How To Successfully Transition From Junk Food To A Vegan Diet


While researching bloggers for our health food-tographers post, we came across Ella, of the recipe blog Deliciously Ella. Her story is pretty remarkable—in an effort to treat an unexpected illness, she went from a regular young woman who regularly enjoyed the simple pleasures of convenience-store grub, to a major player in the health-food game. Her recipe app received over 17,000 downloads in the first month of its release, and she's currently hard at work on her first cookbook, which is coming out later this year. We asked her to share the story of her successful—and swift—transition to a plant-based diet.

Until three years ago, I was a total sugar addict. My diet primarily revolved around chocolate, cookies, fizzy sweets, peanut butter, and jam eaten straight from their jars, and some pesto pasta here and there. It was absolutely delicious and seemed totally normal at the time. Then, in June 2011 I became extremely ill overnight. It started off with an insanely swollen stomach (so swollen that I looked at least six months pregnant) and a hangover-like feeling—very groggy, lethargic, aching all over my body, and so on. After five days, my symptoms hadn’t changed, so I went to the first of hundreds of doctors appointments.

Over the next four months I did a hospital tour of London, visiting countless specialists and undergoing every test that they could think of. As my symptoms worsened—I was losing my vision, becoming unbearably dizzy every time I stood up, and was in constant pain to the point that all I could do was sleep—the doctors got increasingly confused, as all the test results were inconclusive and seemed to show that there was nothing wrong. Of course this lead to me being accused a few times of having a psychological illness, which was beyond frustrating—who would to choose to look pregnant and sleep all the time?

In September I finally got a diagnosis: I had Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which is effectively a breakdown of your autonomic nervous system. This is quite an issue, as your autonomic nervous system controls almost everything that goes on in your body—your heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, immune system, digestion, and more. For six months I followed my doctor’s advice, taking an array of different medications and steroids, assuming that if I took my pills properly, I would surely get better. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and in January, after a disastrous attempt at a romantic getaway in Marrakech (which ended up in me being brought home semi-conscious in a wheelchair), I realized that it was time for me to take some responsibility for what was going on with my body.

Over the next few weeks I started researching natural healing, and came across an amazing woman named Kris Carr who had dealt with her cancer through changes in diet. I was so inspired that I decided that moment I was starting a plant-based, whole foods diet. There were a few issues, though. First of all, I didn’t like plants. Secondly, I had no idea what whole foods even were, and thirdly, I couldn’t cook! Nevertheless, I was determined to try, so for the next three months I ate the same easy-to-make things every day. Porridge with blueberries and bananas for breakfast (the fruit I'd put in right at the beginning, and mush down to the bottom so I'd forget it was there), then for lunch I would eat buckwheat bread with mashed avocado. Dinner was brown rice pasta with a vegetable sauce, which I'd make by just throwing veggies in a saucepan with some olive oil and tomato puree. It was all really delicious, but became a little monotonous, as you can imagine. I had continuous food envy, and dreamt of all the foods I missed—most of all the taste of something sweet. I have to admit that this did lead to some late-night candy binges, as I was just craving it so much. I’d feel so ill afterwards and would always regret it, but at the time I really just felt that I needed it.

The thing was, that even with the occasional slip-ups, I was starting to feel a bit better. Before I changed my diet, every time I ate, my torso would feel burning hot and the areas around my lymph nodes would really ache. This feeling had totally disappeared (except when my hand reached for the Haribo packet!). My energy was also noticeably different, and the overall body aches were lessening. I want to point out that there weren’t any crazy sudden changes, as healing with food isn’t like healing with antibiotics. It wasn't instant, but it was happening, which was incredibly inspiring. I realized that if I really wanted to feel like myself again, I would need to try a bit harder and really learn to cook. This lifestyle had to be sustainable and enjoyable, otherwise it would never work.

The first thing I needed to do was deal with my sugar cravings, which I did by experimenting with deliciously sweet recipes like raw brownies, energy bites, and sweet potato brownies. As soon as I had these down—and made sure that I always had them in the house—my desire to eat processed sweets started to dwindle. Eating those made me feel a million times better, they tasted amazing, and were actually really easy to make. I no longer felt like I was being deprived of anything, but instead it felt that a whole new world of food had opened up, which was really exciting.

