Social media sensation and healthy eating guru Ella Woodward has come a long way from the self-confessed 'sugar monster' she once was. Diagnosed with a rare disorder in 2011 (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome), Ella turned away from ice-cream, chocolate and pick'n'mix towards a natural, plant-based diet – cutting out all processed, animal and dairy products overnight, blogging her homemade recipes along the way.
'Don’t push yourself to a point where life’s no fun anymore! It’s all about balance and happiness. Healthy living is a sustainable, enjoyable way of life – it’s not a quick fix diet!'
And with a massive following on her blog, deliciouslyella.com and her first recipe book, similarly titled Deliciously Ella, selling over a quarter of a million copies so far, there's no sign of her slowing down just yet.
Her long-awaited follow-up Deliciously Ella Every Day hit the shelves last month and is packed full of easy, convenient and accessible recipes that she hopes will show families that eating healthily doesn't have to be boring, difficult or tasteless. We caught up with Ella to ask her advice on family meals, juggling different diets at the dinner table and what her journey has taught her so far. Bon Appetit!
Ella's Foodie Life
You’ve experimented a lot in the kitchen, particularly in the early days of your blog when you were new to cooking. What was your most exciting food discovery – and what was your biggest disaster?
So hard to pick just one! The ability of dates to work as a sweet replacement is probably the best though – it’s amazing what you can do with them. Everyone always asks about my biggest disaster, so I wish I had a better answer to it but sadly I don't! I always try everything a million times as I cook so I know how it’s going before I get to the end. So often things don’t turn out quite the way I expect and very often they’re not perfect – but there’s yet to be something that I won’t eat!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere, but most of all from what I crave! I spend all my time thinking about food, so I’m often focused on the things I feel like eating and then I find new ways to make them.
Is there any particular world culture that inspires your culinary skills?
I love Indian food, it’s amazing – curries are my all time favourite!
Every year there seems to be a new superfood or food trend that we're being told we should jump on board with – how do you keep up?
I don’t love the super food concept; I think it takes away from the real meaning of healthy living and makes it feel inaccessible. For me healthy eating is about eating in a way that makes you feel happy and healthy and it’s much more about carrots, brown rice and bananas then spirulina. Instead of jumping from food trend to food trend, I just hope people continue to eat well and enjoy lots of new ways of eating nourishing foods!
Food has become such a big part of your life, but do you use food for anything other than cooking?
Coconut oil is one of my superstar ingredients. I use it in everything related to beauty from a hair mask, moisturiser, exfoliator (mixed with brown rice) and even in my bath!
Your new book is focused on hassle-free ways to make healthy eating an easy addition to already hectic lives. If families only have time to make one change, what do you recommend they start with?
Make small, easy changes. Things like switching white rice to brown rice, cereal to porridge, adding berries to your breakfast and putting guacamole with your dinner. You don’t have to dive right in, it’s about finding a sustainable balance that makes you feel happy and healthy.
Is there a lot of preparation and planning involved in keeping to a plant-based diet? How would you recommend anyone with a busy schedule follow in your footsteps?
Not at all, it’s as simple as you want it to be. My life is crazy busy, so I can totally relate to people feeling that way! I make things like bircher muesli, which takes 2 minutes and then I take it to work with me. I also make big batch meals when I have time and then freeze the rest. Things like my veggie paella, turmeric and quinoa curry and mushroom brown rice risotto are perfect for this! Plus they all only need one pot, so there’s very little washing up.
How do you keep organised and steer away from convenience foods, particularly when you are busy?
I always have snacks at hand! My favourite go-to snacks are banana breakfast bars with cashew butter and vanilla, black bean brownies and oaty raisin cookies – they’re so easy to make and even easier to transport.
What’s the one kitchen appliance that makes your life easier?
My food processor, I love how it turns simple things into something amazing. I make hummus, pesto and energy bites in it pretty much every day!
Navigating family mealtimes
A lot of people skip breakfast or resort to convenient but unhealthy cereals. What can parents do to get the whole family to eat a healthier breakfast?
Things like porridge are perfect. If you use porridge oats then it takes just two or three minutes to make and it’s really inexpensive too, which is great!
It can be hard to juggle family mealtimes, particularly when everyone’s eating from different diet plans. Were you living at home with your family when you began your new diet and how did they react?
I was and they thought I was totally mad, but after time they realised that I wasn’t crazy and the food actually tasted great! I think it’s just important to introduce new things to people over time and if your family member goes on a different diet, it's important to just be open minded to it.
How do you get fussy eaters excited about healthy food?
Never ever preach, just share things you love with them over time and see what they think. Go for familiar, accessible looking dishes that won’t overwhelm them. Try things like curries and brown rice, rather than raw kale!
What’s your favourite quick-fix weeknight dinner from your new cookbook?
There are so many, as that’s what the whole book is about. I love a baked sweet potato with sautéed garlic mushrooms and avocado, it’s so simple but so satisfying and comforting! I also love a big bowl of pasta arrabiata using brown rice pasta, it’s so quick and easy but so yum.
What’s the best piece of advice your mother ever gave you?
You get back what you put in. I used to find it so annoying, but I now see how true it is! The more time, energy and love you put in, the more you get back.
You turned your diet around quite quickly due to your health. What is your advice for people attempting to detox or keep to hard diet resolutions?
Don’t push yourself to a point where life’s no fun anymore! It’s all about balance and happiness. Healthy living is a sustainable, enjoyable way of life – it’s not a quick fix diet!
What did you find were the hardest things to give up and what sort of strategies did you implement to cope with your cravings?
Sugar was so hard to give up! I think the most important point is to find things that you love as replacements, rather than depriving yourself all together.
How do you cope with the challenges and stresses that everyday life brings, while staying true to your way of life?
You need to love the way you eat and live, so luckily I don’t find it difficult – I genuinely love it.
Grab your copy of Deliciously Ella Every Day in stores now and head over to asda.com for all your grocery needs.