Teresa Palmer, Australian ex-pat and actress in the trippy Christian Bale drama Knight of Cups, has a knack for healthy living. She launched a wellness site with pal Phoebe Tonkin and hosts a YouTube show that delivers advice on mindfulness, from self-love to healing and letting go. Last month she penned an essay on why she chooses to breast-feed her 2-year-old son despite public disapproval. Speaking to the Cut, Palmer explained how being present with her son takes priority over everything, how being skinny is uninspiring, and why there’s no better love than self-love.
How I start my day: I wake up about 7 a.m. My son breast-feeds — he’s 2. So he will have his morning breast-feed. Then we get up, get ready, and go down to Cafe Gratitude, which is one of my favorite restaurants. I usually have vegan, gluten-free banana bread with vegan whipped cream. And I have a green juice. And my son has a green juice and some chia-seed pudding. And that’s usually our little routine for the mornings. I’m not entirely vegan and gluten-free — I just predominantly eat vegan food. I do eat sushi every now and then.
How I like to sweat: I probably haven’t worked out in the last six or seven months, mainly because I’ve been traveling so much and working so much. When I’m not working, I’m with my son, and I’ve been really trying to be very present with him. Working out is the one thing that I haven’t been able to add back into my daily schedule, given how crazy I’ve been. However, when I do get to the gym, I like to do an array of things. I specifically like interval training: raising the heart rate up really fast and then bringing it back down again for a couple of minutes, and then raising it up again and really spiking it — which burns a lot more calories and just keeps you feeling really fit. I do that by doing jump squats or interval sprints on the treadmill. I do it with kettlebell swings. I usually work out with my husband too. We’ll both go down to Equinox and they’ve got a little childcare center there, so we’ll put our son in, and then we’ll work out. I do a five-minute plank. And I notice that even though I haven’t worked out in six months, I still have muscle memory. If I do go back to the gym on the odd occasion, I can still plank for five minutes, which is really cool. I haven’t lost that yet. I also like yoga. That’s really fun. Yoga and some Pilates, and hiking as well.
How my approach towards fitness has changed: When I was younger, I was so obsessed with working out. It was a six-day-a-week thing, and it became such a huge part of my life that I started to really focus on my physical appearance and [thinking] How’s my body changing shape? What does it look like? — as opposed to, How is it feeling? At that time I was overexercising and I started getting shin splints. I’ve taken a step back, and really it’s about listening to my body. Some weeks I might be feeling really energetic, and I just need to exercise for my soul — it feels good mentally to go out and get my body moving. Those weeks, maybe I’ll exercise five times a week. But sometimes it’s just once a week. Right now I haven’t been feeling the urge to work out, but I’m still breast-feeding, so I’m burning so many calories a day from that. Maybe once my son stops breast-feeding I’ll really enjoy getting that caloric burn and moving my body again. Right now, when I exercise on top of breast-feeding, I can get really sickly looking. That’s not a look that I’m aspiring to have at all.
To me, wellness means: It’s about finding the balance between mind, body, and spirit. I do that mainly from cultivating self-love and self-acceptance, and understanding that happiness comes from an internal place rather than an external place. Once that is your foundation, you can accomplish anything, you can manifest whatever it is you desire to manifest, and you can live in a balanced and healthy way. I automatically want to do what’s good and right for my body when I’m coming from that place of cultivating self-love, which means eating healthy and making right decisions and not overexercising or being too strenuous in my exercises, and just being happy. Meditating, and all those sorts of things that really feed the soul, are integral to wellness.
How wellness has changed for me: I didn’t know even what wellness meant years ago. When I was in Adelaide, South Australia, before I came out here, I was eating pizza every day, pasta — the most unhealthy stuff you could imagine. I had the metabolism to eat whatever I wanted and never exercise. But I felt really lethargic. And then when I came to LA and landed in a city where so many people were focused on physical appearance, what came hand-in-hand with that was exercising. I started exercising for all those reasons, which I think are not the wrong reasons, but probably not the most motivating reasons — just to be doing it for physical appearance. When I found a balance with wellness was when I let go of the idea of how my body would look, as opposed to how my body feels. Once I found that healthy connection with wellness and working out and taking care of myself, then it felt really good. It felt like a really loving thing to do to myself and for myself.
My biggest wellness struggle is: Having the time to do all the things that you need to do to maintain balance. Having a child and having a stepson — and then I’ve got my husband, I’ve got my career, and I’ve got my mother, who lives with us a lot of the time — there are just so many elements that can pull you away from preserving yourself and really being in check with how you are feeling physically, and how you’re feeling mentally. That’s my main challenge: just carving out the time every day. I can feel when I’m starting to be out of balance because I’ll get lethargic or irritated. And then I know that I need to stop, slow down, take 15 minutes to meditate, and try and regain a place of presence.
My wellness shortcut: Even if I’m having a super-busy day, I just need to have a check-in with myself and realign. I’ll put on a podcast in the car. I just listen to my Eckhart Tolle podcast. I have some other really amazing spiritual podcasts that I listen to, about self-exploration. It just brings me into my Zen state. And from that place, I end up making smarter decisions, I perform better — I’ll just be in a place of really having a productive and happy day.
My wellness advice is: Wellness is about finding what works for you. Having a really wonderful beauty routine is important. For me, it’s about finding products that also work for your skin and make you feel radiant and glowing. I’ve been using Supreme LX from Artistry a lot. It’s just been released and it’s really vibrant and luxurious, and that works for me. And that’s just purely about my skin and feeling my greatest. On top of that, have eight hours of sleep if you can, unless you’re breast-feeding through the night, like me. And then just stop and breathe and try to get present. That’s the main thing. Let’s say you’re feeling fearful or you’re feeling anxious or scared — you know that you are living in a place of the future. That’s what anxiety and fear are, and where that comes from. If you’re feeling sad, lonely, or depressed, that’s typically stemming from a place of dwelling in the past. Any of these low-vibrational feelings that you might be navigating currently, you can pretty much realize every time that you’re not being present. And so it’s such a good indicator for me to realize, Oh, wow I’m having these emotions. I’m not present. Let’s get right in this moment right now and just be. And that’s very difficult. Most people cannot do that. But it’s good to just check back in, in that way.
If you’re feeling unhappy, a lot of the time it’s because you’re cultivating your source of happiness in something external, something outside of yourself. If you go through a breakup or if you don’t get that job, if you don’t make that money, or if that friend didn’t call you back — whatever it is — that’s all external. When you source your happiness from an internal place, and you truly are putting yourself at the center there, you never get too wobbly. It won’t matter if those external things let you down, because you still have a rock-solid center. It has been really amazing since I shifted that. I would always have boyfriends as my external thing that would make me happy. And then since I just put myself in the center, I’ve got to say, I don’t have many bad days.
This interview has been edited and condensed.