EXCLUSIVE: Elsa Pataky reveals her top tips for a strong mind and healthy body

Our thoughts and beliefs are what move us forward, and also what hold us back, says Elsa in this exclusive extract from her new book, Strong.

This is an edited extract from Elsa Patayky's new book, Strong: How to eat, move and live with strength and vitality and was republished in the January 2020 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.
The first step to a better you is a mental one.
What do you want to change? Do you want to walk up a flight of stairs without becoming breathless? Do you want to look in the mirror and be pleased with what you see?
The important thing is to be true to yourself.
My goal is to live life fully – to thrive, not just survive.
I do that by exercising daily, eating healthy foods and keeping my mind active. I could not imagine my life without exercise. For me, it is the glue that holds everything together: my health, my happiness, my relationship.

Set your goals

If your goal is too broad – "I want to get in shape", for example – it can be difficult to know where to start and you can easily get discouraged or side-tracked.
What works for me is to break my goals down into smaller ones.
If we want to climb a ladder we must begin by reaching the first rung, then the second one and so on until, little by little, we get to the top. For example, you might set these daily goals:
1. Get 7–8 hours' sleep every night
2. Get up early
3. Eat a healthy breakfast
4. Exercise every day.
You can then break each of these down into smaller steps. For example, to get 7–8 hours' sleep each night:
• Go to bed before 10pm
• Turn off screens and put phones away two hours before bed
• Make sure your bedroom is not too hot or cold, and that you have good blackout blinds
• Have a winding-down ritual such as meditation. My husband, Chris, and I have started getting into it, doing 10 minutes before bed. It works really well for us.
It is important to be able to tell when you have reached your goals. Sometimes this will be easy.
For example, if your goal is to go to bed before 10pm five nights a week, it will be obvious if you have reached it or not! But for many women, weight loss is their number one goal and they jump on the scales every day to judge their success.
For me, a number on a bathroom scale is not all that useful. Instead, I want to know how my body performs: its stamina, strength and endurance.
If feeling at the mercy of the scales is familiar to you, you might want to try this yourself. Instead of weighing yourself each week, focus on the changes in your fitness and strength:
• Can you run five minutes more than you could before?
• Can you do more repetitions of an exercise?
• Can you lift a heavier weight?
This is important. Your goals must be within your capabilities.
For example, if you have an injury or condition that prevents you from running, then a half marathon is not going to be achievable for you.
Find another activity, such as cycling, swimming or canoeing.
This is where you need to factor in how much time you have.
The goal to run a half marathon may be achievable with a few months of committed training, but it would not be realistic for you to do it next week.
Elsa says realistic goal-setting is key to staying on track. Instagram

Be patient

Imagine that you have planted some seeds in a flowerpot because you want to grow a beautiful plant. On Monday you grab your watering can and water the soil.
On Wednesday you do the same and on Friday as well. Have you grown anything yet?
What I'm trying to say is that, at this early stage, the process is invisible. You have to be consistent and wait to collect the reward.
One of the reasons we often abandon training programs is because we want fast results.
We don't allow enough time for our seeds to grow roots; we want to plant and harvest at the same time.
Forget about miracle diets or exercises. "Get fit while you sleep." "Tone your abdominals while sprawled on the couch." "Drop three dress sizes in just five days." It's all lies.
Change doesn't happen overnight – not if we want long lasting results.

Training with a partner

I love training with Chris. We do our own exercises separately, but then we really enjoy spending 30–40 minutes doing something we both like together.
I also train with my family – my brother, his wife and our cousins will come to our house every now and then to train together. It's like family fun time! The competition also makes us work out slightly harder. Laziness, as you know, is contagious. But so is enthusiasm.
If you can get your partner on board, you will be able to motivate each other on those days when the other doesn't feel like moving. If you set yourself a challenge and add competition to the mix, I promise you that the session will be much more fun. Time will fly by and you will want to do it again.
This is why I wanted to learn Chris' favourite sport – surfing. Not only would we have more things to do together, but it was a great challenge for me.
In turn, I have introduced Chris to two of my favourite activities: horseriding and motorbiking. Now he also loves them, which means we have even more opportunities to have fun together.
Encouraged by our example, my brother and his wife now train together too. This is what it's all about at the end of the day: quality time with your partner.
What if you don't have a partner? Well, I'm sure you have a friend who would love to train with you. Or, if you have young children, why not train in the backyard with another parent while they play?
You just need some music and an exercise circuit. The important thing is to have a plan and to make the time to do it. It will be much more fun than doing it on your own.

Incidental exercise

Nearly every super-fit person I know takes any chance to exercise that they can.
Not just training, but finding ways in their day to be active.
It's called incidental exercise – an activity you would have been doing anyway, but you can also get extra steps in and your heart rate up!
And there are so many easy ways to build it into your day. If you commute by bus or train to work, try and get off a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.
If you go to the shopping centre, walk there. And if you take your kids to the playground, run around with them, or lift them up to get on the slide or jungle gym.
It's all exercise. It all counts!

Enjoy the journey

Fernando says his primary objective as a trainer is to get people to like exercise because if you like it, you are going to do it. On the other hand, if exercise is an obligation, it's not going to be something you can stick with.
So pick what you like to do. Do you want to join a gym? Do you want to play a competitive team sport? Do you prefer a daily cycle, run or swim?
Work with what you enjoy and you are more likely to get hooked. It becomes something you want to do, not something you feel you have to do.
But that doesn't mean you can slack off. You still need to engage in your chosen activity with intensity – sweat it out, feel a sense of achievement at how hard you
have worked.
That is the only way to progress, and you can also enjoy the feeling of hard work done well.
Tennis champion Rafael Nadal once said, after a seemingly endless and very tough battle against Novak Djokovic, which resulted in his eighth win at the French Open: "I have learned to enjoy the suffering".

