January 02, 2017 04:29 PM

Since 2008, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle empire, Goop, has become a go-to online destination for healthy living suggestions (both low-key and more out there). But the 44-year-old actress wasn’t always a purveyor of clean philosophies. It wasn’t until her father, director-producer Bruce Paltrow, was diagnosed with throat cancer more than a decade ago, that she took a serious look at her health, she tells People.

“When my father was diagnosed, I started frantically throwing things out. I went through a really fanatical phase of being macrobiotic, and obviously it was motivated by pain,” says Paltrow, whose father died of complications from cancer in 2002

Having an admittedly “laissez-faire attitude” about her health prior to his diagnosis, Paltrow realized her total 180° turn wasn’t the answer, either. 

“I think that was the hardest and most misguided part … was the idea that I had to go all or nothing. But it’s not about that,” she says.

Eventually Paltrow learned the art of balance — and the seven-letter word is what she swears now by, and is also the mantra behind Goop Clean Beauty, a new wellness book from the editors of Goop, for which she wrote the foreword. 

“We wanted to create the ultimate little tome that explains the Goop clean lifestyle all in one place,” explains the mom of two, who empathizes with the challenges of clean living.

“People think, ‘Ugh, if I do this, I have to throw everything away,’ but it’s really just about saying, ‘I am willing to experiment in this area’ and going easy on yourself,” she said. “I drink alcohol and eat french fries. But I’m also motivated to make good changes that are sustainable, even if they’re small, like remembering to drink more water.”

Eugene Gologursky/Getty

For Paltrow, it starts with being aware of the toxins around us — and cutting them out whenever and wherever possible. 

“It can be one thing at a time. I just ordered a new standing desk like a complete nerd because there’s so much research now about how carcinogenic sitting is,” she says. “But, there are so many chemicals in mascara, so maybe it’s buying a clean [formula]. Or, maybe it’s removing fragrant laundry products that are full of chemicals.”

What motivates Paltrow to keep up her clean lifestyle simply is how great she feels on the inside and out: “The more true you are to yourself, the more beautiful you are. And I think that goes hand in hand with making small choices. And after [doing that] you start to feel a little bit better and you get more motivated to keep going.”

For more from Paltrow pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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