After the release of 2007’s True Beauty (Sparrow), Mandisa became one of Christian music’s fastest selling new artists, capping off an extraordinary first year with Dove and GRAMMY nominations and the release of a Christmas record.

Now in the flurry of activity surrounding the release of her sophomore record, Freedom (Sparrow), the powerhouse singer candidly discusses her serious weight loss program (75 pounds and counting!), God’s commanding mercy in conquering the issues behind the body and how Simon Cowell spawned it all.

CCM:  Listening to the record, I hear a standout theme of overcoming. How has that theme played out in your life since the release of True Beauty?

Mandisa:  With True Beauty, God was teaching me that my value shouldn’t come from my outward appearance. Now He is showing me this isn’t about my appearance; this is about Him setting me free from what has had me bound for so long.

I’ve been on a very definitive journey to overcoming a lifelong food addiction. It’s been the biggest battle of my life and one God is finally setting me free from. I’ve lost 75 pounds so far.  So He’s definitely doing something in my life. I guess it’s being reflected in the music I’m putting out.

CCM:  How have your goals of physical fitness affected your spiritual fitness?

Mandisa:  It’s all the same for me, but the biggest part of this battle has been dealing with the issues that had me turning to food to begin with. I am convinced that unless I deal with that stuff, the weight will always come back.

For me, it started as a child. I was molested. My parents divorced when I was 2. When I was 10, my father moved. I was raped when I was 16, and that’s when the floodgates opened and I gained so much weight. I was protecting myself from being hurt again by padding myself with fat. 

It’s been 20-plus years that I’ve had this thinking. So to actually have to change my thinking—it’s hard work. I take a lot of time in prayer. I travel with note cards that have Scriptures on them. And I’m working with a Christian counselor to help me deal with the childhood issues so that I’m not battling this for the rest of my life.

CCM:  One day we’ll stop asking you about Idol. But for now …  [Laughs] How has your story been impacted by that experience, by the weekly criticism and exposure?

Mandisa:  If you had told me a couple years ago that I was going to work out the most personal issue of my life in front of a watching world, I would’ve said that you were crazy. It’s not easy to talk about it so openly, but I really didn’t have a choice in the matter.  From my very first audition on American Idol, Simon Cowell made comments about my weight. Because he talked about my weight, the doors opened up for me to then talk about my weight.

I get messages from people every single day saying they identify with what I’m going through. For young people who look at these pop stars and think they have to kill themselves to look like that, I’m honored I can be the antithesis and say real beauty really does come from the inside and shines out. 

If I’m able to help save some heartache from a little girl that’s trying to starve herself to look like Britney Spears, then awesome—I’ll take it.