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Why Zoe Saldana Doesn't Believe In 'Cheat Days' or Diets

Zoe Saldana will be dominating Cineplexes this summer as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; recently started her own production company with her sisters, Mariel and Cisely; and is the mother of three boys under 3–a recipe for feeling forever frazzled. Yet Zoe's demeanor is chill and collected. Credit the mindset of a woman who knows her goals and has energy to spare. Her fuel? Clean eating, her family, and a determination to embrace the beauty of every single day.

Despite living with a bevy of boys (twins Bowie and Cy are 2, and little Zen was welcomed to the family in February), Zoe Saldana is a girl’s girl. She coos adorably when talking about her twins’ affection for their new baby brother (“They’re perfect—gentle, considering, caring, and nurturing ”), and on her YouTube show, Rosé Roundtable, she takes girl bonding to new heights. Sample conversation topic: “If it wasn’t for love, where would Shakespeare be?” But make no mistake: She’s got grit, and she’s not afraid to use it, especially if it’s for the good of her health, family, or community. A diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2012 along with rising rates of childhood obesity in the Latino community have made her an outspoken advocate for clean eating. “Once you know better, you can’t not care,” she says. Not that this stops her from downing pink vino with her sisters or enjoying cookies (grab the magazine for her favorite healthy recipe). A big proponent of the 80-20 approach to things (adhere to structure most, but not all, of the time), Zoe just strikes a balance. (Related: Why Finding ~Balance~ Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Health & Fitness Routine)

With exercise, you do you.

"Between travel, meetings, and shoots, schedules are rough for me. I try to work out three times a week, but I don’t believe in getting on one machine for 30 minutes. If I do a lot of cardio, it usually just means I’ll be dragging my feet for the rest of the day. And when I’m shooting, I really don’t like to be strict with my workout, since I’m already putting in 16-hour days. So I do 20-minute intervals either at the gym or at home, where I run in place for 30 seconds, then do squats, then carry a heavy medicine ball a few times in a row until I get my heart rate up."

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Control what you can, then let the rest unfold.

"I can’t work out regularly, so I compensate by eating a lot healthier than I might otherwise. Once you have relatively healthy eating habits, your workout can become playing with your kids, strolling around the neighborhood, playing airplane, or just changing diapers."

Diets don't do squat.

"I don’t believe in cheat days because I don’t believe in diets. I try not to deprive my body of anything, because the moment I have just salads and protein for a few days, I crave carbs. But when I eat everything in balance, I think less about food and more about everything else. It’s about eating to live, not living to eat."

My food philosophy: simple, fresh, clean.

"If my husband and I had different professions, where we didn’t need to shop in supermarkets and could live more naturally, we could eat more sustainably. I grew up partially in the Dominican Republic, and I remember what eating was like when my grandma would pick herbs from her garden and we’d get seafood that had been caught that morning. Life was very simple and much healthier. It’s not that I like to eat superlight, just superclean. I like food that is fresh. I don’t go for things that come in can—and I’m losing trust in things that come in plastic. And we’re starting to move in the direction of becoming a vegetarian family; society has a very violent, dysfunctional, and wrong relationship with how we cultivate and produce meat. So if I have to pay more to eat better, then I’ll just balance my checkbook better. For example, I’d rather get the dark chocolate with goji berries than the milk chocolate packed with saturated fat. 

“I know what it’s like to live on a tight budget, but my mom was one of those parents who gave us great food despite our budget. That’s where I get who I am from, and I’d like to be a voice of inspiration for my Latino community, as underage diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise.” 

Health first.

"I know I’ve become a very boring person to take to dinner, but I’d rather be that way than deal with health issues. When you have an autoimmune condition, you have to stay away from foods that cause inflammation.” (Zoe’s family is gluten- and dairy-free.)

We all need spice in life.

"My husband [Marco Perego] and I love to cook. I’m going through a phase where I’m making a lot of beans and quinoa. And I love ceviche and stews. But my favorite type of food is Asian. No matter how north or south in the Pacific, I love the spices, the vegetables, and the ways they cook them. Lately my husband and I have been learning to cook with Asian spices, like turmeric, and ginger, and we’re having a blast."

"Perfection" is a dinosaur.

"If we could design ourselves, we’d all be perfect. But we can’t, so why be unhappy about it? I’ve never wanted different hair or my body any other shape. And I’ve never thought of a person as ugly unless they opened their mouth and their heart was full of venom."

For more from Zoe, pick up the June issue of Shape on newsstands May 23.

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