In May 2019, Rachael Harris started her fitness journey.
Her goal? To be the strongest she's ever been, both physically and mentally.
"What I love is when I put on my wardrobe, I feel strong. I'm not going for skinny," the Lucifer star, 52, tells PEOPLE. "When I put on my clothes, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I look strong and I look fit and I look healthy.' I carry myself differently on set and I feel confident."
In an exclusive interview, the actress discusses the finalization of her divorce from violinist Christian Hebel, what it's like to co-parent their two sons, Henry, 4, and Otto, 2, and her decision to work with Tom Ellis' trainer, Paolo Mascetti.
"After marriage and the kids being born, I thought, 'Well, I need to be able to take care of the kids and I need to work and go take care of my husband,' " says Harris. Then she had an epiphany. "I realized, 'Gosh, I'm really getting lost in this and I don't like myself.' "
"I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of doing," Harris continues. "I just said, 'You know what? F— it. I'm going to hire a trainer.' "
With Mascetti's help, Harris went from eating "Corn Chip Dippers and protein bars" to a using a meal delivery service. She cut out sugar and grain from her diet and doesn't drink alcohol.
"If you told me five years ago that I'd stop eating sugar, I would have said, 'Yes, and I'm also going to go to the moon,' " Harris jokes. "It was so far-fetched for me."
But Harris has committed to Mascetti's food regime. She says she'll start the day with a healthy breakfast, like "two eggs scrambled, a half-a-tub of Brussels sprouts or broccoli and cut up butternut squash."
"Then, three hours later, I would have a lunch that is mostly greens, lean meat, chicken or turkey or salmon, with vegetables. No starches and no breads," she explains. "And then a dinner that's pretty much the same thing. It might be pork chops or steak with vegetables. And turnips, like mashed turnips, which are foul, but I eat them anyway."
Harris says the reason she's able to stick to the meal plan is because she gets to eat "coconut sugar chocolate chip cookies" made by Baked by Sha Sha.
"[Owner Sharon Phillips] is the reason that I am able to stick to this eating plan," says Harris. "I have one or two of them in the evening, which is when I want to be face down in a bowl of M&M's."
The actress is also dedicated to her daily workouts and loves working with Mascetti because she trusts him to guide her.
"I do my workout with Paolo, which is usually high-intensity training," she says. "I do a mile run, then we do strength training, either arms, legs or core."
And Harris is pleased with the results.
"At 52, I'm in the best shape of my life ever," she explains. But she's had to battle doubt along the way.
"It has not been easy. There have been very dark days where I've wondered, 'What have I done?' I miss my kids when they're with their dad," she says. "I have to keep reminding myself that I chose myself. It may not be popular and it may sound selfish, but I knew that if I didn't choose myself, I was going to be unbelievably unhappy."
Eventually, Harris worked through her guilt by "reframing it."
"I had to reframe it because it felt like I was choosing [working out] over my kids," she says. "I had to reframe it like this, 'No, I'm choosing this for my kids and for me.' Because if I'm happy, they are going to be happy. It took a year of my mommy friends saying to me, 'It's quality — not quantity — time with your children.' "
Now, Harris feels healthy in both body and spirit.
"When I started working out with Paolo, I really started breathing and feeling that I was strong. That helped me stick to the decisions that I was making in my life," she says. "For me, it might have seemed like the working out was physical, but it was much more mental. It's the cliché of mind, body and spirit. But I didn't understand that fully until I started doing it."
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