At the start, it was pretty weird eating this way around other people. I felt really awkward being the ‘difficult’ one that had to have something special, and I was quite hesitant to tell people about it. It took me a few months to really embrace how awesome it was and to feel confident enough to talk to everyone about my diet, at which point I started cooking for my friends and family. Cooking for them turned out to be the best decision, as they all loved the food and lots of them have become converts! Healthy eating and a plant-based lifestyle both have negative connotations attached to them (which I absolutely subscribed to before I tried it), so I think once they saw that the food really was more than iceberg lettuce and grated carrot, they understood what I was raving about.

It took about six months for this new way of living to feel easy and natural, and for me to really get the hang of what I was eating and how to make it awesome. The best thing of all, though, was that 18 months after starting my healthy eating adventure, I was able to come off all of my medication. My illness is now in remission and on a day-to-day basis I truly feel amazing. I wake up with such incredible energy, which I never had before my illness, and I really feel so in tune with my body. I am careful to keep my health as it is, so I’m conscious of sleeping eight hours a night, doing regular exercise, avoiding excessive stress and eating well—but those are all things that I enjoy anyway. This has really become a way of life for me, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

That’s not to say that everyone has to eat this way all the time, but every change, no matter how small, makes a difference. The trick is preventing yourself from becoming overwhelmed; just adding in one new serving of fruit or veg a day is fantastic. Some sweet potato wedges or guacamole make an insanely delicious addition to any meal, and they’re such an easy place to start. Whizzing up a smoothie in the morning is incredible, too, as it sets you off on the right track for a positive day. Making small changes every week over a few months will result in huge changes.

—Ella Woodward

Photos courtesy of Ella, and her Instagram @deliciouslyella.

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  • incognito

    I have a respect for people who do such drastic measures in their diet for good reasons (weight loss isn't one!) but for me personally: it is not that I can't, it is that I don't want to eat only certain food type. There is a joke in my homeland: "I don't know about lion, but for me lamb is the king of all animals." :) nothing beats good steak.

    • kittendelight

      Weight loss isn't a good reason? Yes it is. Consider people who need to lose weight because they have health issues stemming from their weight! Pretty sure that's a good reason.

    • petitamber

      I don't think it is fair to say what is a good and bad reason to change a diet. Weightloss can be a good reason to change ones diet, as it was for myself. You can't put an opinion on such matters if you're not that person in their situation. Some people decide to lose weight to improve their own health and wellbeing, not just to look good...

  • Alice

    a really great and inspiring piece

  • Shahrzad Saednejad

    This is fantastic and very inspiring! I too am oh a quest to get healthy and eat right, when I do I don't crave the bad stuff anymore. Great post.

  • Ailyn Koay

    very inspiring.. so erm.. any books to recommend for recipes?

    • Rachael_AH

      Lots of people find it hard to shift their idea of brunch- I really like Isa from post punk kitchen's recipes and books. She has something missing from a lot of conversations about veganism- a sense of humor. All of her stuff is really accessible. (The author of this article is of course an exception!) Unfortunately, her, sometimes coauthor, the author of vegan Eats world, seems to not test her recipes well, so that one might be one to avoid. :-/ but here's a link to isa!

      • Ailyn Koay


  • susana

    Thanks for sharing your story! I'm struggling with a similar situation as I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I've taken small steps in changing my diet and have noticed a difference but with insufficient time to try out new recipes, there's always the occasional slip up. Can't wait to try your app and recipes!

    • Aly

      I developed RA about three years ago. Diet really helps! In my case, I find dairy and red meat are highly inflammatory. I also take an Evening Primrose Oil supplement twice a day. Good luck :)

      • alison

        I also have an inflammation problem and also a neck disc issue. Dairy is the worst! But sugar, gluten, nightstand vegetables also can be culprits. ;)

        • susana

          Thank you Aly and Alison! I've cut out dairy and flour, they really tend to trigger the inflammation, but definitely more than cutting out the trick has been to add the right foods in my diet like turmeric and pineapple, the foods that help reduce inflammation have really helped! Thanks again

          • lucy

            I too was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few months ago. I immediately changed my diet and following the honestly healthy eating plan and have recently discovered Ella's amazing blog. I'm obviously not 'cured' but I can say I feel SO much better than I did. Its extraordinary the impact a change in diet can have. I find refined sugar really makes me flare up but its all about finding what's best for you.

