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Alexis Chiu
January 27, 2011 05:25 PM

Dancing with the Stars pro Cheryl Burke has one of TV’s most famously toned bodies – but that didn’t stop her confidence from being shaken in July 2008 when a tabloid published photos of her looking heavier.

“One night I was supposed to go out with my friends but I couldn’t do it. Every time someone looked at me I was like, ‘That person thinks I’m fat,’ ” recalls Burke, who estimates she had gained 5 to 10 lbs. while on hiatus from the show.

After the photos ignited a firestorm of disparagement on the Web (including many blogs that called her “fat”), the 5’4″ Burke fought back, telling PEOPLE, “You don’t have to be anorexic to be beautiful.”

RELATED: Cheryl Burke Reveals: I Was Molested

Secretly, however, the two-time Dancing champ, 26, was devastated, and tried everything from nearly starving herself (“Couldn’t do it,” she says) to diet pills (“Nasty – I felt anxious and shaky).”

Ultimately, the weight came off gradually, thanks to her rigorous dance schedule and a focus on eating plenty of vegetables, avoiding preservatives, and allowing for occasional splurges.

“I love carbs and I love chips,” she says. “I’m not going to deprive myself – but instead of eating potato chips I’ll eat Triscuits or low-fat Cheez-Its.”

Now the lifelong dancer, who recently revealed her struggle to overcome the trauma of being molested as a child, says she feels good about her physique – most of the time.

“There are moments when I’m like, ‘Ugh – the camera adds 10 lbs,’ ” she says. “But as long as I work up a sweat and eat clean, I’m okay. I feel great about my body.”

For more on Burke’s story – including revelations of her childhood sexual abuse – pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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