But while Mandisa sang and wrote about true beauty, and God was teaching her many lessons in this arena, inside she still felt bound.

A monumental change

Mandisa finally reached a turning point when she and her band were in South Dakota for a show last year. When they visited Mount Rushmore, Mandisa grew winded walking the incline to the area with the best view, and she almost couldn't make it. Looking at pictures from that trip afterward, she was shocked by what she saw. "I knew I was heavy, but there's something about a full-body picture that really let me see myself. And knowing I was so out of shape I could barely make it to see one of the most beautiful sites I've ever witnessed was a wake-up call."

So she started eating more fruits, veggies, and fiber-rich foods, indulging in her vices—desserts and fast food—only a couple times a month. She hired a personal trainer, who helps her work out five times a week. She found a good Christian counselor, who's helping her find forgiveness and healing from her childhood scars. And she became the note-card queen. "I used to travel with Beth Moore on her praise team, and she always said that on the eighth day God created note cards," Mandisa says with a laugh. "She put Scripture prayers on note cards, and now that's what I do. When I'm tempted, I pull out my note cards."

When those aren't handy, Mandisa recites Bible verses she's memorized. "First Corinthians 10:13 has become a lifeline for me. That's the verse that says no temptation exists except what is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear. But when I'm tempted, he'll provide a way out so I can stand up under it. I quote that whenever I'm tempted, practically on a daily basis."

She uses these verses to help reprogram her brain. "It's so difficult when your whole culture tells you to have it your way and that you can super-size it and that if it feels good it must be good. I have to retrain my mind to not believe that sort of thing. And that's where the Word of God comes in for me."

Mandisa is quick to add that she isn't losing weight to look like a model or to conform to societal definitions of beauty. And while she appreciates the compliments she's receiving about her weight loss and her slimmer self, she's already on guard against pride. She thinks God was intentional in leading her to focus her first album on true beauty. "I feel like God's saying, I taught you those lessons about your beauty not coming from the outside so that now when people are saying you're physically beautiful you still won't let that define you." Her new song "Definition of Me" reflects the message that we aren't defined by outward appearance but by what God says about us.

"My Deliverer," the jubilant first single from Freedom, also speaks to Mandisa's recent transformation. The lyrics talk about being rescued from things that once held captive, of feeling more alive than ever.

"If there's any one song that truly reflects what God is doing in my life, this is that song," she says. "My struggle with weight has been, and probably will continue to be, the biggest battle of my life. There are certainly physical ways in which I'm now taking control of that addiction, but more important than that, it's a spiritual warfare issue for me as well.

"I have to ask for God's help every single day, so I know that it's going to take a whole lot more than any diet plan or any exercise plan to set me free. He is truly my deliverer who is setting me free from all of this, and he's the reason I'm so excited about being able to sing this song."