      • robyn

        its proven high acidic foods are Inflammatory. You need a diet of 80% alkaline 20% acidic. And meat, dairy, sea food are way to high in the acid catagory. Beans and rice and eggs are acidic but low to mild acid content. So a vegan way of eating offers a good 80/20 percent ratio.

    • Aubrey Green

      Try reading this blog, or contacting her, Jesse Golden, Her story is pretty amazing and she is beautiful inside and out. She is a firm believer in diet, but also yoga - when you see her body you will see why. Hope that helps.

      • susana

        Thank you so much Aubrey for the info!

  • Ailyn Koay

    she does look glowing ...thanks for this

  • Bolly


  • Camille

    just read this as i was finishing a box of oreos... :(

    • Melissa

      Well oreos are vegan so you're half way there ;)

  • Bella

    A very inspiring journey. As a health care professional I must, however, take issue with the suggestion that a "psychological illness" is a *choice* of any kind. It's just as real as physical illness and can manifest with very real physical symptoms too. I am happy that you got to the bottom of your problems though!

    • alison

      I think she meant that drs were saying the physical manifestations weren't actually happened but routed in her head. I don't think it was anything against psychological illness but frustration at a wrong medical diagnosis.

      • martha

        I feel like people frequently stigmatize psychologic illness. People frequently equate psychological illness with "faking it" or "all in your head, and therefore not real" or "something you could control if only you had more willpower." For both neurologic and psych illnesses, it is in your nervous system which means symptoms ARE real, just coming from an organ system that is very difficult to understand. POTS is a very poorly understood disorder which is relatively responsive to placebo effect, which demonstrates that real power of the nervous system in changing the overall health of the body.

    • Chloe

      Thank you for pointing this out. Referring to psychological illness as a choice perpetuates stigma no matter what the author might have meant.

    • kittendelight

      That's exactly what happened to me, I had physical signs manifest numerous times in my life like constant lower back tension and vertigo and both of these were directly caused by emotional/psychological issues. I even ended up having keyholes surgery because stress was manifesting as stomach cramps and doctors thought I had endometriosis so I can assure people who don't believe in the connection that it most certainly exists. It was only once I became aware of the root issue that I was able to address the physical symptoms properly.

  • alison

    I can't help but mention to the commenters making this about a "lifestyle change" - you really have no understanding the correlation between food and inflammation. I too have had a pretty serious illness which made me have to change to an anti inflammatory diet which I will probably have to eat for the rest of my life. It's not a choice! it's a management tool for illness. If you eat sugar and junk food, it may not make you fat but it does cause inflammation and that can manifest differently in everyone depending on your genetic makeup - headaches, stomach aches, even acne. Inflammation is the cause of all the things you don't want, including cancer. This is beyond a "lifestyle and beauty" diet.

    • softy

      yes - this is not a beauty/vanity diet. i recently was unexpectedly away from home for an extended long weekend, and without access to my usual foods, my skin, body and overall well-being transformed for the worse almost overnight. the effects of inflammation were shockingly immediate. it was an eye-opening experience.

    • kathS


    • alison

      And also like to add that excess fat is all inflammation

      • kittendelight

        Excess fat isn't inflammation per se, though it can be a burden on the body.

  • Melina

    I find it great that she is reaching so many people, since I feel many people are lacking an understanding of food these days. Personally, I think her success is however mainly due to good marketing and knowing the right people. I have been battling food intolerances and allergies since childhood and discovered many great blogs such as sprouted kitchen and the first mess besides many great cookbooks with far tastier recipes. You can tell that she just learnt cooking. Her recipes are often quiet plain and not really anything new. So cheers to her for having made that change in her life, but I don't understand the buzz around her ....

  • Bolly

    Will never give up cheese. Ever.

