By Liza Hamm/Sherman OaksCalif. Blaine Zuckerman/Sherman Oaks and Thailan Pham/New York City
Updated July 11, 2011 12:00 PM

On Raven-Symone’s new ABC Family show State of Georgia, she plays a full-figured actress trying to make it in the entertainment industry. Perfect casting for a former child star who has proudly proclaimed she loves being “thick and fabulous,” right? But imagine the costume designer’s surprise last December when Symone walked on-set 70 lbs. lighter. “They had to pad my outfits,” says Symone. “I finally lose weight, and the show wants me to be thicker!”

Throughout her career Symone has rarely fit into the Hollywood mold. She made her debut on The Cosby Show at age 3, and Symone says execs and advisers have been telling her to lose weight “ever since I was very young.” Still, through thick or thin, Symone-whose success exploded playing a curvy teen diva on the hit Disney Channel series That’s So Raven!-has never been ashamed of her body. “I could look in the mirror and see me at 200 lbs. or 135 lbs. and I’m still the same person,” says the 5’3″ star, now 25. But in ’07 she decided to take a hiatus from Hollywood and focus on her health. Now, she says, “it’s great to put on clothes and not wear a girdle. And my thighs look supergood!” Adds her longtime nutritionist Philip Goglia: “Raven is lean, fit and happy.”

Before, Symone was just frustrated. While she was working 15-hour days on the set of Raven!, the craft services table became her ultimate frenemy. “I didn’t understand that all I could have was 12 almonds when there was a plate of doughnuts!” recalls Symone. Plus she had no willpower: “I was addicted to that Thanksgiving feeling of cleaning your plate.”

But once Raven! wrapped after four seasons, Symone put her career on hold to recapture the life she missed out on as a kid. “I was stressed out. Normal 15-year-olds had to worry about prom. I grew up worried about memorizing my lines so my show wouldn’t get canceled.” During her downtime, she learned how to cook (“I make really good brussels sprouts!”) and finally started taking Goglia’s advice and eating six small meals a day. Now when she indulges in the occasional fast-food meal, “I order a veggie burger and throw away half a carton of French fries when I get it.”

With the help of 30-minute elliptical workouts at least four times a week, Symone turned heads with her slender silhouette as she began promoting Georgia earlier this year. (The padding in Symone’s wardrobe will slowly be phased out over the show’s first season.) “People say, ‘You look so pretty!’ But I was pretty before,” she says. “It messes with your head a little bit.” While her waistline may be smaller, her personality is bigger than ever. “People are expecting me to calm down now that I look this way, but I’m still a loud-mouthed, over-the-top person!” And her message is loud and clear: “Whether or not I’m this size, I always preached, ‘Be comfortable with yourself,’ and I will preach that forever.”