Ella Mills, the founder of blog and brand Deliciously Ella, is one of the biggest names in the wellness space; a movement that has exploded in the past five years, with its focus on inspiring us to (somewhat controversially) live better, healthier lives. We spoke to the entrepreneur to discover her thoughts on what the future holds for the industry that launched her career, and to discover what’s next for Mills as she prepares to become a mother this autumn.
What does wellness mean to you?
“I don’t love the word ‘wellness’. I find that it’s really alienating for some people because it feels quite self-indulgent. For many, the term brings to mind the medical mushrooms and adaptogen collagen lattes that you see on Instagram, but when it goes that far it can leave people behind and it’s really important that it doesn’t.
“In my opinion, wellness should be about carrots and lentils and unsexy vegetables. I want to make vegetables cool, so that people stop seeing them as something they don’t like. It’s the same for all of wellness. When you think about meditation, you imagine sitting cross-legged in silence and it looks so uncomfortable. But, it could just be going for a walk without your phone and being present for twenty minutes. Or, you can do it on the tube. When you look at it that way, it seems much more manageable.”
Why do we need to talk about wellbeing?
“The NHS is in serious trouble and we are spending over £10 billion a year on lifestyle-related diseases like type 2 diabetes. Just one in four adults in the UK get their five a day. We have a serious health crisis in this country and at the same time a problem with mental health too. What I worry about is getting people to take their wellbeing seriously, because approaching it with facts and figures is really boring and you don’t want to come across as preachy or pious. But, something does need to change; looking after your health or ‘wellness’ isn’t self-indulgent, it’s really important.”
What makes you feel your best?
“I think tools that help you connect with yourself are key. I’m not saying you have to have a massage everyday but, for me, wellbeing is a sense of trying to feel good in your mind and body so that you can live the life you want to live. I love yoga because it helps calm my thoughts, giving me a chance to reflect on how I feel. You shouldn’t feel guilty about caring in some capacity about your body image, as feeling positive about it can be good for your wellbeing, but wellness shouldn’t just be about aesthetics.”
To you, how has the industry changed in recent years?
“I feel that we are getting to a point where the act of looking after yourself and your wellbeing is becoming a non-negotiable. There’s been this democratisation of fitness because you can go on YouTube and do a yoga or pilates class for free at-home. It’s the same with the amount of recipes you can access online and through social media. It’s changed our lifestyles.
“I was looking through old recipe books, researching how people tend to segregate recipes for my next book, and I kept seeing these stunning dishes, but they made me question, ‘would I do that on a Monday?’. That’s what I think has changed a lot; simple, home cooking has been championed in the last five years. We love looking at amazing pictures but we don’t actually make the Master Chef style dishes. We make a ten-minute pasta or a stir-fry, inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Five Ingredients or something simple we’ve seen online.”
What are the downsides to social media when it comes to wellness?
“The issue is that social media came out of nowhere. I joined Instagram in 2013 with Deliciously Ella and it was so tiny; that wasn’t very long ago. Sometimes I think because it exploded so quickly, we don’t actually know how to use it. It’s amazing to see a video of Jamie Oliver making pasta or Anna Jones showing you how to make a pho, but you also have to see it for what it is – a place you can tap into for inspiration, but which you need to tap out of again. You need to remember that there’s a lot of stuff that people choose not to share. A day has twenty four hours in it and even if someone uploads 50 Instagram stories, that’s only a small part of their day. You’re only seeing a little bit of their lives – a snapshot.
“We need to take ownership of the way we use these spaces. I want to say, ‘we need to use our common sense’, but that’s simpler when you feel comfortable in yourself. If you are having a moment of self-doubt, you can even subconsciously compare yourself to people who are so fundamentally different from you. I culled 900 people on social media recently because I realised following them wasn’t making me happy. Now, I find the space so positive, because I follow my friends and family. I also follow yoga accounts and people sharing daily affirmations as well as about 200 accounts of people giving birth!”
What does being ‘Deliciously Ella’ mean to you?
“Deliciously Ella is a brand, it’s not me. That’s an important distinction to make. I’m conscious not to share too much of my personal life on its channels. Sometimes, that means people think that there isn’t anything else in my life, but I wouldn’t feature my friends getting drunk at a hen party because that isn’t relevant. I’d post about our new black bean burger instead. Or, I might share a book I’m reading or a great podcast.