  • Teckie

    She is so beautiful. The one thing I've learned about making the transition to healthier eating is what goes into preparation - you really start to enjoy the process of getting in the kitchen and getting your hands dirty instead of just pulling through the drive-thru and feeling sloppy and lazy. Great article.

  • alexandrajane

    oh my gosh, thank you soooo much for sharing this! i'm an avid reader of the blog, but never felt the need to comment until now. i had never heard of Deliciously Ella, but was amazed to learn that she has POTS. I too was diagnosed with POTS within the last few years, and it's an awful and not well known syndrome. I've changed my diet as well, but not quite this drastically. Thank you so much ITG for shedding light on POTS and the power of a healthy diet!!

  • Chelsea Hunter

    I completely relate! Thanks for sharing this story.

  • Lindsey

    okay where the hell is the link to that one beautiful tart/pie??? I need it asap. also in the same way ITG is all about a parisian mindset towards beauty, I am all about the parisian food mindset... bread and butter all day. I do admire this blog and article so much though, because instead of being self-righteous, it just discusses how good a plant-based diet is, and unforcibly-forcibly draws you in... and now making a full circle --- where is the recipe link?

  • Mademoiselle nature

    Really inspriring story! I am a true believer of the healing power of veggies and fruits!

  • Melina

    Briana, as I said, I find it great that her blog and app appeal to people, especially to those with a limited knowledge of cooking. Still I don't understand the attention she gets from the media. There are other blogs and books from far more experienced people, who have never been discussed in a full article on dailymail online or the telegraph as has Ms Woodwards blog. So the only plausible answer seems to be her family background.

  • Alisia

    You're story is amazing. Thanks for sharing it. Definitely going to follow your blog now. I want to go vegan, but my husband does not. For now, we're meeting in the middle by no longer eating dairy and choosing free range poultry and eggs more often than beef. Alisia | Some Writers

  • susana

    Thanks so much Michele! It's really uplifting to hear other people's stories. I wish my doctor had also directed me towards a more diet-based treatment but alas, I'm grateful that others are sharing their stories online!

  • softy

    but this article has nothing to do with treating cancer through diet...the only time cancer is mentioned is in this sentence "Over the next few weeks I started researching natural healing, and came across an amazing woman named Kris Carr who had dealt with her cancer through changes in diet." and even then it's not touting diet as a cancer treatment, merely as a way to deal with it.

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    It's not always easy to eat right even when your health is on the line! Congratulations on getting back your health!

  • DEE

    Have been a fan do Ella for a year now. She's amazing w/ the best recipes for someone that needs help transitioning

  • Billie

    Loved this article. Eating a plant-based, vegan diet is more beneficial in every way possible not only just beauty/lifestyle/health but also infinitely more beneficial for the environment, humanity, sustainability, and animal welfare.

  • laurenashley

    i'm studying to become a holistic nutritionist & it's stories like yours that remind me that my passion for health & an energetic, full life are so important! living well & eating clean dramatically effects our moods, energy & lifestyle as a whole & i'm so thrilled you found a natural way to cure your health issues! so exciting & freeing!

  • incognito

    Let's not overreact...

    • Gui


    • M Meador

      Lol agreed. Huge eye roll.

  • G

    "Of course this lead to me being accused a few times of having a psychological illness, which was beyond frustrating—who would to choose to look pregnant and sleep all the time?"

    'Accused', as if its a crime. Why is mental illness still being demonised? It's 2014.

    Yes, frustrating not to get the correct diagnosis but psychological illness isn't a choice and oftentimes weight gain and lethargy can be signs of these sorts of problems. Please be mindful of the impact of your words on others.

    You've achieved something amazing and I wish you the best of luck in the future. Stay happy, stay healthy and keep inspiring others to do so.

  • Simone

    I've been thinking about it for a moment but the relationship americans have with food is really extreme: it's junk food or vegan! but you can eat bread, pasta, read meat without having any illness! Vegetables, meat, cheese and bread are part of european food and it is known to be a very balanced diet! I find it more "healthy" to eat like that than entirely vegan. Although, if Ella feels better with her diet and if some people can find happiness in this lifestyle, go for it! but sometimes, it feel more like an obsession with food rather than passion....

