Dynasty’s Nathalie Kelley on Eating Insects and Running From Mountain Lions

By as told to
Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg

You may know Nathalie Kelley as Sybil in The Vampire Diaries, mean girl Grace on UnReal, or Cristal Flores-Carrington on the CW’s Dynasty reboot, but the Peru-born, Australia-raised actress couldn’t be further from her on-screen persona. A lover of hiking and a longtime travel blogger, she talked to the Cut about wanting to be a hunter-gatherer, working out with the goal of fighting off mountain lions, and the tea ceremony she does every single morning.

How I start my morning: Ideally I like to start my morning with a tea ceremony. Basically it’s a moving meditation. It’s a really beautiful way to start your morning. I drink Chinese tea. I drink a lot of Pu-erh and Oolong tea, and each has a different way of preparing it. You have to be really mindful of it. From the boiling of the water, to the steeping of the tea, to the bowls, there’s a beautiful ritual surrounding each movement. While to some people it could get repetitive, every day you’re trying to find the joy of renewal rather than repetition. It’s about how I am approaching today differently and with a fresh mind.

I mentally draw a circle around my tea practice in the morning and I say to myself, “Look I know it’s impossible to be 100 percent mindful about the way I live my life out there in the world every day, but within this circle, this morning, for an hour, I’m going to practice complete mindfulness and presence in everything that I do.”

I feel so grounded after I have a tea ceremony. I invite my boyfriend, whose daughter loves to have tea with me. Or when I have special guests in town I honor them with the ceremony. Sometimes I drink it in silence for an hour. Other times we have tea, we laugh and we cry. I do tea and then I do the I-Ching which is a Chinese form, basically its Chinese divination. When I get really into it I ask the I-Ching questions about decisions in my life. I go pretty deep. After that I’ll hopefully go to a yoga class.

On the importance of female spaces: My friend Amy hosts this gathering called the Spirit Weavers Gathering and it’s just a place for women to come and share skills and basically fill a void in today’s society. So every year, 500 women gather and teach each other ancient skills like how to tan hides, weave baskets, ferment stews, and naturally dye silks and yarns. There’s a spiritual element. I go every year.

A lot of women feel like there’s something missing in their modern-day lives — and it’s companionship with other women and spirituality. They can’t really name it, but they leave the gathering thinking This is what I was missing.

I went through my early 20s a little lost, trying this, trying that, figuring out who I was. Something really shifted in me when I found my tribe of women. There was a sense of wanting to learn and understand these things, and looking for some kind of spirituality.

On nutrition: Well, I’ve been trying to get into fermenting my own foods but I’m so lazy at it. I try to have a hot water and lemon juice in the morning and something fermented. Then I’ll have broccoli cooked in beef lard or some kind of animal fat for breakfast. I kind of try not to have grains at all in my life, although they are my weakness. I try to eat a lot of animal fats and vegetables together.

I’m really into the paleo movement, and looking at the health of humans, pre-agriculture. They can trace a lot of deficiencies and general unwellness to the time when we started harvesting foods. As hunter gatherers, we were much healthier as humans. I haven’t gotten to the level of gathering my own blackberries on Saturdays, but my goal one day is to hunt and gather my own foods. My boyfriend hunts, so at some point we would like to only eat what he ethically hunts. That would be the dream.

On hunter-gathering: Yes, that would be my goal. My body needs meat. I like to eat meat ethically and choose only grass-fed meats and organic, non-antibiotic meats. But the reality is if everyone were to eat like that, then there would be no grass left in America. We have to reconsider how we as humans approach eating animals. Currently the way we raise livestock is devastating to the planet. I’m trying to wean myself off beef and certain meats that are really hard on the environment. I’m actually looking into how else can I get my proteins. One of the ways is insects — so I ordered a bunch of crickets and I’m giving it a go.

On eating insects: Insects are the future. They are the most ethical way to eat animal protein. I’ve ordered cricket powder, and I’m trying to think about ways I can sneak it into my boyfriend’s daughter’s pancakes without her knowing, which my friends say is really cruel. It doesn’t taste like anything. You just have to get around the idea that you’re eating a cricket. I haven’t tried any other insects; I’ve been told to start with crickets. To be honest, I’m still working up my appetite around it.

What wellness means: It has to include a spiritual element, or it’s not real wellness. I have an auto-immune disease, I have psoriasis, and thankfully I’m flare-up-free for now. For a while I was like, why is this happening to me? I eat well, I take care of myself. And my body was telling me, Actually, you’re out of balance, and you’re spiritually out of whack. This is a marker for you to know when you need to come back and find your center.

