Food & Drink

Deliciously Ella founder on why we need to ditch the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset to live a healthier life

Ella Mills unpacks why simple, positive changes can have the biggest impact. By Prudence Wade.

Ella Mills wrote her first cookbook nine years ago
Ella Mills Ella Mills wrote her first cookbook nine years ago

Ella Mills – who created the Deliciously Ella empire – gets why the stranger aspects of wellness tend to hit the headlines.

“I completely understand that – I really do,” Mills, 32, says. “What’s interesting to talk about tends to be slightly weirder, wackier or more out there – like the millionaire that’s trying to reverse age himself… It’s fascinating. It’s so interesting.”

And yet she also appreciates that these wild stories don’t give wellness the best name – and taking care of yourself doesn’t have to involve spending millions a month and undergoing blood transfusions from your teenage son (à la Bryan Johnson, that biohacking millionaire).

Ella Mills

“A lot of the conversation around wellness has been focused more on the niche, more on the things that feel wildly out of reach for all sorts of reasons – as well as the financial, but also the practical implications of getting up at 3am every day and doing four hours of wellness before you do a desk job or a shift job. It just doesn’t feel relatable in any shape or form,” Mills says.

Whereas the simpler ways to take care of yourself aren’t quite as widely covered – and Mills realises that it’s harder for “a carrot or a lentil or chickpea” to hit the headlines. Whether it’s eating one extra portion of veg a day or trying meat-free Mondays – it’s “unbelievable” the impact small changes can have, she says, but “we just don’t focus on it enough”.

Plus, she wants to move away from an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset that seems to permeate the wellness industry. “It’s OK to go out and have a pizza and a beer, and then the next day to batch cook a lentil bolognese for the week, or take your beef bolognese that you’ve made forever and do half lentils – so upping the fibre and reducing the environmental impacts,” she adds. “It’s not going to have to be eating kale from here on out. I think that’s too much of our association, and we need to shift that.”

While meat substitutes and vegan cheeses don’t necessarily come cheap, the base elements of a plant-based diet can be significantly better for your bank balance: “Because obviously if you’re replacing your animal protein with protein like a lentil – a lentil is a lot cheaper.”

It’s been nine years since Mills exploded onto the public stage with her debut cookbook, Deliciously Ella, becoming the poster child for plant-based eating – and going on to become a bonafide brand, launching food products and restaurants.

Things have changed a lot since 2015, with Mills saying: “Now, we’re gently starting to shed some of the preconceptions that were there before – I remember when I first started cooking this way, people would look at me and they’d be like, ‘What will you eat? Are you some kind of alien?’ And it was all very confusing – now it’s become much more widely accepted, and there’s a realisation that you can have a meal that is filling, satisfying, that tastes really good and is vegetable based.”

And it’s not just the wider world that’s changed – things are totally different for Mills herself too. Since her first cookbook, she got married to partner and Deliciously Ella CEO, Matthew Mills, and had two children, Skye, now four, and May, three – and this is her most “personal” cookbook yet.

“The first [cookbook] was like, ‘This is what healthy eating could look like’, and this one is – by the way, this is how you actually do it. Because every year over the last decade, my life has got busier and busier with the business and also being a mum now to two small kids – you have literally no time ever, but yet you need more energy than you’ve ever had.

“I spent the last four years, really ever since my first daughter was born, almost relearning how to do the job.”

Wellness on Instagram and TikTok has an unrealistic veneer of perfection, but Mills wants everyone to know she still gets overwhelmed “all the time” – particularly thinking of the period after her first daughter was born, when she would so often revert to having toast for dinner.

She says: “Everyone does – god, there are days that are so overwhelming and the business is very demanding. We’ve got almost 100 people in Deliciously Ella, we’ve just taken on our own manufacturing sites, we’ve now got our office, we’ve got a restaurant, we’ve got a factory so we can produce all our own products now. It is super full-on – we’ve launched in the US, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland – it’s a really big outfit now.

“So the day you’re finalising a deal for the factory, you’ve got a chickenpox outbreak at nursery. Or you need a shepherd’s costume and you’re in really busy meetings.”

Mills has realised that “the only certainty is uncertainty” in life – so there’s no point putting things off.

“We are in this mindset of like, I’ve got to do it right, to do it at all. And I think we often live with this [idea] of when life is really easy, I’ll take up running. When my kids are at this life stage, I’ll start exercising again – or when I get through this period at work that’s super full-on, then I’ll start cooking again and taking care of myself.

“But the problem is, life doesn’t work like that. You’ll get through one busy period, then you’ll go into the next one – it might be even more busy.”

Instead, Mills wants us to focus more on the easy wins – whether that’s squeezing in two 15-minute at-home workouts a week, or batch cooking on a Sunday.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect – it really doesn’t – but small,” she adds.

“It’s this all-or-nothing mindset we’re quite prone to – moving past that is a really impactful way of unlocking better health, because no one can do everything perfectly all the time. You can’t do it all, and I passionately believe that the longer you keep putting [things] off, waiting until life feels easy – it’s just likely to never happen.”

Healthy Made Simple by Ella Mills

Deliciously Ella: Healthy Made Simple by Ella Mills is published by Yellow Kite, priced £22. Photography by Clare Winfield. Available now.