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Interview

Deliciously Ella: “Enjoy every bite. Find the balance that makes you happy”

August 4th 2016 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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We caught up with the bestselling healthy eating author to talk all things food, fitness, skincare and success

Bestselling author, blogger extraordinaire and social media superstar, it’s safe to say that Deliciously Ella, aka Ella Mills, has well and truly discovered the recipe for success.

With two hit cookbooks under her belt - 'Deliciously Ella’ and ‘Deliciously Ella Every Day’ she is the perfect example of how a negative can be turned into the most fruitful of positives. Having been diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome in 2011, Ella started her blog as a way to see if food could help heal her when conventional medicines seemed to have little effect on her symptoms. Fast-forward five years and not only has Ella taken back control of her health, but her repertoire of delicious recipes and journey thus far has garnered a following of loyal and devote food fanatics. A fact evident from her nearly 1 million Instagram followers.

What does she credit her success to? We caught up with Ella to talk all things cooking and career inspiration and her new skincare range with natural beauty heroes - Neal’s Yard.

On beauty...

GTG: Your collaboration with Neal’s Yard sounds like a perfect fit. Could you tell us more about it and to what extent what you eat and how you cook influences your skincare regime?

DE: Initially, I changed my diet as I was really ill and it acted as a type of medicine for me. I thought I’d eat a certain way and then just see if it worked, but then when I started doing it I ended up loving it. I loved the food, the flavours, the ingredients...and I started to feel a lot better too. Then, as I got used to a more natural approach with food, I started to adopt a more natural approach in other areas of my life as well. Beauty was one of the first areas I became interested in as I felt it was kind of weird to be spending all this time and energy on what I put in my body and not as much on what I put on it. It wasn’t making sense, so I started looking much more into natural beauty, skincare and makeup and became a lot more interested in it.

In the past I never had huge problems with my skin, but when I was at university, I swear I looked grey. I ate so badly - we used to dye our vodka with food colouring just because it was fun...(if you’re doing that, you know you’re pushing the boundaries!) Now though, I’ve noticed such a big difference to my skin from the food I eat - it’s just a lot more vibrant. And, because I feel so much better about the way my skin looks, it’s in turn made me feel a lot more confident. It’s made me really realise how what you eat not only has such a big impact on how you physically feel, but also the impact superficially on your hair and skin too. So that's something we tried to mirror in the [Neal's Yard] products by having food ingredients in them - things I personally cook with like turmeric, coconut oil, blueberries, lime, cucumber to reflect that idea that the things that make you feel good on the inside, can help you feel good on the outside too. We then paired it with rose which is my favourite flavour. I love the freshness and the femininity of it. We started off initially with a berry focus with strawberries, blueberries and acai, but then someone told me the products smelled of Petits Filous. You wanted to just eat it, but it wasn’t working as a skincare product. So we worked on it and now we have that really nice balance of foodie ingredients with rose adding a nice freshness to it.

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MORE GLOSS: 8 ways to introduce turmeric into your diet

GTG: What can people expect from the products?

DE: They’re designed to be simple, everyday products that just fit into your routine really easily. That was the number one aim for them - that they be low maintenance and simple - your go-to staples.

GTG: Do you think the simplicity of a beauty regime makes it easier to maintain?

DE: I’m definitely like that, I keep things pretty simple to be honest. I'll wash my face, moisturise and use a bit of natural makeup on top for the day. A couple of times a week I’ll exfoliate - it’s my favourite thing to do, it’s so satisfying - and then moisturise afterwards, adding a few drops of argan oil into my moisturiser to intensify it a little bit more for night time.

A couple times a week I’ll also use an oil blend or the Neal’s Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm, £38, which is really moisturising at night. I just think when you have a simple routine that works, you’re so much likely to do it everyday, rather than if you have 30 products you need to get involved with.

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GTG: If we were to look inside your makeup bag, what products would we find?