It’s actually made me be grateful for the auto-immune deficiency, because it is such a glaring physical reminder that I need to bring myself back into balance in some way. I have various spiritual teachers and healers who help me through times like that. In seeing healing happening in my body, I’ve become a big believer in the past couple years of addressing the spiritual issue from unwellness.

For example, one time at the gathering, I had to bare my body and experience not trying to cover it up. I just walked naked and took a little nudie dip and suddenly I felt more centered. There was a lot of ego around the last flare-up. There’s something really truthful about exposing myself in that way to people who love me and care for me. I took this really healing cold therapy bath, like Wim Hof. It was an ice cold dip in the river. Then I got back to my tent and thought What is really on my heart right now? I realized there were some really unresolved issues with people in my life, so I wrote them letters. The next thing you know, my body started healing.

How wellness has changed for me: I used to approach wellness from an eternal youth perspective. Wellness used to be, How can I get my skin looking great for the rest of my life? How can I function like a 20-year-old forever? That’s really transformed as I’ve gotten into my 30s. There are parts of me that are a little vain, especially in this industry.

But to be honest, on the list of priorities, physical appearance is so low. I’m not trying to build up muscle so I can have a nice toned butt. These days I’m just so much about longevity. How can I be the best version of myself for as long as possible? I just want to have a loving, nourishing relationship with my body. I don’t want to be at war with it. I don’t want to be anti-aging, I’m not fighting anything. I want to be at home here and make it a good home for me.

My biggest wellness struggle: Learning boundaries as I grow up. I help take care of my boyfriend’s daughter and I’m so quick to sacrifice myself. It’s something I learned from my Latin mom who sacrificed everything for me. I’m learning that I’m not taking away from my boyfriend’s daughter’s life because I’m teaching her that one day you’re going to need to have boundaries too and need to take space for yourself so you can be the best version of yourself. I still have that old-school Latin guilt, like if I’m not giving 200 percent of myself at all times I’m not really showing up for her. Now I’m learning to make the space to show up for myself.

My wellness advice: Definitely pick up some kind of meditation, whether it’s a breathing meditation or a moving meditation. Being present with yourself is one of the ways you can love yourself. And if you can do that, you can cultivate more compassion for each other. And that’s the source of all healing.

How I like to sweat: Let me say, whatever I do, I’m not fighting with myself. Like my classmates will say, “My body hurts,” or “This trainer kicked my ass,” and I’m like, oh my god, that sounds like warring with myself. I try to do something nourishing instead. I just want real-world strength and real-world health. I would never aim for some kind of aesthetic version of health, like doing 200 squats to get a big butt and now I have this tiny waist.

How practical is that if a mountain lion came in your path? Some girls are like, “Well, I’ll never see a mountain lion.” But I might! I love that kind of stuff. I can’t go more than a few weeks without finding a mountain. I’ve always been drawn to the mountains. Maybe that’s my ancestry coming from the Andes. Places have energy, and I loved being in Atlanta because we’re right at the base of the Smokeys and there’s so many beautiful trails. I ask myself when I start getting sick, “When was the last time you climbed a mountain?”

On self-acceptance: I have a very specific body type and I always wanted to be tall like a big blonde leggy girl. When I went back to Peru and climbed Macchu Piccu I learned that ancient Peruvians were all little. I saw my body in them and I realized what it was for — it was for running in the mountains at high altitudes. All the tall girls were huffing and puffing and I was in my element.

I didn’t wake up with so much love and acceptance for who I am and my heritage and my body. It’s all been a journey. That was one of the pieces of the puzzle to cultivate love and compassion for myself. Girls today grow up and there are so many reasons to dislike yourself and not trust yourself. There’s never any truly loving and being at home in your body. I, like a lot of people, had to learn that later in life.

Nathalie’s Wellness Recommendations

Ojas Face Serum
$65, Poppy and Someday

I slather this on my face every morning and night. It’s all about nourishing the face with oils and moisture and lots of juiciness and bringing out the internal juiciness in your skin.

Four Seasons Oolong
$28, Living Tea

It’s beyond organic. When you drink tea, you’re drinking something that comes from a seed, and you want to make sure the farmers are treating the soil with respect. That goes into the leaf and the tea that you’re drinking.

Cardamom Essential Oil
$34, Floracopeia

I can’t go anywhere without essential oils. You always know when I’m walking through set because I’m smell like five different essential oils.

The Dynasty Actress Who’s Ready to Fight a Mountain Lion