"I’m definitely not the kind of person who says, ‘I don’t eat sugar or carbs’ or ‘I don’t drink caffeine and wine.’ That’s never going to happen."

By Pam O'Brien

"I just want to drive my own car."

That’s Dakota Fanning’s way of saying that she needs to be in control of her life. “I’m very goal oriented,” says the actor, 25. “I have a lot I want to accomplish.”

She has already proved to be a master achiever. Dakota started acting professionally at age 5, when she landed a national commercial. Two years later she starred in the movie I Am Sam, becoming the youngest person ever nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. More than 40 films later, Dakota is in one of the summer’s most anticipated movies, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a crime thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie and directed by Quentin Tarantino—and she couldn’t be more excited.

“One of the happiest times of my life was when I was told I got the part,” Dakota says of the movie, which hits theaters on July 26. “It was truly a dream-come-true, jumping-up-and-down moment.”

When she’s not on the film set or traveling to Budapest to shoot her TV series The Alienist, Dakota channels her energy into her workouts. “I come from a family of athletes [her mom played professional tennis, and her dad played minor league baseball], so being active was instilled in me from a young age,” Dakota says. “I like the high of feeling strong.” This dynamo has figured out the formula for staying energized, focused, and happy—and she sat down to share it with us.

Listen to Your Body

“It’s so important to have a really good sweat. It clears my head and makes my skin look good, and I feel better overall.

I try to work out six days a week. I love to do Cardio Barre, a ballet-inspired cardio class. I’ve been taking it since I was in high school, and I’m obsessed. I also started doing AKT [a dance-based cardio and strength workout]. The first time I did it, I thought I was going to die! It was so tough in the best possible way. But as hard as I exercise, I’ve also learned the importance of rest so that my body can rejuvenate. It’s all about what works for me at this moment and makes me feel good.” (Related: AKT Founder Anna Kaiser Dishes on Shakira's Health and Fitness Routine)

Eat the Ice Cream

“I’ve become a much healthier eater. I typically have yogurt or eggs after my morning workout, a salad for lunch, and a grilled protein with quinoa and vegetables for dinner. But I’m definitely not the kind of person who says, ‘I don’t eat sugar or carbs’ or ‘I don’t drink caffeine and wine.’ That’s never going to happen. I have a huge sweet tooth.

When I visit my parents at home in L.A., my mom and I look at each other after dinner, and it’s like, ‘We’ve got to go out and get dessert,’ and it’s usually Baskin-Robbins ice cream. “Eating is all about moderation. If I’m going to a restaurant that’s famous for its pasta, I’m going to eat the pasta. I don’t limit myself. That’s not sustainable. You have to indulge. Food is supposed to be fun and pleasurable.” (Related: We Seriously Need to Stop Thinking of Foods As 'Good' and 'Bad')

Show Yourself Love Always

“I have a really good ritual to help me unwind. I take a bath every night, no matter what. I put on a podcast, get in the tub, and close my eyes. This routine is such a constant in my life; I can’t live without it. If I’m in a hotel and there isn’t a tub, I have to move. It’s like, No, I won’t. I can’t. I’ve got to have a bath.” (Related: Why a Bath Can Be Better Than a Shower)

Redefine Your Idea of Success

“As goal oriented as I am, I recognize that reaching your goals doesn’t always happen the way you think it will. I never say to myself, Oh, I’ll be happy when this happens or This one thing will make me feel good, because I don’t think that’s realistic.

It’s important to have goals and vision and drive, but you’ve also got to recognize that those goals might not come to you in the way you believe they will. It’s really important to remember that no one thing is ever going to make you happy.” (Related: This Method of Self-Talk Will Make You So Much Happier)

Find Someone Who Has Your Back

“My sister, Elle, and I are really close. We always have been. We’re very different, but we’re very connected. We don’t talk every day, but we don’t have to. We just have that special bond. There’s no one I want to succeed more in this business than my sister, and I know she wants the same for me.”

Make a Difference In Your Own Way

“I’ve been an ambassador for Save the Children for several years. I help with some of its literacy and early education programs. Save the Children does such a good job fostering a love of learning in children, and going to school gives kids so much confidence. It’s amazing to see that.

Giving back is very important to me. Volunteering has always been part of my life. I’ve learned that as much as it helps other people, it helps you too. Volunteering gives you perspective and an appreciation for your own circumstances. It makes the world better, and it makes you a better person.”

Shape Magazine, July/August 2019 issue
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