DE: I use Neal’s Yard’s Lengthening Mascara, £16, which is really nice and then I use quite a few products from RMS. I really like their Living Luminizer, £30, which just adds a great brightness to my skin. I also really like their Master Mixer, £30, and their eyeshadows too - they’ve got a really good Lunar Eye Polish, £19, which is clear but bright at the same time. Tata Harper also does a really nice blusher which I use too.

GTG: Do you tend to lean more towards organic brands?

DE: I try to, but not when it’s out of my hands like at shoots - I won’t say, “No, don’t use that!” or anything. When I’m at home and if I can, I’ll try and use natural, organic brands. I also like to support those kinds of brands too .

On food...

GTG: What’s the best cooking tip you’ve ever received?

DE: To enjoy it and feel confident about it instead of feeling nervous in the kitchen and trying to follow a recipe perfectly. Baking is a bit different to be fair, but savoury recipes have a more taste-as-you-go feel about them. Don’t be afraid to adapt recipes and make them work for you. If you don’t have an ingredient but have something else in the fridge, put that in instead. Take inspiration and ideas, but don’t be afraid to be confident and if it does goes wrong, it goes wrong. If you enjoy it, you’re much more likely to keep cooking.

Don’t be afraid to adapt recipes and make them work for you

GTG: How do feed your skin in terms of what you eat?

DE: For me, the biggest thing is trying to eat a range of fruit and veg. It makes a massive difference. Things like smoothies are great for that because if I’ve had say, granola for breakfast and avocado on toast for lunch, I can get to dinner and realise I haven’t had enough. With a smoothie I can just chuck it all in, which definitely helps.

GTG: Do you feel it gives you a headstart?

DE: Yes exactly. And sleep’s important too. I try to have at least 6 or 7 hours sleep each night which for me, makes such a big difference to my skin. It’s all a positive cycle. If I get a decent night’s sleep, I’ll want to wake up early and get some exercise in (which I think also helps my skin), and then once I’ve exercised, I’ll want to eat better for the rest of the day. When you’re in the cycle, it kind of all makes sense and you want to keep going with it.

GTG: It’s that whole thing of getting into new habits isn’t it...

DE: Completely and when you’re in them - you’re winning. But when you’re out of them, it’s so much harder to get back in. I’ve been out of them for the last month as I’ve been trying to finish my book and so have been recipe-testing lots. This morning though I was like, “I’m going spinning and I’m gonna make a smoothie!”

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GTG: If we were to look inside your kitchen, what 5 things would we always find?

DE: Definitely an avocado - I try to find a way to add it to every single meal! It’s my favourite thing in the world. Probably also oats as I find them such a good and easy staple ingredient - you can make porridge or just mix them with some overripe bananas with a little honey and cinnamon to make cookies. I make porridge a lot. Especially if it’s late and I’m really hungry. I try to have just really inexpensive, easy and quick things to hand.

I also always have chickpeas too as again, a can of chickpeas is so easy to use. I’ll often have roast sweet potatoes or quinoa in the fridge and I can just get those, put them in a pan, throw in my chickpeas, some spices, tahini and olive oil and after 5 minutes, it’s become something really nice. I like having those kind of things around that you can just chuck in. I’m also a hummus addict. I get through so much every week - I find everything is better with hummus!

Also, some kind of green. I have quite a lot of frozen spinach around normally which I put into my smoothies. And again if I’m chucking stuff into a pan, I try to chuck in a bit of green as well.

Then lastly probably rye bread - to go with my hummus and avocado.

GTG: In your experience, what’s the key to actually enjoying eating healthily? How did you find personally, the motivation to make a change that stuck?

DE: That’s such a good question, because it’s so important that you enjoy it. That to be honest, is the most fundamental thing. Don’t call it a diet, it’s a way of feeling good. There’s no right or wrong way to do it and there’s no strict plan or path of doing it either, it’s what works for you and whether that’s making porridge in the mornings before you go to work, or doing something more, then that’s great. You’ve got to feel satisfied so then it’s sustainable as well as enjoyable.

