As with many mental illnesses, healing from an eating disorder is an ongoing process — one that needs consistent upkeep and maintenance, and may get easier or harder over time. And for people in the spotlight, acknowledging that recovery isn’t linear can be so valuable for fans who only see their life in snippets. Actor Camila Mendes’ comments about her eating disorder recovery show how healing is a lifelong process for everyone.
“When I was a teenager, there were no role models when it came to body positivity — that simply was not a thing. Being thin was the thing,” Mendes told Women’s Health for their October 2019 cover story. Mendes has previously spoken out about dealing with bulimia, which she first experienced in high school and then again in college. “Then it came back when I started working in this industry with fittings all the time and watching myself on camera. I had such an emotional relationship with food and anxiety about everything I put into my body,” Mendes told Shape in 2018.
"I've only recently kind of gotten better," Mendes, now 25, told Women’s Health. "It's something that's still a curse to me. It's not like that ever goes away.” The Riverdale actor said that reframing her relationship to food has been enormously helpful: “I make choices that are good for me — and not just in my body — but for my soul, for my mind. And sometimes that’s eating ice cream because I want to eat ice cream.” Still, recovery is something she’s had to work at with the help of professionals like a nutritionist and a therapist.
Mendes’ comments show a side of eating disorders that’s rarely discussed. “People think that they'll go to one program for a few weeks and recover,” but this is anything but the case, Dr. Eda Gorbis, PhD, LMFT, founder of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders and a member of the Anxiety & Depression Association Of America, tells Bustle via email. “It's a lifelong commitment to a lifelong problem, since eating disorders occur early in life and will continue to reoccur.”
Around 1% of women and .1% of men will have bulimia at any given point in time, the National Eating Disorders Association says. In contrast with anorexia, where patients restrict their caloric intake, bulimia is defined by periods of binging on food and then purging. Eating disorders can be life threatening, and can impact different aspects of your health in the long term.
“Eating disorders should be seen as a medical illness, rather than solely a mental illness,” Dr. Gorbis says. “It is a danger for other medical conditions as well.” She points to gastrointestinal issues, heart disease, bone density problems, among comorbid health issues.
With Mendes being open about her journey, it can inspire others to end the stigma around disordered eating — and encourage people to get help.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.