based?’ They’d be like, ‘Oh, you can have a green salad’. That’s not dinner! Now you find amazing options everywhere, which is completely new and so exciting.”

Six cookbooks, an app, a restaurant and a supermarket product range later, the mum of two daughters (Skye, three, and May, who’ll turn two in October) is as surprised as anyone about her phenomenal success.

“My mum’s the first person to say, ‘No one expected this of Ella’,” she says with a laugh. “It’s said with love, but it’s completely true. I was really not someone who had big plans in life.”

So, what changed?

“I think I’ve realised the power of finding a purpose,” she reflects. “That has totally transformed everything I do – that sense of excitement around a meaning. I’ve been really surprised by how much that’s changed me.”

While the business has mushroomed, that purpose has remained the same, Mills insists: “I obviously started Deliciously Ella for my own needs, but I’ve always been really passionate about being useful for people. It’s all about trying to genuinely give goods and services that are helpful.”

That’s why the bestselling author’s latest title is something of a departure from the standard cookbook format. How To Go Plant-Based: A Definitive Guide For You And Your Family features advice from a range of doctors, nutrition experts, and a psychologist.

“I think what we’ve really seen over the last few years is you’ve now got this huge swathe of the population who identify as flexitarian, or are trying to be more plant-based,” Mills explains. Yet a lot of people are are still confused when it comes to swapping meat for veg-focused meals, she believes.

“There obviously are so many myths out there and so many concerns, you know, do you need to take supplements? How do you get protein? How do you get calcium? Is it safe for me to do when I’m pregnant? Can my children do it? What about my teenagers?”

Along with answers to those questions, the seventh Deliciously Ella book is packed with easy, one-pan dinners like roasted squash and dhal tray bake, and family favourites regularly wolfed down by Mills’ own little ones, such as 10-minute pea and pesto orzo.

Time, the working mum knows, is of the essence, as is proving that embracing a plant-focused diet doesn’t necessarily have to be at odds with the cost of living crisis.

“You can’t hide from that,” Mills says. “But equally, lots of recipes you can make at home, like lentil-based bologneses, they can be pretty inexpensive and arguably a lot cheaper than lots of meat-based meals.”

And while a fully plant-based diet works for Mills, she stresses that munching a burger or bowl of mac and cheese – even after you’ve vowed to quit your carnivorous diet – doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off the wagon.

“There is no wagon!” she says. “I am very passionate about the fact that a dogmatic approach to anything in life just doesn’t work.”

Instead, she hopes readers discover the health-giving power of plant-based meals, whether they’re vegan, veggie, flexitarian or anywhere in-between.

“It’s about trying to look after yourself for decades, not days,” says Mills. “You’re not being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you’re just trying to genuinely nourish your body.”

How To Go Plant-Based: A Definitive Guide for You and Your Family by Ella Mills
(Clare Winfield/PA)

How To Go Plant-Based: A Definitive Guide For You And Your Family by Ella Mills is published by Yellow Kite, priced £26. Photography by Clare Winfield. Available August 18.

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