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X Factor winner Alexandra Burke knew she was overweight when the zip on her stage dress broke

Mirror logo Mirror 25/04/2016 By Halina Watts

Six months ago, former X Factor winner turned West End star Alexandra Burke was overweight and miserable thanks to endless takeaways and chocolatey snacks.

But now the 27-year-old is sporting a slender waist, a pert bottom – and a wide grin – after shedding 18lbs in six months and hitting the gym to get her weight back down from 11st 4lbs to 10st.

And she has also found love with a new man who’s encouraged her all the way.

“I couldn’t be happier in love, or with my new figure,” says the singer.

The erratic working hours involved in playing the lead in the stage version of the The Bodyguard had started to play havoc with her eating habits and ultimately her figure.

Alexandra recalls the moment when she realised she had to take drastic action.

“It was August last year. I was performing in The Bodyguard and was just about to go on stage,” she says.

“My bum was so big that I had to force my dress over it and the zip broke. I was thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s happened?’

"The seamstress told me it was a faulty zip but she was lying as I knew I had put on weight.”

Soon afterwards, Alexandra flew off for a sunshine break to the Spanish island of Ibiza and her holiday pictures left her mortified.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Why I am I buying size 14 pants?’. I’m normally an 8-10 but I just got on with it,” she recalls

“Then my boyfriend took a picture of me by the pool. As we got on the plane to go home, I looked at the photos and I thought ‘Why do I look like this?’ He told me, ‘Yeah, you have put on a bit of weight, but so have I’.”

Alex, who’s 5ft 4ins tall, puts her extra curves down to bingeing on pizzas, takeaways and drinking too many protein shakes.

“Sometimes you lose yourself,” she says. “It wasn’t a nice time. I’m not ashamed of it, but it happens.

"The routine of the show means I’d come off stage and the adrenalin would be kicking in. You’re hungry from doing a two-hour show so we were eating, eating, eating. My family would come to visit and we’d order pizzas and Chinese takeaways. You name it, we were doing it.

“What was catching me out was snacking on biscuits, chocolate and crisps, and thinking that was OK because I was doing the show.

“Then there were the protein shakes. I was having too many of them and the whey in them just bulks you up. It was a disaster!”

Alexandra’s mum, Melissa Bell, who was part of the R&B band Soul II Soul, swore by the diet brand SlimFast when she used it in the 90s so Alex decided to give it a go.

“I went out shopping and got some of their meal replacement shakes and bars and started the whole programme,” Alex reveals. “I also got a personal trainer and I started kicking myself into shape, working out three times a week.”

Wanting to be strong rather than skinny, she has now built up her workouts to five or six times a week depending on her work schedule. This includes 30-minute interval sprint training on a treadmill using a high incline setting to focus on legs and bum.

She follows this with HiiT (high-intensity interval training) with circuits using weights focusing on the upper body, lower body and core strength.

Alexandra also enjoys boxing/pad work, Bikram yoga and long walks with her dogs Alfie and Milo. And her diet has been totally overhauled too.

“As well as using the SlimFast meal replacement shakes and bars, I eat sushi or sashimi for lunch – I love Japanese food – and I snack on bananas, fruit or SlimFast pretzels.

“Then, before I go onstage, I’ll have a wholesome 600-calorie meal which is usually lean meat with rice or sweet potatoes and lots of vegetables.

“Now, instead of snacking on anything, I have a camomile tea before I go to bed, and I will cook my dinner for the following night. Sunday is my treat day.”

And yet despite shedding the pounds, Alex doesn’t want to be a skinny minny and loves her curves.

“My goal was never to be a particular size. I like my legs and I like my bum so, of course, wanted to keep these. I just wanted to feel and look the best I could,” she says.

“I’m now 18lbs lighter, I’m loving life, I’m back to where my confidence levels should have been months ago.”

She says: “I never want to go below a size eight. I always want to look healthy. I don’t want to go past a point where people question me and say I’m too skinny.

“I don’t like that. I’m a woman and I like to feel womanly. I like to have a bum and have curves. I always try to encourage young girls to understand that.

“Curves are beautiful so why shouldn’t you have them? Men love that.”

And clearly one man in particular. She’s fallen in love with a carpenter, who she won’t name.

“I am the happiest I’ve ever been,” Alex says with a beaming smile. “I’ve met someone and he’s a normal lad – a fabulous man.”

But the 27-year-old hasn’t always been so lucky in love. She was left heartbroken in 2012 when footballer Jermain Defoe cheated on her with a model. After that she was briefly linked with Hollywood actor and Mr Selfridge star Jeremy Piven.

As she struggled to meet Mr Right, Alex even went on the celebrity version of Channel 4 show First Dates.

Despite putting her love life on national television and now clearly being smitten, she won’t give any more details about her new man except to say he’s “incredible”.

Alexandra won The X Factor in 2008 after being mentored by Cheryl Fernandez-Versini but she won’t be drawn on the criticism Cheryl faced for being visibly thin on the last series.

Refusing to directly name the former Girls Aloud star, she says: “People will always have an opinion but I don’t respect when someone is made to feel uncomfortable with who they are.

“If they are happy with the weight and shape they are at, leave them alone.

“Don’t make someone feel uncomfortable. Everybody is human and we all have feelings. If someone is happy and content in their lives then leave them to it.”

She adds: “I think us women should stick together. I stick up for every woman in the industry. I big up women all the time.”

Now that Cheryl has left the judging panel to focus on her music career, would Alexandra return to the show that made her famous?

“I’ve got a lot going on at the moment with my two shows,” she says. “Nothing else is in my sight.”

As well as being on the UK tour with The Bodyguard, later this year she’ll star in the new West End stage version of Sister Act directed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood.

Alex will play Deloris Van Cartier, a role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg in the Sister Act film, released in 1992.

“I really hope I can pull it off,” she says. “I am so nervous, you have no idea. I was nervous about The Bodyguard, that’s why I turned it down when they first offered it to me in the West End.

“I would never get complacent. That’s what spurs me on to do well.

“Yes, they offered me the role and I didn’t have to audition for it, but in the same breath, I said, ‘If I am not right for the job, then let me go’. I said that to The Bodyguard and I will say that to anyone.

“I don’t ever want to be bad at something. I want to give it my all. It will be an amazing challenge for me.”

Alexandra's weight

Before: 11st 4lbs

Now: 10st

What Alexandra ate before

Breakfast: Coffee

Lunch: Bagels

Dinner: Pizzas, takeaways

Snacks: Protein shakes, crisps and chocolate bars

What she eats now

Breakfast: SlimFast Strawberry Shake, porridge or poached eggs on rye

Lunch: Sushi or sashimi

Snacks: A piece of fruit or yoghurt topped with berries and biscuits

Early dinner (pre show-time): Lean meat like a steak or seasoned chicken, with rice/sweet potato and greens or a stir fry

During show interval: Bananas

Alexandra Burke is a new celebrity ambassador for SlimFast. Download the SlimFast Challenge App or visit SlimFast.co.uk

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