“Some people want to know about what I eat in minute detail, but what I eat changes everyday. It’s the same with exercise; one day you might workout a lot, but on another, you don’t move from your desk. No day is the same and that’s totally normal. There’s no point trying to duplicate one day over and over. We all need to be better at adopting what inspires us into our own lives. There’s this supposed need to define ourselves as either healthy or not-healthy, but the truth is that it’s okay to sometimes spend all day eating pasta, wine and tiramisu, if you enjoy yourself, and it’s fine to think, ‘I’m going to make a salad’ and be healthier today. You’ve got to feed your body, but also your soul.”
What did you learn from having to close two of your delis?
“We have made three squillion mistakes. But, you can only make decisions with the information you have at the time. The most frustrating experience was when we had to close the two delis. It was the hardest decision, but we were just stretched too thin. We had the media side of the business; the products, which is the biggest and fastest growing side as we look to expand in the US and Europe, and then the delis. Unfortunately, the delis were the least sustainable, so we decided to close two locations.
“There’s this great quote that ‘more businesses die of indigestion than starvation’ and I think that’s so true. You can’t do everything and recognising that was so important. But, someone decided the closures were because we were going out of business. It was the most damaging thing that ever happened to us. As it was out in the press, we had to explain to all our stockists and all the supermarkets that it wasn’t true.
“In hindsight, would I have opened any delis? Maybe not, or I’d have taken a bigger space and never tried to open others. But, you learn so much from every mistake. When we first started, I would just crumble when something went wrong. And, it went wrong everyday. Now, it takes a lot to get me worried. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes. I think the question is how quickly you can admit them.”
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What is your advice for looking good inside and out?
“I like to keep things really simple. I love trying new products but I’ve always been a bit lazy. I don’t love wearing a lot of make-up, so feeling like your skin looks good makes me feel more confident. I’m a big advocate for double cleansing. It literally changed my life. I use an exfoliating mask a couple of times a week too. There’s a small British brand that I love, called Evolve Beauty, which has two; one with cacao and a fruit peel that is really good.
“Another favourite is from Marie Veronique – an American brand that I was recommended it by a friend. I’m also currently obsessed with stretch mark creams. I’ve been using the Pai Stretch Mark Oil & Cream, which I really lather it on. I actually find the process quite fun.”
How can we demystify supplements?
“The supplements space is really confusing, so I don’t think anyone is wrong to be unsure about it. If you suddenly start trying to take ten supplements in one go though, you probably won’t remember to take them. So, keep it simple. Choose the key ones that are important to you.
“I started taking Symprove about four years ago, because after my illness I had a lot of gut issues, stemming from being on antibiotics for about 18 months, and my nutritionist recommended it. I also take B12 because I’m vegan and in winter I take vitamin D a few times a week, alongside a pregnancy multi-vitamin. Symprove is kept in the fridge so I take it as I make coffee in the morning. The rest of my supplements are in my toiletries cupboard so it’s literally next to my toothpaste.”
How are you feeling about becoming a mum?
“I’m sure being a mother will change everything, but I’m trying to approach it in a very open-minded way. I feel that our life is really busy, chaotic and fun, and having a child is just going to add to that as we learn about what you feed babies and the impact of maternal mental health.
“Most of all, I hope that Deliciously Ella teaches her to try. This has been the most bizarre, unexpected experience and it has taught me a lot about putting yourself out there. When we launch into the US, we will be taking her with us at two months old and I hope that will inspire her to think that she can do anything. When I was at school, your choices seemed more limited. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher – I never realised that you could do what we do. I want to show her that it doesn’t matter if you’re not the best at school. I was in set seven of seven for English and now I’ve written multiple books. I’ll be thrilled if she does whatever she wants to do, as long as she tries her best and she’s a good person about it. That’s what real success is.”
What else can we expect for the future of Deliciously Ella?
“We are passionate about making healthy plant-based food available to as many people as possible. It’s not that we think everyone should go vegan tomorrow, but we do think it’s important to eat more of these types of food for our health and for the planet. The only way we are going to do that is by making it exciting, easy and something you actually want to do. For me, the mission is also about education. Making the podcast and having the chance to unpick all the myths about the industry and providing inspiring stories, will hopefully provides people with ideas and inspiration. I don’t ever want to be merely transactional or be defined by making cereal.”
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK