Food: Healthy eating with an award winner

Deliciously Ella, by Ella Woodward, published Yellow Kite
Deliciously Ella, by Ella Woodward, published Yellow Kite

When health problems took over Ella Woodward’s life, a new diet helped her regain control. She shares her message with Keeley Bolger

Whether she’s whizzing up veggies for a juice or heading to yoga for a morning stretch, award-winning food blogger Ella Woodward glows with good health.

But just four years ago, Woodward’s health was waning, leaving the then 19-year-old model and history of art student bed-ridden for up to 16 hours a day, unable to risk a short stroll without suffering heavy heart palpitations and chronic pain.

Eventually diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), a potentially debilitating condition which affects the autonomic nervous system and causes symptoms like severe palpitations, headaches and dizziness when standing up, Woodward found that traditional treatments only went so far and decided to completely change her approach to eating, gradually cutting out meat, dairy, sugar and processed food.

As someone who previously wolfed down “mountains” of ice cream and cooked very little, save “boiling pasta” and making the odd dish of scrambled eggs, at first, her U-turn was met with confusion by her family and friends. But Woodward soon began to reap the benefits.

“It was a gradual process,” explains the 23-year-old, who was inspired after reading about an American cancer patient who found making changes to her diet helped her manage her illness.

“After a few weeks of really living and eating differently, I started to feel minor changes. It took 18 months from the beginning of my diet change for me to say, ‘OK, I feel like I’m really healed’, and gradually, it just built up and got better.”

To keep herself on track, she started a blog - deliciouslyella.com - and after a good reaction from readers, and last year a hefty seal of approval in the form of a Blogger Award from Red magazine, she launched a healthy eating app, which has so far attracted 75,000 downloads.

Now, she’s just released her first book, also entitled Deliciously Ella.

While Woodward, who was doing a stint of modelling in Paris when she became ill, couldn’t have anticipated the impact the diet has had on her health, she also credits it for changing her outlook.

“I would never have thought it would really change me, and I would come out of it a different person, but I really feel I am very different,” she says. “I’m much more positive.”

She’s always been a positive person, she adds, but these days, she tries to appreciate everything a bit more, and to feel grateful for the smaller things in life.

Always pleased to hear from readers (“it makes everything worth it”), she is nevertheless determined to avoid foisting her healthy eating habits onto anyone else.

“My number one aim is to encourage people to introduce some of the healthier elements into their life,” says Woodward, who splits her time between London and California, where her boyfriend lives.

“If that’s just eating exactly the same as you always have, but adding an extra portion of vegetables, then that’s a great place to start. If you start pushing things on people, they resist. No one wants to have things pushed upon them.”

But the foodie, who is also training as a nutritionist, has found allies in the most unlikely of people.

“My boyfriend, who is German and grew up on sausages, is now loving it!” she says, laughing.

“Recently, he told me very proudly that he’d had three vegetarian days. And the other day I made a green juice, one of the real hardcore green juices, not with fruit or anything, and I was looking out of the window while we were driving to the airport, and I turned around to see him drinking it.”

Her mum and sisters have become vegetarian too, but despite being hugely pleased that she’s having such a positive influence, there are some drawbacks to the success...

“Now when I go home to visit my family, I always cook,” she reveals with a laugh. “So now I think, ‘Why doesn’t anyone cook for me? I need some time away!’ But it’s fun.”

If you fancy having some fun with healthy eating, here’s a Deliciously Ella recipe to try at home...

Coconut Thai Curry with Chickpeas

(Serves 4)

2 x 400ml tins coconut milk

2 x 400g tins tomatoes

2-3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1-2tsp chilli flakes

1 large butternut squash (1kg)

2 medium aubergines (600g)

Handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained

3tsp brown miso paste

Brown rice, to serve

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C).

Put the coconut milk, tinned tomatoes, grated ginger and chilli into a large saucepan with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and allow to heat until boiling.

As it heats up, peel the squash and cut both the squash and the aubergines into bite-sized pieces. Add these to the coconut and tomato in the pan.

Allow the mixture to cook for about 30 minutes in the oven, at which point, add the coriander and chickpeas to the pan with the miso, and place the pan back in the oven for 30 minutes. It’s ready when the squash is soft.

Serve the coconut curry with the brown rice.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.