"I used to see healthy as this image of what I thought perfect looked like—the perfect muscle definition, etc. But healthy now is how strong I feel. It’s a beautiful change, because if you’re strong and confident, it doesn’t matter what muscles are showing. Today I love my shape. My body is the shape it is because it holds my heart."
Have you ever watched a woman in a movie get a beauty makeover and a new wardrobe and acquire instant confidence (cue the triumphant music)? Sadly, it doesn’t happen like that IRL. Just ask Lily Collins. To celebrate her debut on the cover of Shape, she went to dinner with two elementary school friends after the shoot and reminisced about how awkward they all felt about their bodies as teens. "We wore boys’ board shorts over our swimsuits!" she says. The irony that Collins, 28, was unwaveringly confident and at ease on set all day in one revealing swimsuit after another was not lost on her. "I never dreamed I’d be posing in a bikini on the cover of Shape. It’s a complete 180 for me. It’s a magazine about what it means to be healthy," she says.
You see, for Collins, the struggle to get healthy was, and still is, real. And she’s refreshingly candid about it. Although she’s fit and radiant now, for more than half a decade she suffered in silence from an eating disorder that had her restricting her intake of food, bingeing and purging, abusing laxatives and diet pills, and perhaps more significantly, hiding it all from her friends and family. But after years of destructive behavior, Collins, who is extremely close to her mom (her dad is musician Phil Collins), realized that she needed to be held accountable. So she came out about her disorder. "My perspective on other people’s view of me was based on this disorder being a secret. But the more open I became about it, the more I was able to be myself," she says. (More on that here: Lily Collins Reveals Her Past Struggle with Eating Disorders )
Speaking her truth to her inner circle eventually set Collins free to share her story with the world—and because of her journalism background, she had the chops to do it. At 15, she became a correspondent for Elle Girl U.K. (she spent a lot of her childhood in England), and in 2008 she reported on the U.S. presidential election for Nickelodeon. She was later a contributing editor for CosmoGirl and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Her recently published book, Unfiltered, details her experience with her disease and ended up being "even more honest than I was intending," she says. "I didn’t realize I’d cover so much." But she was ready to talk. And that’s a good thing, because she has a lot to say. Here are the chapters on her recovery.
Body Image Reboot
“I used to see healthy as this image of what I thought perfect looked like—the perfect muscle definition, etc. But healthy now is how strong I feel. It’s a beautiful change, because if you’re strong and confident, it doesn’t matter what muscles are showing. Today I love my shape. My body is the shape it is because it holds my heart."
There's Such a Thing as Career Karma
"In October 2015, when I got the book deal, I wasn’t filming anything. Then I got flooded with work [including getting a leading role in an Amazon TV show called The Last Tycoon, which begins streaming this summer, and the movie Okja with Jake Gyllenhaal, which opened in June]. People told me to put the book on hold, but I knew it would be worth it to keep going. And as luck would have it, To the Bone came up [playing a woman sent to a rehab center for her eating disorder]. Although I was in recovery for several years before the movie, preparing for the film allowed me to gather facts about eating disorders from professionals. It was a new form of recovery for me. I got to experience it as my character, Ellen, but also as Lily.
I was terrified that doing the movie would take me backward, but I had to remind myself that they hired me to tell a story, not to be a certain weight. In the end, it was a gift to be able to step back into shoes I had once worn but from a more mature place."
Nurture and Nature
"I'm a clean eater. I love chicken, fish, and vegetables and grains like quinoa, but I don't eat red meat. I steer clear of processed foods. I'm very farm-to-table; growing up in the English countryside, it was a way of life, not a trend. I also treat myself to the occasional dessert when I'm out with friends. But on the daily, I want to give my body what it needs to be the best version of myself. When I splurge, it's usually on things that I've baked, because it's satisfying physically and emotionally. I'm not gluten-free or vegan, but I love baking things because of the sense of accomplishment I get from creating something that's yummy and healthy. I make everything from doughnuts to birthday cakes and banana-walnut bread. There was a time when I wouldn't let myself taste those kinds of foods, let alone make them. I bake from the heart. I put love out there, and it goes right back in."
Exercise Is Everything
"I'm a Pisces, so I love swimming whenever I can. I was on the track team in high school and hated it, but now I like to run by myself and listen to my music [check out her playlist in the magazine!]. But what I love most is Body by Simone. It’s a method that incorporates strengthening and toning (follow this video to try it at home). I’ve been training privately with a trainer there, and we do isometrics and ballet moves. It’s not CrossFit, but it keeps me on my toes. To be honest, I try to be active in some way every day: It’s my time to disappear and be in my own world. I can also push myself past what I thought I was capable of. Of course, if I’m traveling or tired, I give my body a rest. I used to feel guilty if I skipped a workout in the past, but now it just means life is offering up things that I want to do instead. Those ellipticals will always be there but experiences won’t."
Beauty: Just the Basics
"I’m really quite low-maintenance. I stay hydrated, and I always remove my makeup at the end of the day and slather on sunscreen at the beginning of it. I always carry lip balm. And when I get on a long flight, I take off my makeup and let a hydrating cream sit on my skin through the whole trip. I swear by Lancôme’s Génefique mask [Collins is a Lancôme ambassador]. When you take it off, your complexion is super-radiant. I’m very aware of how important skin care is, but I try not to overdo it."
I'm an Open Book
"I did consider that talking about my struggles with an eating disorder would overshadow my accomplishments as an actor, but I also knew this was something I needed to do to move forward as a human and an actress. I needed to let go. I’ve always strived to start conversations about taboo subjects with young women. Sharing my story in Unfiltered happened to coincide—not strategically!—with To the Bone, but I’ve always admired people who are relatable and honest. Having suffered from an eating disorder doesn’t define me; I’m not ashamed of my past." (Related: Celebrities Who Opened Up About Their Eating Disorders)
For more from Lily, pick up the July/August issue of Shape, on newsstands June 27.