So often with healthy eating, people can feel that in order to be healthy they’ve got to eat loads of kale and things like that. However, if you just have say a green juice for breakfast, a smoothie for lunch and a kale salad for dinner, that won’t be satisfying after a few days for most people. Sometimes on a summer’s evening a marinated kale salad with tahini and tamari, roasted sweet potato, some hummus and avocado can be really nice. But, if you don’t kale it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to - there are hundreds of other things to try.

I think it’s really important to see it like that and make what you want - edit it and make it work for you. If you want to go out and reconnect with friends over pizza and ice cream, that’s great. Do not feel guilty about it! As women, we sometimes have a guilt complex with food and I think that’s part of the reason why we can stop enjoying it. If you go out, enjoy it and then maybe the next day if you’re wanting a bit more balance, make a quinoa bowl for lunch. Just don’t sit there and be like, “I shouldn’t have done that, that was really bad.” Enjoy every bite. Find the balance that makes you happy. It’s so different for everyone and it’s such a personal thing.

Don’t call it a diet, it’s a way of feeling good

GTG: Completely agree, otherwise you can end up feeling like you’re trying on a shoe that doesn’t fit and you’re just forcing it on...

DE: Exactly. And whenever you force something, it just doesn’t last. It’s so much better to start off slowly. If you want to change the way you eat, you’re so much better off for example starting off adding one portion of fruit or veg to every meal for the next three weeks. By the end of the three weeks, you would have eaten 63 more portions of fruit and veg. That’s a lot and makes for such a positive step that doesn’t feel overwhelming as you’re not even changing anything - you’re just adding something so it’s more positive rather than negative.

Then if you want to make more changes, you can just take out some of the more refined products, like rather than having cereal for breakfast, have porridge, rather than white bread, have rye bread - things like that. Again, it’s not going to feel really overwhelming. Start with something you know you’re going to enjoy rather than something you won’t. After 6 months, you’ll find that not only have you changed the way you eat, but you’ve also actually enjoyed every step of the way by adding it into your life in a natural and sustainable way.

GTG: It makes the whole process easier. There was a recent study saying that young people lack basic cooking skills (I can relate!) so sometimes the idea of making a change seems too overwhelming

DE: Exactly and so it can be tiny changes. I could not cook at all when I started this and for me it was a learning process of learning how to cook. You’re not going to be a masterchef from day 1. It’s that whole thing of being kind to yourself rather than setting yourself up to fail.

On her working day...

GTG: We’d love to gain an insight into your day. How do you start it?

DE: I try to start with exercise at around 7 (although I haven’t been doing it so much over the last few weeks), as I find it’s usually the best way to clear my head from the day before. I find at the moment things can get quite stressful as there’s a lot going on, so it helps me to deal with the stress in a positive way. Burning out that energy really helps me take away that feeling of being overwhelmed.

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GTG: In terms of exercising in the mornings, what are your favourite ways to keep fit?

DE: A mix really. For me, it has to be a class especially when things are busy. If I’m booked into a class which starts at 7, I know I have to be there for then, whereas the gym has no start or end time. Also, I think I’m naturally quite lazy and the thing I like about going to a class is that they tell me what to do!

GTG: How do you end your day and how do you switch off?

DE: I find it easy now. I used to live with two girlfriends which was so much fun, but I would say goodnight and then head up to bed and open up my laptop to do work. However, now that I live with my husband, I find it easier [to switch off] because he’d find it really offensive if I did that every night! So I try and stop whatever I’m doing by about 9.30 most nights and just chill and put my phone away. We’re obsessed with our dog (Austin) at the moment and we sometimes just sit there talking to him!

On her career...

GTG: When you look back on your journey so far, what do you think have been the most influential factors behind your success?

DE: I think often when you want to start your own business, no matter what sector it’s in, it’s so easy to look at what’s popular and then try to do that. What you’ve got to do though is think, "What do I love?" "What do I feel really passionate about?" because when you start your own business, you’re going to be working on it 7 days a week. You’ve got to make it not feel like a sacrifice when you can’t do other things. You’ve got to be wanting to work on it and if you’re not completely passionate about it, I just don’t think it can last.