    • Guest

      She's English.

  • Guest

    What an amazing testament to one person's willpower.

    While I will never give up red meat -- I am a Midwesterner who loves her steak and I will never be apologetic about that -- I know that I eat way too much sugar and I would like to stop. I don't even know where to begin. Artificial sweeteners make me ill and I really detest most fruits. And sweet potatoes. What's a girl to do?

    • softy

      i also have a crazy sweet tooth and often decide to suffer the consequences (i have an inflammation illness as well) because i love desserts so much. i just made ella's raw brownies (no sweet potato) and i was so surprised at how well it satisfied my brownie craving. the cacao powder works wonders.

  • Guest
  • aurore

    seriously if you lived in France you would know that you can get any type of real good cheese at every single local markets on sundays... made by regional farmers who have incredible work ethics...

  • Fit Food Philly

    Thank you so much for this story! I became vegan as a New Years Resolution this year after being a pizza/cheese/red meat foodie. I find that I am bloated much less, have much more energy, and my chronic GI problems have cleared up. I started down this path after learning about the connection between casein and cancer and a sudden growth of cancer diagnoses in my family. For those who aren't ready or willing to take the vegan plunge I suggest looking into Mark Bittmans "Vegan Before 6" book. Any steps towards a more plant-based lifestyle is a step in the right direction.

  • Pooja Kapoor

    This is amazing and so inspirational!! I have been trying to go on a vegan diet but it hasn't been very successful. Your article highlights an important point: you can not change in a day. it's a day by day effort.

  • confessions-of-a-nomad

    This is so inspiring. All such fresh and wonderful recipes on the blog!

  • kat

    Loved this. It sounds a lot like what happened to me about 3 weeks ago (without the medical issues). It clicks one day that you're just not doing it right, and the only one who can fix it is you. I stopped eating so much meat (I still eat some, but it's not a main component), and started eating more fruits and veggies. Smoothie weather is here, so that is a good part of it. Veggies and brown rice for dinner, scrambled egg if I feel like I need it. Guac toast. Sweet potatoes for lunch. Working out at least 20-30 minutes. They're changes that may seem tiny to some but are huge for me, and have hugely changed me in only a couple weeks. A few good decisions domino into many, and when you feel that good, you hate wrecking it with one bad decision that just isn't worth it. LOVED this post. Thank you for sharing. Not everyone lives live with green smoothies and perfectly foodie veggie dinners, but it doesn't mean you can't tackle healthy eating in your own ways. Good luck on your continued journey!!

  • Lila

    Oh please. With a little research any food can be consumed ethically and responsibly, and if eaten in moderation cheese is highly unlikely to have any negative health effects.

  • Melissa

    seriously? The person is just saying that he/she would have a hard time eliminating meat for his/her diet, not saying that killing animals is glorious and funny. Calm down and stop creating an issue out of a harmless comment.

    • michelle

      Interesting how one can perceive comments so differently. So the comment didn't say it was glorious or funny to kill animals but just what is enjoying eating an animal and saying, "nothing beats a good steak"? One has to kill an animal ( most often under extremely awful conditions) in order to eat it. People really need to learn how that animal got on their plate. Unfortunately, very few are grass fed, free roaming and then slaughtered under reasonable conditions. Quite the contrary.
      "If slaughter houses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian" Sir Paul McCartney

  • Anne

    Also, she's super pretty (which might be supported by her diet change aswell). Just sayin!

  • Marie

    I'd like to go vegan, but I'm so limited by health issues that it seems impossible. I can't have nuts or soy, and I'm also not supposed to take artificial supplements. Frustrating.

  • Nate

    And then you get me, a junk food vegan.

  • Tom

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Mikkel Magnuson

    Yes I completely agree and satisfy with your blog. According to me Veganism is not just a diet, but a moral obligation if we wish to strike at the roots of speciesism in all its forms. Veganism is a moral imperative if we wish to bring an end to an injustice to all animals. Veganism is the very least that we owe to the thinking, feeling creatures with whom we share the Earth.