Carrie Underwood on Conquering Her Body Issues and Loving Her Post-Baby Figure

10/14/2015 at 12:00 PM ET

Country star (and new mom!) Carrie Underwood opens up about body issues, breast-feeding struggles, and how she makes her marriage work. Subscribe now for exclusive family photos and an inside look into how she’s adjusting to motherhood, only in PEOPLE!

It’s been 10 years since Carrie Underwood won American Idol — and the singer admits that back then, she wasn’t always happy with how she looked.

“I knew that I weighed more than I had ever weighed before,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

“But then as soon as you start making little tweaks, people immediately go, ‘You look so great!’ Then you start wondering, ‘How bad did I look before?’ Then it’s like, ‘Well, I guess I should keep on going.’ Then you start eating less.”

Underwood, 32, admits that she turned to weight-loss supplements to slim down.

“I was taking things with ephedra in it,” she says. “It wasn’t the best way. If I could go back and talk to myself I’d be like, ‘Here’s how you do it the right way.’ ”

Asked if she ever had a problem, she answers, “No, because none of it was intentional, you know? I wasn’t eating enough calories, but it wasn’t because I was trying to starve myself. I just didn’t know how many calories I should be eating.”

Carrie Underwood PEOPLE magazine cover
Ray Mikshaw/FOX; Ken McKay/ITV/REX

And exercise was an afterthought: “I’d do 20 minutes on the elliptical and think I was doing awesome.”

Today the strict vegan, who hasn’t eaten meat in more than 20 years and works out daily (and looks stylish while doing it thanks to her activewear line Calia by Carrie Underwood), says she takes a healthier approach to her weight.

“I weigh more than I did when I was at my smallest, but I have a lot more muscle tone,” adds the CMA Awards host, whose new album, Storyteller (preorder it here), is out Oct. 23.

As for the changes in her body since delivering her first child, 7-month-old son Isaiah Michael, via C-section in February, “for some reason, I feel leaner after,” she says. “It’s really strange the way my body has reacted to exercise after having him. I feel like my bum’s a little nicer than it used to be.”

Then there’s the four-leaf clover abdominal tattoo that doesn’t quite line up after her C-section.

“It’s not really a four-leaf clover anymore, it’s a multileaf,” she says. “It doesn’t match up with the top! And I think most people deal with this after a C-section, there’s like a little pooch over the scar. It’s something that I’m probably going to have forever.”

Carrie Underwood PEOPLE magazine cover
Joe Pugliese for PEOPLE

For much more of Carrie Underwood’s intimate interview and exclusive personal photos, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

— Michelle Tauber

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Showing 16 comments

mary on

I didn’t realize she had a C-section. At least she is honest about her past weight issues. She looked great on Idol and looks great after baby, love her.

Mely on

She hasnt eaten meat in over 20 years meaning since she was 12? Thats intense. I understand vegetarian but a vegan must be so hard! No cheese! I would love to be thin…..but i think its too much. Its sad she thought her size on american idol was big. Shes smaller then most there and shouldnt be so hard on her self!

Anonymous on

She’s so unlikeable….I can’t put my finger on it. Narcissistic tone to all of her interviews. She looked like an overweight soccer mom back in the early days. She totally pulled a Kate Gosselin, aged in reverse and obsessed with her looks now.

Chrissy on

Well geez, now I feel like the 20 minutes I do on the treadmill are for nothing.

Nardia on

She looks great on the magazine photo, happy for her.

Leah on

I hear yah Chrissy:

Chrissy on October 14th, 2015

Well geez, now I feel like the 20 minutes I do on the treadmill are for nothing.

And here I was gonna start tonight haha…not now😦

ally on

When I look at the before picture, I don’t see a problem with her weight. That hair, though, yikes!

Nope on

Anonymous, she never looked anywhere near overweight. I remember back when she lost all the weight originally all the blind items that said she was on the snow diet.

Lisa Marie on

She has ALWAYS been small. When she was on American Idol she was 105 pounds. She looks great in a two piece. She has nothing to worry about!

Jennie F on

Anon, overweight soccer mom? Lol! You MUST have her confused. Carrie Underwood has always been thin and we’ll put together.

Angela on

She has a good size, not too thin or fat, just a good size.

Eh on

I don’t really see an improvement physique wise, just an improvement with hair and make up people (although sometimes a bit too much make up but that’s a performer thing). She had a normal body frame beforehand, now she’s playing the celebrity “who’s thinner?” game.

rubyovertherainbow* on

I actually think she looked so much healthier when she was on Idol.

Kathie on

I think that Carrie Underwood looks amazing. I would think her husband believes that she does also. I lost done to 85 pounds at one time. I had a hard time for a few years. I have MS and even though I was small and happy I could wear clothes that I hadn’t gotten in before I had my first child my family was worried about me. I ended up in the hospital for over 3 weeks . I feel like a big cow now due to having to take steroids. I’ve always heard if U were busy like Carrie must be doing concerts, and tending to the baby and all the travel that she has to do to maintain her career she looks great yet I’m old enough to be her mom I wish I could loose at least 40 pounds and keep it off. That’s my problem I can get it off but can’t manta in it due to health reasons. Can anyone tell me what I can do to to maintain the weight I wish to be?😳

Anonymous on

Yay love Carrie, very good country artist.

Elizabeth on

I thought she looked better and more likeable on Idol, except for her hair.