Three months ago, Camila Mendes made a decision: She was done with dieting. Although the 23-year-old Riverdale star had revealed on Instagram in October 2017 that she had previously battled eating disorders and “suffered symptoms,” her February statement about body positivity was big — and bold.
The star has long been honest about body image issues and how she’s portrayed in the media, even speaking out after her and co-star Lili Reinhart’s bodies were photoshopped to look thinner on recent covers of Cosmopolitan Philippines. She also posed completely makeup-free for PEOPLE’s 2018 Beautiful Issue, an experience she says made her feel “the most myself.”
However, even with her recent strides, Mendes admits to still having days when her self image is shaky. But now she’s prepared for them.
“I was really obsessed with dieting,” Mendes told PEOPLE at the recent launch of her partnership with John Frieda Hair Care. “I don’t know if it was psychological but [when I quit dieting] I felt like I was gaining weight. Just that fear of ‘oh my god I’m gaining weight now,’ but I’ve really made this promise to myself that I’m gonna stick to this.”
Mendes says it ultimately comes down to knowing what to do when a bad day comes, and who to talk to for help.
“I feel like I know I have enough friends who support me through those times, like I’ll call a friend and be like, ‘I really don’t feel good about what I ate today,’ and she’ll be like ‘Dude, it’s fine.’ ”
The star admits there’s a “fear of losing control when it comes to eating disorders,” but she’s learned to “let loose” with what she eats. “It’s fine to eat dessert when I want to eat dessert, because that will give me the peace of mind I need. I’ll know that if I ate chocolate cake, maybe I won’t the next day. I’ve learned to trust myself that I’m going to make healthy choices because I care about my health.”
Mendes also has certain celebrities she looks to for body image inspiration, like Ashley Graham — and especially Rihanna. “I’m so inspired by her lately. I think she’s like the most authentic celebrity out there, and so shamelessly herself.”
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“I think we’re getting to that point where there are different types of beauty and we just need to understand that,” the star says, adding, “I know I eat healthy and I know I work out and I know I lead a healthy lifestyle. So why try to push myself to look a certain way because the fashion industry has told me that that’s the way you should look?”
But the things that make her feel the healthiest are actually the most simple. “The base is always getting eight hours of sleep. When I feel like I’ve slept good, and I wake up feeling refreshed I feel like I make better choices throughout the day. And staying hydrated. Honestly the simplest things make such a difference.”
And Mendes — who has over 8.7 million Instagram followers — has wisdom to share with her fans struggling with similar self-esteem issues.
“I think you need to understand that you’re being way harder on yourself than you should be,” the star advises. “Learn to let go. It’s so much easier said than done, and everybody has their own path.”
She also says reaching out to peers is “so important,” especially those who can relate to what you’re going through. “They’re going to be the ones to help you the most because they understand what that feels like.”