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How Demi Lovato Got Stronger Than Ever

Chris Fortuna

Demi Lovato isn't afraid to embrace her imperfections: "I'm just gonna point this out because it's so obvious we might as well talk about it," she says laughing, motioning to the red zit on her face. "I know I should've left it alone, but I just kept picking at it and picking at it." This unfiltered openness is exactly what has endeared Demi to millions of loyal fans.

At 22, the Disney actress turned pop star has been through more than most people twice her age. Years of battling bulimia, self-harm, and addiction forced Demi to check into rehab, where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. "I had two choices: I could pretend it never happened, or I could tell people the truth," she says. "I was tired of hiding and relieved to know what was wrong with me so I could finally do something to get better," she explains.

Committing to a healthy lifestyle was key to her recovery. She overhauled her diet, took up exercise, and embraced her curves. The changes are paying off, and Demi is at the peak of her career—she's on a world tour; "Really Don't Care" was certified platinum; she is the new face of the Skechers campaign; she's the global brand ambassador for NYC New York Color; and she has her own skincare line, Devonne by Demi, and a line of hair extensions called Secret Color. Her confidence has also hit an all-time high. "I realized I'd rather be strong and happy than be what society thinks is thin and perfect and be miserable," she says.

By talking about her own struggles, Demi hopes to inspire others. Some of the proceeds from Devonne by Demi go to the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program, which covers expenses for women struggling with mental-health and addiction issues. She frequently pauses midconcert to share personal stories and inspirational videos that encourage fans not to feel limited by their perceived flaws—a sentiment she holds close to her heart. "I know my past will always be a part of me, but I don't want it to define me," Demi says. "Right now I'm excited to live in the present and looking forward to the future."

You battled body-image problems for a long time. How did you finally conquer them?

I've learned to appreciate my body for what it is. It helps to remind myself how far I've come. I recently saw pictures from my first tour, and I spent that whole summer performing in the heat in a red leather jacket because I was ashamed to show my arms. And that was when I was 105 pounds! This tour, I've had the confidence to show my arms at every single concert. It may seem like a small thing, but for me, that's huge.

What's your healthiest habit?

Definitely working out. Exercising has been so important for my recovery, both physically and mentally. On show days I count my concert as a workout, but on my off days I try to work out once in the morning and again at night. It can be a lot between performing and traveling, so I'm careful not to push myself too hard.

What's the best thing you get out of exercise?

My energy and endurance have gone way up. I feel so much stronger, and I'm much healthier. Normally I'd get the flu, but this tour I've had only a small sinus infection—knock on wood.

How do you work out when you're on the road?

[Singer] Christina Perri is on tour with me, and we're both huge fans of SoulCycle, so we actually brought bikes with us. Christina's taken a ton of classes, and she tells me what to do. It's superfun, and we usually drink a green juice or protein shake afterward and talk. It's nice to get some quality girl time in, too.

What do you do to motivate yourself when you don't feel like exercising?

A good playlist is crucial. Sometimes we'll blare music at the venue where I'm performing, and I'll run up and down the stairs or around the concourse. I also have a good team who are aware of my past health issues, so if they notice I'm having an off day, they'll be like, "Come on—let's go break a sweat!"

Why is it so important to you to represent an active brand like Skechers?

It holds me accountable. There's a certain type of fear that comes from being the representative of a healthy brand. To be honest, I had the same reaction to being featured on the cover of FITNESS. It's scary and intimidating, but it keeps me honest and motivates me to take care of myself.

Why did you decide to be so open about your bipolar disorder?

They say it takes the average person 10 years to get the right diagnosis and treatment. That statistic was very true for me, but I'm lucky to have the resources I need. Not everyone does. Sharing my story felt important if it meant that I'd be helping people get access to better care or showing that it's still possible to live a normal life.

Has honesty helped you stay healthy?

I don't have a lot of yes-people around me, and most people in this business do. It's good to surround myself with those who aren't afraid to tell it like it is, because sometimes they see things before I do. It also creates an environment where I'm not ashamed to ask for help.

What's your trick for staying positive even on tough days?

My trainer will make me look in the mirror while I'm lifting weights or doing squats so I can watch my muscles forming. It's encouraging to see myself getting stronger. Now I get excited about seeing muscles instead of bones.

How do you eat healthy when you're on tour?

It's been difficult. I almost went back to rehab for my eating disorder last summer. I was obsessing over food and terrified of it at the same time. Wilmer [Valderrama, her boyfriend] noticed and called me out on it, which was a relief. I was done being afraid of food and so tired of overeating and not knowing why I did it. Now I'm on a structured meal plan. I eat four small meals and two snacks a day. It's teaching me portion control.

What's your favorite meal?

A turkey patty in a lettuce wrap with vegan cheese—I'm lactose intolerant—ketchup, tomato, and a side of sweet potatoes. Or I love tacos made with ground turkey and spinach on a corn tortilla topped with lettuce, vegan cheese, and hot sauce. It's simple, but still has a ton of flavor, so I don't feel deprived.

What's the secret to making good-for-you changes stick?

Be patient, because real change takes time. I used to Google things like "How to lose weight in a week," but the world just doesn't work that way. If you want to lose weight, you've got to work for it. If you want to get stronger, you've got work for it. Any other way isn't going to be healthy, and it's not going to last.

Who inspires you?

My current life motto: "If Beyoncé can do it, I can do it." If she can work out, have the incredible body she has, have a kid, and be as successful as she is, then I sure as hell can, too. I'm also really inspired by other women in the spotlight right now who are embracing their curves. Say what you will about the Kardashians, but they've really helped make curvy bodies beautiful again. It's so nice to look around and see women with hips and a butt, like Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Lopez. They have great figures, but you know they also work really hard for them and don't try to hide their curviness.

What advice would you give other women struggling with body image?

We all have problem areas. I'm always going to have thick thighs. I can't change that, and obsessing over it will only make me miserable. Learning to be grateful for our bodies and taking care of them are the best ways for us to empower ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.