The second thing is I think you’ve got to know what’s different about you and not emulate something that you’ve seen that’s worked but already exists. So you’ve got to find something that makes you different and better - a new and improved version. A USP is essential.

Engaging with people as much as possible is also really important. No matter what you’re doing, what the people you’re appealing to think really matters - probably more than what you think. So learning and taking everything you can from people’s feedback is the most important thing I think. Every day I go to the Deliciously Ella hashtag on Instagram as I can see what people are really thinking in real time. It’s incredible. The more people you can share it with and the more people you can talk to about it, the better. Especially before you start investing money in it or quitting your job to do it - trying to get as much feedback as possible and adapting the original concept until it’s at a point where you feel it’s ready is really important.

I think the other thing for me was also taking criticism as a constructive thing - allowing it to let me grow and learn. You feel so attached personally to whatever it is that you do because it’s your thing that you’ve started - it feels like it’s a part of you and therefore there’s a vulnerability attached to it. You’re going to meet people who criticise you - no matter what you do - whether it’s you personally or your product, so I think it’s important to be able to find a way to learn and grow from it rather than take it as an insult.

A USP is essential

GTG: Being in the public sphere, do you find people get a lot braver behind a screen and perhaps say things that they wouldn’t necessarily say if they were face-to-face with you?

DE: Yes definitely. For me, there are two things: there is learning from constructive criticism and then also accepting that there are some people who just want to cause a problem. When I got married, someone wrote, ‘You’ll be divorced within the year,’ and that wasn’t constructive in any way, it was just someone trying to cause a problem. I used to get really upset by that kind of stuff, but now I realise it’s just their problem.

I think it's really important though when someone has something critical to say but you feel you can learn from it. If someone says for example, “Your food is really expensive,” I think, okay let’s learn from that and make stuff that’s accessible using simple ingredients that you can get anywhere.

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GTG: You mentioned finding something you’re really passionate about and finding your USP. When you first started out, what was your intention?

DE: Honestly, I had no intention to start with because I never planned to make it a business. I didn’t know how to cook, but knew that I had to learn in order for this to become a sustainable thing as I needed to enjoy the food - so I started writing the blog. It was something I just really enjoyed doing. It wasn’t until the first book came out and it did so well that I started to really think of it as a business. That was what was really amazing about it. I had this year to really develop it, experiment with it and get feedback on it and that was the most helpful thing.

GTG: If you could go back in time, would you change anything and if so why?

DE: I don’t think so to be honest as I try to be in the moment and not think about yesterday because I can’t change it. I can just try and learn from it. If you had asked me that question when I was really ill though, I would have wanted to change that as it was the worst thing, but it’s given me this amazing career and I would never have gotten into any of this otherwise. I’ve learned so much from it and so although it can still be frustrating when it flairs up, I wouldn’t take it back.

GTG: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

DE: I did a talk recently for an entrepreneurs event with Sir Charles Dunstone, the founder of Carphone Warehouse and TalkTalk. He said something I really liked: “If you really want to be an entrepreneur and start your own business, what you need above everything else is optimism.” Which is so true. We’re opening our next deli, we’re launching new products, we’re moving into another kitchen for our other deli and there’s so much that can and does go wrong. You’ve got to have that kind of blind faith that everything will be fine and that there’s a solution - always seeing the glass half full because as soon as you lose that attitude, it can get just so overwhelming.

Things don’t always work out or go to plan and never will, especially when there are lots of different people involved. If people say no to something for example, you’ve got to push back on it if you feel it’s the right thing to do and that optimism and faith in what you’re doing and saying helps. You’re also always going to have criticism and if you don’t feel optimistic or positive about what you’re doing, that pessimism is going to hit you that much harder.

The new Deliciously Ella and Neal’s Yard collection is now available from nealsyardremedies.com and includes a Rose, Lime & Cucumber Facial Wash, £16, and Rose, Lime & Cucumber Moisturiser, £25.

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