Often seen as a poster girl for wellness, Ella Mills – otherwise known as ‘Deliciously Ella’ – actually isn’t too keen on the term.
"I do think the conversation has become quite charged, quite loaded," she says thoughtfully. "Even the word ‘wellness’ sometimes makes people think of weird and wacky things in LA, with shamans and cleanses. When you hear it, you don’t necessarily think of going for a walk and then making a bean chilli, which feels more within your remit.
"The wonderful and wacky make more interesting stories, which I so appreciate," she adds, "but the reality is, I think in most people’s eyes, what we need is a meal that’s pretty easy to make and you can make a really big batch of, and then just chuck in the freezer."
With her latest cookbook, Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy, Mills wants to help make wellness healthy eating feel less alienating. And the fact it’s built around speedy recipes is no coincidence – she and her husband and business partner, Matt, welcomed her first child, Skye, last year.
The book may be all about ease – but it was born out of blood, sweat and tears. Mills is honest about her struggles writing it, saying frankly: "This cookbook has actually been on a personal and emotional level, the hardest project I’ve ever done. I went back to work with it four weeks after Skye was born, so I was pretty all over the shop at that point.
"She came onto the shoots with us and I had her in a sling and was feeding her on set – so I was breastfeeding and food styling at the same time."
Mills loves the end result though, "because it really feels truly reflective of such an important time".
With a baby, another on the way, and a business to run, Mills has a new appreciation for how simple wellness should – and can – be. "It’s going on a walk or doing a five-minute meditation," says the 29-year-old. "It’s not the big, expensive, complicated, time-consuming things, it’s the simple, everyday practices that you can have in your life to help you feel happier, calmer, healthier, more energised."
She emphasises how cheap and easy things like chickpea stews and lentil daals can be, and her efforts to make recipes that are more accessible are admirable.
Still, some might struggle to shake their preconceptions of Mills as the granddaughter of Lord Sainsbury, and the fact her first book back in 2015 was seen as a big part of the widely-criticised ‘clean eating’ movement – something she has since distanced herself from.
The majority of the recipes in this book involve affordable, hearty ingredients – but this is still Deliciously Ella; you can’t help but notice the odd thing many people probably wouldn’t be able to get at their local corner shop, like tapioca flour and tahini.
Food is obviously a big part of Mills’ ethos, but she’s started seeing it as just one part of a bigger picture. Each chapter in the new book explores a different issue, whether it’s mental health or the environment – wider interests which have been piqued by her podcast series interviewing various experts.
"The way that we eat is so linked to so many other things," Mills explains. "We too often look at our diet and the way we eat in isolation, and actually, I’m not sure that’s helpful to any of us. The way we live and the way we eat is so reflective, and often when people think about getting healthier and making a change in the way they’re eating, they go first and foremost to their diet. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what I did as well. But at the same time, there’s so much more to it. Broccoli is great, but broccoli isn’t the answer to everything."
Instead, Mills says she’s interested in wellness (for lack of a better word) as a whole – how your mental health can affect your gut, the impact sleep has on your wellbeing, even analysing your relationship to people and the world around you as a whole. "I think it’s increasingly important to look at all of it in context, and not get too overly focused on one thing or another," she says.
So, if you do want to have a healthier lifestyle, it’s worth looking at all aspects of it – not just diet. Mills’ top piece of advice for making positive changes and sticking to them is finding what works for you. "Only you know what works for you," she adds.
"So much comes back to what you actually enjoy, because nothing lasts if you don’t enjoy it. Nothing is sustainable for the long term in your life if there’s no pleasure in it, and I think that’s the fundamental difference between trying to eat well and taking care of yourself for the long-term, and a diet."
On a personal level, Mills thinks "eating well is more important than it’s ever been before", since becoming a parent. "Because we want to cook with, and encourage our baby to enjoy home-cooked food and make that a part of what she knows and what she does, but also to have the energy to juggle 7,000 things at any one day! The only way to do that consistently is to make it quick and easy – it has to be genuinely doable on a day-to-day basis."
So what else can you expect from her latest book? Deliciously Ella fans will see all her signatures – comforting vegan food taking inspiration from a variety of cuisines, but with more of an emphasis on batch-cooking and quick recipes.
Ultimately, Mills is looking to the future: "Our mental and physical health isn’t something we want for the next week. It’s something that we want for decades."
Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy: Plant-based Deliciousness by Ella Mills, recipe photography by Nassima Rothacker, is published by Yellow Kite. Available now.