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The Riverdale star shares her wellness secrets: listening to her body, paring down, and learning to love alone time.

By Bethany Heitman
March 08, 2021
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camila mendez
Credit: Nino Muñoz

When Camila Mendes pops up on Zoom to chat for her Health cover story, she's wearing a simple white tee and jeans and has barely any makeup on—and she's absolutely glowing. Looking at her, you'd never know she's been alone in her apartment and hasn't gone outside since returning to work. The Riverdale star is back in Vancouver, where the show shoots, after a production hiatus. For safety, before filming starts again, the entire cast has to quarantine for two weeks.

The slower pace has been a bit of a novelty for the 26-year-old. Camila was cast as the beloved comic book character Veronica Lodge shortly after graduating from New York University. Riverdale, which airs on The CW, was an instant hit and last season brought in an average of about a million viewers each week. It's the type of success most actors only dream of, and it means that the past several years of Camila's life have been nonstop with filming, press obligations, award shows, and other projects.

Along with her toned-down schedule came a lot more alone time—something she says has taught her some major life lessons. "Suddenly, I was stripped of all the things that kept me busy, and I was left to think about who I was as a person and what I like to do with my time." She admits she struggled a bit at first, but ultimately knows it has been good for her and has taught her to value her own company. Here, Camila opens up about the important self-care tactics that help her deal with isolation, the ways she nurtures her mental health, how she developed a healthier relationship with food, and more.

CamillaMendes
Credit: Nino Muñoz

You've been filming Riverdale in Canada. Because of the pandemic, other than your cast, you must spend a lot of time alone. Have you enjoyed it?

In my day-to-day life, I'm a social butterfly. I love my friends and normally have to force myself to be alone. But in quarantine, I've learned how much I actually like spending time with myself. It's been nice to realize that, and I think it's something we all need sometimes. When this all started, I was in a place in my life that was go, go, go. I never imagined I'd have time to just sit and be by myself. It has really made me reevaluate priorities. 

What sort of things have you discovered you like doing on your own?

Normally, I love going out to eat and am not doing that now, so I forced myself to learn to cook. It's funny, my mom went to culinary school and my grandma was a caterer. I think because I was spoiled by my mom, I never really had to learn. I began with a meal-delivery service, where they send you the recipe and ingredients—it was great basic training. I've realized I know a bit more than I thought. I must have picked it up somehow through my mom.

You were cast in Riverdale shortly after graduating college—that's a pretty major first job. What has that experience been like?

It's a dream—I never expected as an actress studying theater at NYU that my first gig would be so transformative. Then, there's the other side of it. When you have such a massive fan base, there are haters that come along with it. But that has actually been a good learning experience, too. It forces you to accept and get comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to like you—and that's OK. That's a very valuable lesson to have learned early in my career.

Your family moved around a lot when you were growing up, and you spent time in Brazil. How has that shaped who you are today?

I wear it proudly! I'm a very good packer and a minimalist. I think it taught me not to be too attached to things. It's almost embarrassing how often I go through my closet and get rid of things. I will end up with, like, five shirts and five pants—then the next month, I'll do it again! Even now, I live between Vancouver [where we film] and Los Angeles, and then also visit my family in Florida. I have so many homes, I just feel more at peace knowing I have fewer things. I also think it helped me learn how to make friends and get along with people from all different places and backgrounds.

camila mendez
Credit: Nino Muñoz

You are Brazilian. Did you ever feel you weren't considered for certain roles because of that?

When I started and was auditioning a lot, it felt like either there were roles for white girls or roles for Spanish-speaking Latina women. I am Latina. I was born in the US and am Brazilian. I speak Portuguese. In Hollywood, at the time, it didn't feel like there were roles for people with backgrounds like mine. But now, I do think people are starting to understand that there are all different kinds of Latina women—and beyond that, all different types of people with different backgrounds and experiences. There isn't just one American experience or one Latina experience.

How have you seen that change?

I feel like some of the roles I have been getting more recently are valuing my heritage and where I am from without necessarily making it a focal point or a stereotype. It feels very authentic.

What is your definition of wellness?

For me, it's taking care of myself in the most immediate way. What do I need—and what does my body need right now? Sometimes I'll randomly sit down and check in and be like: "What does my body want? Do I need water, sleep, or to move around and stretch? Should I journal?" I think being well is about checking in with your physical and mental health and evaluating what you really need at that moment.

Where did you learn to do that?

I feel lucky that my mom raised me that way—she was very health-oriented. She bought organic and cooked healthy meals. She'd also encourage me to work out—not to look a certain way, but because it's important for your health to get your heart rate up. I also took dance classes as a kid, and I think when movement is part of your life at a young age, it stays with you; you become more in tune with your body because you're working with it.

In what ways do you focus on taking care of yourself?

I definitely move my body every day. I go through phases when it comes to what I like to do—I've taken lots of different classes and all that. Now, that's not possible. So my trainer sends me workouts, and I do them on my own—I've realized I really like working out on my own. I feel like I can pay more attention to my form and what I'm doing.

camila mendez
Credit: Nino Muñoz

When it comes to nutrition and nourishing your body, what's your approach?

My relationship with food was very weird for a while—I had an eating disorder. I got through it by seeing [my] therapist and working with a nutritionist who was very adamant about me overcoming my fear of carbs. I used to not eat carbs—but that would just lead me to binge on them after avoiding them for a while. I tried all the diets—I was always on a diet. But I eventually learned they weren't helping me at all. As soon as I started listening to my body and eating what my body needed—which sometimes is eating the things I used to think were bad, like sugar and bread—I noticed a big change. The crazy lesson was that your body tells you what it wants and needs; you just have to learn how to listen to it. It takes a while to learn that—it's hard. And what one woman needs isn't going to be the same as what another woman needs. We're all different.

How do you take care of your mental health?

It's interesting. When we first started shooting season 5, I started having panic attacks, which was strange for me. I think it was because I was in Vancouver and borders were closed—no one could visit us. You start to miss your home and your life, and you don't have your friends or community with you. I want to say, I am so grateful to be working and would never want this to come off that I am not. Taking baths helped with the panic attacks. I also learned in those moments to put down my phone and take a break from technology and get in the tub with some music on and a book. I never did that before the pandemic, and now I love that I've learned to do that for myself.

Are there any other things you do regularly to keep your mindset healthy?

I see a therapist once a week—it gets me through a lot. I also have a gratitude journal. I got it from a costar. You write a few brief things each day that you're grateful for. I never thought I'd be one of those people, but I love it. I'd love to journal more in-depth every day but just don't have the time. So with this, it's great because you're still checking in with yourself and you feel good because you've done something for yourself. 

This article originally appeared in the  April 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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