Ellie Goulding’s Real Reason for Getting ‘Fitter, Calmer, Stronger’

Artist, activist, mother and new author Ellie Goulding reveals the mindset shifts that have helped her find the brightest version of herself.

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She’s known for rocking concert venues, stealing red carpets, performing at royal weddings (!) and gracing podiums as a UN Environment Ambassador…but in truth, singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding says she hasn’t always felt this confidence she seems to effortlessly project. The artist recently shared her struggles with anxiety on Instagram—and it’s a topic she deeply opens up about in her January 2023 book, Fitter. Calmer. Stronger.

So, what’s kept Ellie Goulding grounded and able to course-correct through the ebbs and flows of her career? “Fitness has always been the one thing that’s been my kind of stability,” Goulding tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest.

In the book, Goulding, 36, dives into her health and wellness journey (which she refers to as “still a work in progress”)—but not in the way you may expect. There’s no 28-day plan to a bikini body, no dietary restrictions, no magic pills. Goulding opened up with The Healthy about how, instead, she’s worked to unravel this perfectionism-oriented mindset to form a healthier relationship with fitness, her body, and ultimately, her mental health.

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Ellie Goulding on her new book

Fitter Calmer Stronger Book By Ellie Gouldingvia merchant

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest: What inspired you to write about this topic?

Ellie Goulding: My industry can be notoriously dark and booze-heavy, late nights and mad people. And I come from a place of imposter syndrome. I’m somebody who’s always felt a little bit out of place, like I don’t deserve to be where I am. I passionately want women to know their own worth, to stop being afraid of themselves, and start trusting themselves. I just wanted to show people how I did it.

The Healthy: What’s your personal philosophy when it comes to health and wellness?

Ellie Goulding: For women especially, we are constantly told different things, it’s just nonstop conflicting ideas, mixed messaging about diets, disciplines, plans. In my book, I talk about the flexibility of completely owning flexibility. One day, getting up and doing an amazing workout—whatever makes you feel good. And then the next day, not feeling like you have to, not always trying to achieve perfection. So, my philosophy is that there isn’t just one to follow.

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Ellie Goulding on healthy body image

The Healthy: As a society, we’re just starting to have this conversation, especially for women, about fitness as a tool for mental health and not just weight loss. Can you speak to your own experience with that?

Ellie Goulding: I believe exercise is a tool for confidence. And that doesn’t mean “I’ve lost weight, therefore I feel better.” You build up this strength in everyday situations, this kind of inner strength and inner empowerment. And I really focus a lot on that because we still feel so much pressure—we’ve created this average in our brain of what people are supposed to look like, and it’s making people miserable.

The Healthy: In the book, you reference at one point thinking you needed to look like the classic “pop princess.” How did you shift your perspective on fitting others’ expectations?

Ellie Goulding: I [used to] feel as if I was slightly overlooked as a cover star because I was more athletic—I didn’t think I had the figure or a face for magazines. I stopped apologizing for it to myself or to other people in the industry, I started lifting heavier weights and running farther. It always seems like the answer is in changing other people’s perspectives, but sometimes it just actually is within yourself. Once you change your own attitude and you’re kinder to yourself, you give yourself much more self-love and respect.

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The Healthy: In the book, you mention that a remarkable number of us have had complicated relationships with food and eating—something so many will relate to. From your experience, what thoughts would you share with someone who is navigating this in their life?

Ellie Goulding: I was a bit OCD with food, I sort of used running as an excuse to undo anything I’d eaten. I think it was all about control, and the more I understood that, the more I relaxed into the food that I would eat and actually see the joy in food. But understand, it took time to get myself out of that situation. I started to educate myself about food, being a bit more flexible, and was just kinder to myself.

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Ellie Goulding on grounding her mental health

The Healthy: When anxiety hits, what’s your go-to way to calm yourself?

Ellie Goulding: Breathing. Sometimes that’s the only tool you have. Or splashing my face with cold water or even just using my hands, feeling a new sensation. Basically, I find little distractions while still staying in the moment. One mistake I used to make in the early days of my anxiety was to try and completely distract myself, push it to the back of my head—and it’s a debt that will always come back. But [these small distractions] let my thoughts pass through so I can acknowledge them, allowing them to come and go.

The Healthy: What daily self-care practice do you refuse to skip?

Ellie Goulding: I cannot skip my morning coffee routine—which isn’t even coffee. It’s a chicory root alternative. I have this little section in my kitchen with things like ashwagandha powder, mushroom powder, adaptogen powders, collagen powder, bee pollen, and I’ll whiz that all up, add some almond or oat milk, and froth that up.

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The Healthy: What’s your favorite smoothie recipe?

Ellie Goulding: I do everything in my power to make it taste like a dessert. I like starting with some almond milk, add some pea protein powder, mix it with loads of cacao, some almond butter, maybe half a banana. I’m very big on things with a lot of pigment, like berries, acai powder, spinach—so I can have a really nutrient-dense smoothie but make it taste chocolatey and vanilla-y.

The Healthy: What about your book are you most proud of?

Ellie Goulding: I struggle a lot with anxiety and imposter syndrome. I’ve always wanted to put my own practices into writing, and so just to write the book made me feel powerful. I was proud to see in writing everything that I’ve been through and everything that I’ve overcome, all the ways I’ve been kinder to myself. And then, within that, I get to help other people.

The Healthy: Will you keep writing?

Ellie Goulding: I’m going to write another one—and this time it’s going to be I Had a Child Since I Knew Nothing Then. [Motherhood] completely changed my entire life.

This interview has been edited for context and length.

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Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.