The 24-year-old tells SHAPE why she talks about her eating disorder on social media. “I realized that I have this platform, and young women and men who look up to me, and there is a tremendous power to do something positive with it,” the cover star says. “It was definitely a very vulnerable thing to put that out there to almost 12 million people on social media. But that’s who I am. That’s me being authentically myself.”
Mendes says she struggled specifically with bulimia when she was in high school, college and when she started working in Hollywood, calling her relationship with food “emotional” and anxiety-provoking.
“I was so scared of carbs that I wouldn’t let myself eat bread or rice ever. I’d go a week without eating them, then I would binge on them, and that would make me want to purge,” Mendes says. “If I ate a sweet, I would be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to eat for five hours now.’ I was always punishing myself. I was even anxious about healthy food: Did I eat too much of the avocado? Did I have too many fats for one day? I was consumed with the details of what I was eating, and I always felt as if I was doing something wrong.”
Mendes says meeting with a therapist and nutritionist nearly a year ago has helped her stress: “The voices in my head never completely go away. They’re just way quieter now.”
She adds: “My nutritionist completely cured my fear of carbs. She was like, ‘You need a balanced amount of good, healthy carbs in your life. Have a piece of toast in the morning; have some quinoa at lunch. When you’re eating a little of them all the time, you won’t have this crazy urge to binge. You won’t be scared of carbs anymore because you’re going to realize that eating them isn’t going to make you gain weight.'”
In addition to taking pilates and yoga classes that put her in a “great mood,” the actress says seeing other women in Hollywood embrace their curves is also motivating for her.
“This body-positivity movement we’re having right now is so amazing, and it’s helping me so much. I’m seeing all these people who I look up to, like Rihanna, open up about their weight fluctuations and loving themselves the way they are. That makes me love myself more too,” she says.
RELATED VIDEO: Lili Reinhart Responds to Pregnancy Rumors: I ‘Will Never Apologize’ for ‘My Body’
Mendes—who now works with Project HEAL, a nonprofit organization that helps people suffering with eating disorders pay for treatment—was previously vocal about body positivity in March when Cosmopolitan Philippines photoshopped both her and her costar Lili Reinhart on their cover.
“I think Lili and I were the most shocked — we were the most shocked about the fact that they would [do that] knowing how much we speak about body positivity to our fans, and how much we love to talk about that,” Mendes said. “I’m so happy with the way that I am and I don’t think that was necessary. It’s never necessary to change your body. People know what I look like, I take photos on my own and I don’t edit them so people know. Stop trying to lie to people, you know?”