November 04, 2013 12:00 PM

WEDDING ON THE WAY!

She’s had her baby news announced from a concert stage, her pregnancy captured for national television and her, ahem, formidable assets tweeted to millions. And so it’s not surprising that on Oct. 21, her 33rd birthday, Kim Kardashian got engaged in a manner befitting a woman who has redefined over-the-top: in a baseball stadium filled with family and friends, rented out for the occasion by Kanye West, her boyfriend and father of their baby daughter North. West popped the question with a 15-carat Lorraine Schwartz diamond ring in the middle of AT&T Park in San Francisco, backed by an orchestra and giant video screen reading “Pleeease Marry Meee!!!” If there is one thing predictable about Kim Kardashian, it is this: The reality star doesn’t do “small.”

Not when it comes to major milestones – or personal transformations. In a triumph against the naysayers who publicly ridiculed her pregnancy weight gain, the happy bride-to-be is now flaunting a sleek post-baby body that is the result of hard work and a 43-lb. weight loss. “Pregnancy for me was a lot tougher than people saw on my show or from magazines,” Kardashian confesses to PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “So to get back to feeling like myself just makes me feel good again. It’s all about feeling your best.”

Four months after giving birth, Kardashian’s best seems better than ever. Eschewing strict dieting in order to breast-feed and ease into motherhood, Kardashian chose a moderate diet and exercise plan (see box) and has already lost most of the 50 lbs. she gained while pregnant. She proudly showed off her results on Oct. 16, posing in a revealing white one-piece and sharing the photo with millions on Instagram and Twitter. The racy shot left few questions about the state of her post-baby body or her future husband’s appreciation of it; West responded to the picture on Twitter in all caps: “HEADING HOME NOW.” “This was the biggest challenge of my life, and I still have some to go,” says Kardashian, who eats about 2,000 calories a day on an Atkins Diet plan. “But I feel so accomplished that I did this.”

For Kardashian, taking off the weight she gained while pregnant was particularly important given the intense scrutiny she endured. She was left feeling sensitive and self-conscious, especially as the attacks seemed to get more vicious – and personal – with every pound packed on to her small 5’3″ frame. In March a blogger posted a photograph of a 5-months-pregnant Kardashian in a black-and-white dress beside a photograph of a Shamu-like killer whale and asked who looked better; 64 percent of the vote went to the orca. Kardashian admits the nonstop mockery was devastating. “Every day I would hear people criticize me, and it would affect me,” she admits. “Little by little, it would chip away at my soul. I wanted to tune out the media and my public life and ignore it all.”

After years of struggling with insecurities about her body – “I’m most self-conscious about my thighs,” she told PEOPLE in 2009 – sources say Kardashian took the body bullies to heart. “In the hospital it was sort of sad. She had just given birth to her sweet daughter, and she already felt a lot of pressure to lose the weight,” says a friend who was with her at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after she gave birth June 15. “She asked a lot of questions about food and ate very healthy during her hospital stay.”

For nearly two months, the new mother made a point of staying out of the public eye, holed up at mom Kris Jenner’s Hidden Hills, Calif., home, where she focused on “just being the best mom I could be,” Kardashian reveals now. “I wanted to stay home a few months, not work and just spend every day with my new family.”

Relying on lower-impact workouts to get her metabolism moving, “she would go on hikes in Hidden Hills and walks on the treadmill,” says a source close to Kardashian. Once a doctor okayed it, she resumed her intense Barry’s Bootcamp workouts, which combine weight training and sprint intervals, and sessions at Pilates Plus. “She’s ready,” says Joey Gonzalez, her Barry’s Bootcamp trainer. “She’s committed.”

With just 7 lbs. left to lose, the newly engaged mom is continuing to stick with her healthy lifestyle as she gets ready to don a very different kind of white one-piece: a wedding gown. “This makes me feel like I have the strength to take on other challenges,” Kardashian says of her future plans. “Losing this weight has not been easy, but I did it and that’s so rewarding. I was dedicated and motivated, and for me, that paid off.”

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