Like many early achievers (Vanessa rocketed to stardom in High School Musical at just 17), Vanessa Hudgens has had to ask herself—what's next? The 22-year-old wasted no time finding the answer. This month she's starring in her first non-musical movies: Beastly, a modern retelling of the classic "Beauty and the Beast," and Sucker Punch, an action-fantasy film about a gang of kick-ass girls who escape a mental institution. During her downtime, she's exploring a new career that has nothing to do with acting. And she's learned how to fly solo—having split from her longtime beau, Zac Efron. Hudgens credits a healthy lifestyle with giving her the confidence to move forward. Here are some insights that have helped her reach her goals.
Cheetos Are Not a Major Food Group
Back in 2007, Hudgens was like many teenagers: completely addicted to junk food. "I was so unhealthy," she admits. "I used to go to Cold Stone Creamery, get a tub of Butterfinger ice cream, and eat it all before bedtime. And my fingers were permanently stained orange from Cheetos."
Her aha moment came while she was on tour with High School Musical that year. The company took a short break, so Hudgens stopped doing the rigorous dance routines for a few weeks. "When I came back, I almost couldn't get my costume on. I needed to do something about my diet."
First, she started eating breakfast every day. "I like egg white omelets with veggies, or oatmeal with almonds and fruit," she says. For lunch and dinner, she has a spinach salad with grilled chicken or salmon, marcona almonds, feta, a little truffle oil, and a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt. "It's my favorite meal," she says. "When you're putting good stuff into your body, you feel so much better."
Gym Buddies Make Working Out Fun
Hudgens has always been fit, but when she started the intense training for Sucker Punch, she got into the best shape of her life. "I wouldn't have been able to do it if it weren't for the other girls [her co-stars are Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning, and Jamie Chung]. It's because of them that I got so strong," she says. "In the beginning, I could dead lift 135 pounds. By the end, I lifted 180. I was a monster!"
Since filming finished, Hudgens continues working out with friends or her mother and sister. "Having someone to go to classes with makes you want to do your best, not just for yourself but for the other person too," she says. To keep gym boredom at bay, Hudgens switches up her routines by including Pilates, yoga, and Spinning.
Dreams Can Become Reality
As if being an actress/singer/dancer/musician weren't enough, at the top of Hudgens' to-do list is designing clothes. "I'm really, really into fashion," says Hudgens, who recently became the spokeswoman for the Candie's clothing line. "Right now, I'm pulling pictures from the 60s and 70s and studying women like Cher and Bianca Jagger for inspiration. It would take a while to get something going, but I want to do it. Designing is about being creative and having fun too."
If you want a sneak peek at what her line might look like, search no further than Hudgens' own closet. "My style is boho chic. I love that time period—the patterns, the prints, the people, the music, the vibe," she says. "I figure if you love something so much, you should at least give it a try. And you may end up making a living from it too!"
A Breakup Can Be a Breakthrough
Around the time of her 22nd birthday last December, news broke that Hudgens and Zac Efron were ending their romantic relationship…after dating for four years. "We grew up together," she says fondly. "It was nice to have someone to share all of those experiences with." The main reason seems to be their work schedules, which took them to different locations around the world. "Long-distance relationships are hard no matter what," says Hudgens. "When you don't have face-to-face time, it's just different. Having an iPhone helped, but it just wasn't the same."
For more on Hudgens and Efron's relationship, her dreams of having children, and her goals for when she turns 30, pick up a copy of the April issue of SHAPE on newsstands March 21st.