The Ella Woodward Effect: Meet the healthy-blogger who healed herself with superfoods, by lydia slater of you magazine
The Ella Woodward Effect:
Meet the healthy-eating blogger who healed herself with superfoods,
by Lydia Slater for You Magazine.
Ella Woodward is floating around the kitchen of her sunny West London flat, spooning tahini over a dish of roasted kale and brussels sprouts, and looking the picture of glowing health. Her large grey-green eyes sparkle, her glossy brown hair tumbles to her shoulders and her Lululemon skintight yoga pants cling to her toned size eight limbs. It’s almost impossible to believe that less than two years ago, a little-understood condition called postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTs) left her in constant pain, sleeping for 16 hours a day and so bloated she had to wear her father’s clothes. ‘Now I’m up at 7.30am, feeling so energised that I go off to my spinning class,’ she says happily.
Ella credits her astonishing recovery to a diet that makes Gwyneth Paltrow’s appear positively debauched. She eats no meat, dairy or eggs, no gluten, no refined sugars, no processed foods of any kind. When she makes brownies, she uses brown rice flour, raw cacao and sweet potatoes; her chocolate mousse contains whipped avocado. Naturally, alcohol almost never crosses her lips – if she doesn’t want to be a party pooper, she might have a vodka and lemon juice once a month or so.
And yet her daunting regime seems to have struck an extraordinary chord with people. Her Deliciously Ella blog, on which she posts weekly recipes, gets 2.5 million hits a month. When she released a recipe app earlier this year it shot to number one in the food and drink sector in both Britain and the US, and has so far been downloaded over 60,000 times. She has 242,000 followers on Instagram, 63,000 on Facebook and 25,000 on Twitter. ‘It’s quite a lot,’ she says modestly. No wonder she’s being hailed the new Nigella.
Now she’s bringing out her first recipe book, also called Deliciously Ella, and two more are already in the pipeline. Although I don’t agree with faddy diets and can’t imagine life without a bacon sandwich or glass of wine, I have to admit that on the page, her food looks scrumptious. But how does it taste? She shoves a bowl of the sprout and kale mix in front of me and, nervously (I dislike both), I take a spoonful. It’s rich, sweet, nutty and utterly moreish. Her potato curry is equally tongue-tingling. In fact, by the time I leave her kitchen, I have all but decided to attempt the vegan lifestyle myself.
When I told my parents I was cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar and meat, they laughed! But Ella is no more a natural green goddess than I am. In fact, rather less so. As a child, she detested fruit and vegetables. Eating a banana would take her an hour (she used to play eeny, meeny, miny, moe over every slice). ‘As for veg, I’d only eat baby corn, because if you stir it into macaroni cheese, you don’t really know it’s there. If we had a Sunday roast, I’d just eat the chicken and potatoes. I’d even pick the tomato slices out of sandwiches,’ she says, laughing. ‘Food was a big part of our family gatherings, but it was usually pasta. We didn’t eat that well,’ she says. ‘Everything was home-made but not much veg or fruit.’
This is all the more ironic, given that Ella, who is just 23, is the eldest daughter of Camilla Sainsbury, the supermarket heiress, and Labour MP and former Cabinet minister Shaun Woodward. Her childhood was extraordinarily privileged – her family is worth many millions, so there were holiday homes, the best schools and live-in staff – but her diet, by her own account, was appalling.
Not a day went past without Ella getting her Haribo fix. At St Andrews University, where she studied history of art, her signature dish was a Rice Krispies cake, a nauseating mix of puffed rice, golden syrup, marshmallows and melted Cadbury’s Caramel chocolate bar, topped with a bag of pick ’n’ mix sweets: ‘That was my thing.’
Ella says she never got fat because she has her mother’s slender genes. ‘But my skin was grey. I wouldn’t say I looked well.’ That didn’t stop her being spotted as a model, though. She signed up to the prestigious Models 1 agency and was sent off to Paris for castings in the summer holidays of 2011. But overnight, her life was turned upside down.
PoTS is a little-known condition that attacks the autonomic nervous system, affecting all the bodily functions that are supposed to happen automatically, including heartbeat, digestion, circulation and immune system. The doctors suggested that the condition might have been triggered by glandular fever caught from her sister the year before. ‘I was so excited because I thought, if you get a diagnosis you get pills, and if you get pills you get better,’ she says.
In fact, her ordeal was to get worse. She was put on steroids and developed acute bladder infections that culminated in her being put on an antibiotic drip. The other drugs she was given had little effect. ‘Instead of being in bed 90 per cent of the time, I was in bed 75 per cent. But that didn’t give me back my life. I got really depressed. I remember crying hysterically a few times, but otherwise I closed myself off. I didn’t speak to any of my friends. Nobody knew what was happening apart from my family and my boyfriend.’
