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Mindy Kaling Shares Her Favorite Workouts and Her Approach to Losing the Baby Weight

Mindy Kaling is not one to stand still. Whether it's her work, her workouts, or her home life, "I always want to do something new and different," says the actor, writer, and producer. "I love variety."

In the past year, she has surpassed that goal. Mindy is starring in two megamovies—the hotly anticipated all-female Ocean's 8, which opens June 8, in addition to A Wrinkle in Time; she cocreated, writes for, and stars in Champions, a new TV show on NBC; she bought a house; and, oh yeah, she had a baby, Katherine (Kit for short) Kaling, in mid-December. "It's crazy," Mindy says of her jam-packed life. At the same time, though, she looks totally unfazed by it. Because becoming a mom has, in a weird way, actually given Mindy new balance. (Related: Mindy Talks About Dealing with 'Mom Guilt' As a Single Parent)

Life before Kit was basically synonymous with work. Mindy, 38, is passionate about what she does, and she was on the job until she gave birth and then back at it two days after delivery, editing and making conference calls. But motherhood has made Mindy appreciate the other aspects of her life a little more. "It hits me all the time that I have somebody at home who not just wants to see me but needs to see me," Mindy says. "That's incredibly rewarding. When someone needs you all the time, and they also kind of look like you, it's a really nice feeling."

As she chats over a breakfast of green juice, a vegetable omelet, home fries, and a side of sausage (her food strategy: Order what you really want and eat half of it), Mindy is fresh from a workout with a new trainer. "I was on the VersaClimber," she says. "Have you ever done that? It's so hard!" But it's so worth it, in Mindy's book. "I love working out," she says, her eyes lighting up. "I don't go to therapy, and I think that's because I get endorphins from exercise. It's such a powerful tool for me mentally. I know that working out is not the path for me to be skinny. For my body type, that entails eating well and making healthy choices. Working out is a way for me to have mental strength, and now, with a kid, it's also time that I have just for myself and to focus on my body." (ICYDK, Mindy always keeps it real when it comes to being healthy.)

How does she achieve that perfect combo of healthy, happy, and as busy as she wants to be? It takes some smart strategies, Mindy acknowledges. Here, she fills us in on what works for her.

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Photo: Peggy Sirota

"I've learned to appreciate the little moments."

"I didn't realize how tethered to my house I would be as a new mom. I'd thought that I could bring the baby with me everywhere. I also couldn't quite believe that every three hours I needed to be home to feed her. I'd go on these little jaunts out of the house, and they'd feel like secret, illicit excursions. It was exciting, and it made my life seem kind of dramatic. What also helped was that I'd just moved into my home, and it was fun to break it in. I'd think, I should feed my daughter in our fancy new living room. And there I'd sit with her, and it was like, Oh, this is really nice." (Related: Real Moms Share How Having Kids Flipped Their Perspectives On Fitness)

"I discovered an easier way to take off the baby weight."

"Because I like to eat, and I'm not skinny to start with, I knew that if I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy, things could just fly off the rails in a really bad way. That was something I definitely needed to watch out for. My doctor said that women who gain just 25 to 30 pounds usually have less trouble losing it after the baby is born. So I kept my weight gain to about 27 pounds. I also worked out whenever I could while I was pregnant. I did a lot of yoga and a lot of walking, and I jogged until I couldn't jog anymore. I exercised until the morning I gave birth. Also, about a week after I had the baby, I started walking a couple of miles a day. I don't recommend that for everyone, obviously, but I didn't have that difficult of a delivery. All those things were really helpful when it came to losing the weight." (Try this post-pregnancy workout to rebuild a strong core.)

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Photo: Peggy Sirota

"Now I do three very different types of exercise."

"I work out four to five times a week when I'm not shooting. I like to mix up my workouts: I'll do a SoulCycle class, a strength-training class with my trainer, and yoga once a week. For someone with my personality, which is somewhat skeptical and cynical, it's really good for me to do yoga and take it at face value. Because I'm Indian, I feel like I should be good at yoga, but I'm terrible at it. It's my way of trying to get back to my roots."

"For me, food is life."

"I like every food: sushi, Ethiopian, French, spicy, sweets. Plus, I was raised to clean my plate, and I've had to come to terms with the fact that I don't have to eat everything on there. So on a typical day, I keep it pretty healthy. In the morning, I try to have eggs because they're easy to cook even if you're as bad at cooking as I am. I'll poach an egg or two, have a third of an avocado and a piece of Ezekiel toast with butter. That fills me up for a really long time. I'll have a big salad for lunch with chicken or fish on top. For dinner, if I'm home, I'll cook something healthy like a piece of salmon with some spinach. But if I'm going out, I'll order whatever I want and eat half of it. That way I get to taste everything. I also love having a cocktail. I probably have two or three of them a week, which is such a joy. In New York, the cocktail menus in some of these restaurants are amazing. That enhances my entire dining experience."

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Photo: Peggy Sirota

"As women, we have one another's backs."

"I feel as if I've acted only with women in the past two years, which is amazing. Between A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean's 8, I think I've worked with every famous actress in Hollywood. It's funny, because when Ocean's Eleven was filming, you'd read about how it was such a convivial atmosphere on set and that George Clooney would play pranks on everybody. It made me realize that when men go away to shoot a movie for two or three months, they leave their families at home. But women take their families with them. So I wasn't just seeing big stars like Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett without the rest of their lives. The rest of their lives were with them, and I got to meet spouses and children. That was wonderful. Cate and Sandy both have little kids who are so well behaved and fun, and I got to learn a lot about how they parent and ask them a ton of questions. The group of us from that movie is still tight. We text all the time."

"Strength and confidence are the most important things—period."

"I'm excited for my daughter to see me work out and to know that it's a normal part of my life. I wasn't raised that way, and I think when you don't see that kind of thing as a kid, it's really hard to pick it up. I would love for her to learn at a young age that exercise is a great habit to have. I didn't learn that until I was 24. I also want her to be confident. I was not that way as a child, and I want my daughter to be really confident all the time. I'm going to do that by always making her feel like she is good enough and not being stingy with encouraging comments. That goes against my nature a bit because I'm a critical person—of myself, of the things I work on—but it's very important to me to make sure I instill confidence in my daughter."

For more from Mindy, pick up the June issue of Shape, on newsstands May 16.

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