Slimmer and more fit than she's ever been, it's appropriate that the first single Mariah Carey released from her new album, E=MC², was "Touch My Body." While creating the just-dropped follow-up to her 2005 hit, The Emancipation of Mimi, the singer, 38, shed 20 pounds! "It's a big deal," the star boasted to Us while snuggled in the plush leather seats of her limo, en route on the night of April 12 from the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the American Idol mentor had just taped a segment, to a recording studio in L.A. "It may only be going from a size 8 to a size 2, but that's kind of huge!" In the limo, the five-time Grammy winner treated herself to a glass of champagne (to celebrate breaking Elvis Presley's record of Billboard No. 1 hits with her 18th chart-topper) while detailing her amazing body transformation over the past eight months. "I didn't realize until people started telling me, 'You've lost weight!' that I really had," marvels the scale-shunning musician. Of note: She showed off her new, super-fit-5-foot-9 shape in black skinny jeans (a size 0, which she downplays: "It's because they're stretchy!"), a body-hugging black top and her requisite high heels. "It makes me feel like I've accomplished something... I feel really good."
And she has reason. After regaining the 20 pounds she worked off in the winter of 2006, Carey brought her St. Bart's-based trainer, Patricia Gay, to NYC last year to get serious about reshaping her body. "She's been toned since the beginning," says Gay, who began working with Carey eight years ago, when the singer's goal was "just to feel good in her body." Now the pro (who also serves as her nutritionist) tells Us: "She is small. She has only muscle and no fat at all. She is a hard worker!"
Indeed, when it comes to a challenge, the multitasker (she recently launched Elizabeth Arden fragrance M by Mariah Carey) isn't one to shy away. "It's about discipline and I have a lot of discipline," insists Carey. "When it's time to get it together, I know that I have to."
That time came about eight months ago, after fatty food indulgences while on tour undid the 2006 shrinkage that took her from a size 8 to a 4 (via high-intensity water aerobics and a "bleak" diet). "If you're on the road and you can't prepare foods in a healthy way, room service menus are usually the only thing good," says the star. Witnessing the change, her "dear friend," Vogue editor at large Andre Leon Talley, issued a wake-up call. "He was helpful because he is honest," she says. "He said, 'Darling, you've got to lose some weight.'" And while Carey admits, "I wasn't miserable as a size 8," she says years of "comfort eating" had taken her to a place she didn't want to be. "It might have been because I was unhappy," says the star. "I think I wasn't having a personal life that was fulfilling... and everything was focused on my career." So Carey, who's been romantically linked to music producer Mark Sudack for more than three years, decided to turn it all around and made what she describes as "a life choice" to commit to new habits.
The kickoff? An approximately 1,000-to-1,500-calorie-a-day portion-control diet devised by Gay specifically for the star. "In the past I'd work out more and just eat the way I wanted to. But it didn't do what I needed, which is to lose and not just tone up," Carey credits 75 percent of her sleek physique to her new diet (the rest to workouts), which bans butter, is light on oil and prescribes drinking up to three liters of water a day. The regimen doesn't allow much room for her old favorites macaroni and cheese and pizza but the star says that eating clean is now an ingrained habit. "My friends and I love to go to this one place [in NYC] after we've been to a club that has fried chicken and mac and cheese, and now that I have lost weight, I'll go, but I'll have a few morsels of chicken and a bite of mac and cheese. I'm not going to sit there and eat a whole portion because it's not worth it to me. I would definitely feel guilty." Of course, there is the occasional splurge. "Actually, today Patricia gave me mac and cheese, which was shock!" the singer says. "But it was just a little but because she knows I am using a lot of energy right now, working so much."
Not to mention working out. With up to one and a half hours of exercising, sometimes every day of the week, Carey has earned every curve on her fitter-than-ever frame. "Patricia has taught me how to get to the level where we're sculpting," says Carey, who admits she bulks up easily and does usually weights-free, high-rep Pilates-based mat moves and water aerobics to prevent it. "This is a whole different thing for me... [I find] toning up kind of easy, but what is hard is losing actual muscle mass and also if there is any kind of fat going along with that, which there always is!"
She makes the fitness fun by inviting friends along and hitting the pool. "I love the water," says the swimmer, who focuses on working her abs, arms and waist. "And I like doing water aerobics because it's less stress on the body supposedly three times as effective as exercising outside of the water but mainly because you forget the fact that you're actually working out. You're splashing around in the water." Motivating music helps too, she adds. "There is a great gospel song by the Clark Sisters called "You Brought The Sunshine,' I listen to a live version it's, like, five minutes long and it keeps going. I just do the exercises nonstop and zone out."
Which exercise does she enjoy most? "One where we move our knees all the way to the left, so you are pushing your knees underwater, and then pushing them back the other way so you are working your obliques and engaging your abs." One move she had a tough time mastering was The Mermaid, in which you use your abs to move your lower body while your upper body stays still. "It's taken me thing long to really understand how to do it." By succeeding at this, and all of her trainer's other trials, the star has achieved more than a hot body. "Patricia gave me one of the best compliments when she saw me doing my arm exercises," boasts Carey. "She said, 'At one point the student surpasses the teacher.'"
Still, her new body is what the world sees when she dons jeans that would have her fit in the 10th grade. "I feel really good when I don't have to worry every two seconds, Do I look fat from that angle?" she laughs. "I like having a healthy look." And while she's toned her arms and tightened her abs, she admits, "I still have a butt. But I don't mind that. That's who I am."
Today Carey is more focused on keeping fit than getting any leaner. "We are at the stage where I have accomplished a goal, so we are just maintaining it... I don't think people should want to be skinny with no muscle tone because that's just not so pretty... and not attainable for me unless I were to become emaciated. "The person she most wants to impress, after all, is herself. "I used to wake up and say, 'What do I want to eat?' I live in New York and we have great food. But now, rather than just order any old thing that tastes good, I will sit down and say, 'What works for me that is going to keep me at the size that I am going to feel better about myself?'" Vows Carey, "I am going to eat in a really healthy way for the rest of my life."