Coping with food cravings

Cutting down on food that's high in sugar, white flour and other simple carbs can be very hard at first, especially if you have been used to eating a lot of it at every meal.
One way to help is to have something slightly sweet at breakfast. Lately, I've been eating whole-wheat bread with butter and a smear of marmalade with no added sugar. I also really like porridge, which I prepare with rice milk. My kids love it for breakfast, and for them I sometimes add a small handful of dark chocolate, crushed almonds and berries.
Like many mothers, my breakfast often ends up being what my kids can't finish: uneaten crusts, bits of fruit or egg . . . but as I am feeding my kids healthy foods anyway, this is fine!
Another way to manage cravings is to have protein at each meal, especially breakfast.
For example, my husband, Chris, always starts his day with eggs and tops them with yesterday's leftovers, which could be chicken, meat, grilled or sautéed vegetables – even bolognese sauce.

Follow the 80-20 rule

It's important to allow yourself treats now and again. Remember, we are not aiming to be perfect, just the best we can be.
My trainer, Fernando, calls it the 80–20 rule. For 80 per cent of the time, you choose healthy foods. But for special occasions – Christmas, holidays, parties – enjoy yourself. That's the other 20 per cent.
If you have dessert or a glass of wine every single day, this is not a treat – it's a habit. But if you are fit and you eat what your body needs most of the time, the occasional treat is more easily metabolised. Plus, it is much more enjoyable!
Some people have a 'cheat day' when, for one day a week, you eat what you feel like without guilt. I think this is a great concept. When you do the healthy thing throughout the week, eating your fish and veggies and doing your exercise, why not allow yourself one day to enjoy the ice-cream or the slice of pizza you've been thinking about all week? And enjoy it, that is key. Feeling guilty about it would be foolish, wouldn't it? Treats enjoyed consciously are nothing to feel guilty about.
But the trick is to not let one day turn into weeks of indulgent eating. The very next day I'm back to demanding everything from myself again. Having a treat motivates me to start the next day with exercise.
In general, I try to make my 'cheat day' a weekend day, but if I am feeling really low mid-week because of something that's happened, I will give in to what my body asks for, whatever craving it is.
Normally that is all I need, but I sometimes have a period where I'm feeling low for a few days, and that's when I take the pressure off myself.
We all have days when we have a lot of energy and others when we don't. For me, the trick is to keep a steady ship, without closing the door on what the body is asking for.

A strong diet

Over the years, I've changed my way of eating many times, always trying to find the style that is best for me.
My metabolism has also changed a lot, which is normal, especially after having kids.
I also realised that once you have kids you can't allow yourself the luxury of standing in front of the pantry deciding what to eat.
It has to be fast and simple to cook because the kids are hungry and you have a thousand other things to do!
So please remember to fill the pantry with all the things that will help you prepare quick, healthy meals and that you know will make you feel good, inside and out.
WATCH BELOW: Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth help out in the school canteen. Story continues after video.

Recipe for wild berry bites

Makes about 14
1 cup (150g) berries of your choice, such as raspberries, strawberries or blueberries
1½cups (375g) full-fat Greek yoghurt
⅓cup (115g) honey or light agave nectar
½cup (30g) shredded coconut
non-stick spray, if needed
Place berries, yoghurt and honey or agave in a blender, then blend until smooth.
Pour into a bowl, then mix in shredded coconut using a spatula.
Spoon mixture into ice cube trays or individual moulds. If tray is rigid (metal or hard plastic), spray lightly with non-stick spray.
Carefully wrap with plastic wrap; freeze for a minimum 4 hours.

Leek and goat's cheese omelette with cashew pesto

Serves 24
organic eggs
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons roughly chopped tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1–2 leeks, white part only, chopped
½cup (60 g) crumbled goat's cheese
micro herbs, to serve (optional)
lemon wedges, to serve
Cashew pesto
1 cup (155 g) cashews
1 cup (50 g) well-packed baby spinach leaves
6 basil leaves
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
juice of 1 lemon
½cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed
To make cashew pesto, place cashews, spinach, basil, salt, nutritional yeast and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a blender.
Blend on high, while slowly adding oil, until ingredients are well combined. If the consistency is too thick, add more oil or lemon juice. Set aside.
Crack eggs into a bowl and beat well. Stir in a pinch of salt and the tarragon and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add leek, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5–6 minutes until soft (be careful not to burn it). Transfer cooked leek to a plate and set aside.
Wipe pan clean and heat remaining oil over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture and swirl to evenly coat bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium–low; cook for about 5 minutes, smoothing the mixture with a spatula to ensure it cooks evenly. When the top starts to thicken, loosen outer edge with spatula.
Sprinkle goat's cheese and cooked leek over one half of omelette. Use spatula to lift the other side; fold omelette over. Reduce heat to low; cook for a further 3 minutes.
Turn off heat, cover pan and leave to rest for 2 minutes to allow cheese to become soft and creamy.
Halve omelette and divide between two plates.
Top with a tablespoon of cashew pesto, scatter with micro herbs (if using) and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Strong: How to eat, move and live with strength and vitality is available now in all good bookstores and online.

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