Kelsey Wells On Healing Her Once Toxic Relationship With Exercise

There’s a before-and-after photo of Kelsey Wells that keeps doing the rounds online – and it’s made the Sweat trainer livid. On the left is her at 24, before she discovered fitness as “a tool for self-empowerment”, and on the right, a shredded version of herself at 30. The reason she’s so mad? Her photos have been stolen to promote toxic quick-fixes – the same ones she’s spoken out against her whole career.

It’s also the very same messaging the 33-year-old trainer has spent years personally healing from.

“It’s disheartening,” she tells WH of the diet pills, waist trainers and skinny teas that her stolen photos were used to promote. “Your body is not broken; you shouldn’t be seeking a quick fix. In health and wellness, it’s unfortunate it’s still marketed that way in so many instances, when the emphasis should be on caring for your health.”

As one of the first trainers on Kayla Itsines’ Sweat app, and now with a 2.9 million following on Instagram, Kelsey is making sure her message of empowerment reaches as many people as possible. She’s doing it via her Redefine Fitness: Strength and Mindfulness program on Sweat as well as a podcast by the same name. 

“Health is multifaceted. It’s emotional, mental, spiritual and physical,” she says. “We should look at our efforts in exercise and nutrition and how they play a role in our overall health and wellbeing. It is not about fad diets and quick fixes. That kind of rhetoric is tired as much as it is untrue. It’s time we stop using it.” 

Here, Kelsey talks honestly about how she made the shift from viewing fitness as a way to punish her body to a tool that has changed her life for the better. 

Kelsey Wells poses for the cover of the 2023 march issue of Women's Health Australia.
The Upside bra, $99, and pants, $139.99; Bahe yoga wheel, $59.99, from Rebel Sport. Photography by Steve Baccon. Styling by Nicole Adolphe.

KW: It was really kind of heavy, if I’m being honest. It’s an unfortunate truth that the way that fitness has been packaged and sold primarily to women over the last few decades is quite toxic overall. I know I’m not alone in the fact that I grew up internalising those unhealthy lies. 

I used to exercise out of pure negativity. I exercised out of hate for my body. I exercised to punish myself. And even when I felt like I had grown from those things, I was still exercising out of pure aesthetics. It wasn’t healthy mentally. And our mental health really does matter the most. [Now] I always speak about how we need to reclaim exercise as the tool for self-empowerment. Movement is intrinsic in life and we need to exercise out of love for our bodies or, at the very least, respect for our bodies.

But then I was asked [by my community], “OK, that’s fine, but how? How do you make that shift?” I took a long hard look at my journey and identified it was a blend of mindfulness practices and proven positive-psychology techniques. And that’s what my Redefine Fitness program is. It’s mental awareness and intention and mindfulness blended with the kick-ass strength training, weightlifting programs and workouts that I’m known for.

Kelsey Wells poses for the cover of the 2023 march issue of Women's Health Australia.
Cleo Harper Goddess three-piece set (jacket not shown), $299. Photography by Steve Baccon. Styling by Nicole Adolphe.

What was the turning point for you with exercise?

I was postpartum. I’m a huge advocate for destigmatising mental health in general, and especially postpartum depression and anxiety, which I experienced very deeply firsthand. And I do want to say to any woman or mother out there who is feeling that, understand that it’s normal. Understand you’re not broken, you’re not alone. You are strong and there’s so much beauty and bravery in seeking help. 

That aside, I was in this tough place in my life and my son was probably four-ish months old. After decades of trying every fad diet and over-exercising myself, finally I was able to implement regular exercise for the very first time in my adult life. And looking back, it was because I was exercising out of an effort to help my body heal instead of out of hate for my body. And that made all the difference. 

I remember doing this one session: I couldn’t do one sit-up or a push-up. I did two lunges and I was out of breath. I sat on a mat silently sobbing. I just felt so far from where I wanted to be and how I remembered my body moving and functioning. It was like this awareness settled over me, but without the shame that I’d always piled on. [I realised]nobody can fix this for me. I can’t buy it to be better. This is only going to change if I take care of myself and if I choose to put in the work little by little every day over time. I committed in that moment that I would do that.

Everyone’s journey is going to look different. It’s about understanding that if you’re at a place in life where you’re not healthy or where you want to be with the way you treat and view yourself, it may not be your fault. And I can confidently say that for most women who are struggling with insecurities or feeling like their internal dialogue is negative, that it’s not your fault. You have been inundated with [toxic messages] since you were a child, but it is your responsibility, and you can make a change. You can shift and grow.

How did you learn to let go of the shame you’d always felt?

My husband. To be honest, he didn’t know the extent of my suffering. I was very much ashamed of my mental health struggles, which is why I try to destigmatise that now. I didn’t understand how normal it was, the ways that I was struggling. I felt very broken. I felt like you hear about this magical newborn motherhood love bubble. And to be experiencing quite the opposite of that, I felt very ashamed. 

One of the tangible tools that I used in the very beginning was my husband’s idea. Every single time he’d hear me say something bad about myself, he’d stop me and make me say three things that I liked about myself. That’s just one of many examples. I’m so grateful for his support. It was huge for me.

Photography: Steve Baccon. Styling: Nicole Adolphe. Kelsey Wells cover story: Lizza Gebilagin.

The January issue Women’s Health Australia featuring Kelsey Wells is on sale now. Subscribe so that you never miss an issue.

Kelsey Wells poses for the cover of the 2023 march issue of Women's Health Australia.
Photography by Steve Baccon. Styling by Nicole Adolphe.

For support for body image issues, call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. For support for postnatal depression, visit

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