Ella had met her boyfriend, Felix von Abercron, at university, and they had been planning a trip to Marrakech. ‘He thought we shouldn’t go but I was very insistent that we should because we had booked it. Even if it just meant hanging out in a different room.’ They went, but within 12 hours, Ella had been struck down by severe food poisoning and had to be repatriated, semiconscious, on a drip. This was to prove a turning point. ‘I thought: I’ll lose him – nobody’s going to stick around for this. I will have no friends, I will live at home for ever, I’ll never have a job, never have kids… I panicked.
Lying in her mother’s bed, she started Googling alternative health and came across the American cancer survivor and author Kris Carr, who changed to a plant-based diet in response to her diagnosis. ‘I read her book and it really clicked with me,’ says Ella. ‘I thought, “I’m going to do this.”
‘I came downstairs and I said to my parents: “OK, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, meat, eggs, anything processed, chemicals, additives…” They burst into roars of laughter and said, “So, what are you going to eat?” They thought it would last about three days, but I was really inspired.’
Given Ella’s sweet tooth and her veg phobia, this radical new diet was a huge shock. She wouldn’t recommend others give up so many fundamental foodstuffs at once, she says, but she felt she had nothing to lose. For two months she stuck to the same three dishes: porridge with bananas and blueberries dissolved in it (so she didn’t have to see them); buckwheat bread with mashed avocado for lunch, and, for dinner, brown rice pasta with tinned tomatoes and ‘any vegetable that wasn’t too scary, such as courgettes’. The hardest thing was abandoning her Haribo fix. ‘Every night, I had
a dream that I’d raided the sweet cupboard. I relapsed a few times when things weren’t going well – I’d go to Tesco and raid the pick ’n’ mix aisle. Sometimes, it felt worth it.’
All the same, after three weeks, she says, something had changed. She was no longer getting hot, itchy allergic reactions to everything she put in her mouth. But two months into the new regime, she passed out after undergoing a cystoscopy to investigate her constant bladder infections.
‘I came to and found six doctors standing over me.’ Others might have concluded that the diet wasn’t working. For Ella, it simply meant that by eating the same foods every day she wasn’t trying hard enough.
The following day she began her blog in an attempt to force herself to try new recipes. ‘I thought, at least if I learn to cook and write recipes and take photos and sort them – which I can do in bed – then I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.’
Over the next 18 months, she discovered tamari, quinoa, tahini, agave nectar and the wonders of apple cider vinegar (she orders everything from Amazon). Her health improved steadily, along with her culinary skills. She came off all her medication and gradually began to socialise again, and completed her degree.
Now, she says, she is full of energy, her skin and hair are better than they have ever been, and she can do anything she wants to – but she’s still very careful. ‘If I have two drinks, my hangover is probably what most people’s would be after 15,’ she says. She doesn’t miss anything about her previous diet. ‘I don’t know what would happen to me if I ate a bacon sandwich, but I’m just not interested. I still have a sweet tooth, so I bake a lot: but I’d much rather have one of my sweet potato brownies than a processed chocolate bar.’
Her regime has rubbed off on her parents and siblings, too. Her mother and one of her younger sisters avoid gluten and are both ‘practically’ vegetarian, her other sister adores her roasted kale and her elder brother emailed her the other day to tell her proudly that he’d made a cauliflower pizza. ‘And my dad is pretty into it. He has a juicer, and he’ll have porridge for breakfast with almond milk. I’ve even found jars of almond butter that he’s bought, which is very impressive compared to what he used to eat!’ Even Felix now makes green smoothies in the morning. ‘It’s so funny, because he’s six foot five, German, and lives off pâté and sausages at home,’ she laughs. Perhaps most persuasively, Ella’s doctor has gone gluten-free after seeing its effects on her.
But the real surprise has been the extraordinary success of the Deliciously Ella blog, which has taken everyone, especially its author, by surprise. She didn’t tell anybody about it for two months, but then it took off through word of mouth. ‘It’s so cool, the number of emails I get from people saying I changed their life,’ she says. ‘It’s pretty crazy.
‘Last summer, I was talking to my mum about wanting to write a book, and she said, “Maybe you’d sell 300 copies.” With the app, she thought we might break even in a year; we made our money back in a week.’ Now Ella makes a six-figure income from the books, the cookery classes and developing recipes for supermarkets including Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, and she employs two staff to help her respond to all the emails she gets on the blog. She has even returned to modelling, appearing as a ‘modern muse’ in a campaign for Esprit. ‘I never expected any of it,’ she says. ‘It’s weird – but it’s good.
‘There are so many healthy eating blogs out there, people are always asking why I think mine did so well. I do wonder whether my illness hasn’t been a blessing. It helps people relate to my diet. They think if I can do it, anyone can.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2913229/The-Ella-Woodward-effect-Meet-healthy-eating-blogger-healed-superfoods.html#ixzz3PIfnqmIF
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