December 18, 2006 12:00 PM

As a finalist during the third season of American Idol, Jennifer Hudson faced criticism from judge Simon Cowell for having a voice that was too big. But when she went to audition for the showstopping role of Effie White in the new movie Dreamgirls, out Dec. 15, Hudson faced a different size issue: Producers thought she wasn’t physically big enough to portray the heartbroken diva who was the temperamental epicenter of the Dreamettes. So Hudson embarked on a diet of “cakes and cookies and lots of fried food,” packing on more than 20 lbs.—and turning in a performance that even Cowell has been forced to admit is “extraordinary.” Now on the eve of her movie debut, Hudson, 25, shares the weight-loss diary she began in July as she worked to get back to what she calls “Jennifer size.”

JULY 17

Now that filming is over, I’m getting back in my old routine. I wanted Effie to be real, so I had to eat like her, but now I’ve gotta get back to me. About five years before Idol, I lost a lot of weight by healthy eating. Some people called me “the big girl” on Idol, but to me, I was a size that made me happy. I want to get back to that.

AUG. 1

I started working with trainer LaFonza Alston in my hometown of Chicago. I don’t care for gyms, so we’re going to jog on a track near my neighborhood every weekday at 5 a.m. I’ve never jogged seriously but I’m trying to commit to the idea of it.

AUG. 3

People can say some crazy things. Someone came up to me at a family reunion and implied I’d had surgery or used diet drugs to lose weight! I don’t believe in shortcuts. If I can’t lose it naturally, then no need for me to try at all.

AUG. 27

Jogging is my favorite exercise these days. It gives me time to think, plus I’m not confined inside. When my trainer first told me we were going to run at 5 a.m., I never thought I’d even make the first meeting! I can’t believe I’ve come this far.

SEPT. 14

Trail mix is my fix. Cashews, raisins, granola. Yes! I used to reach for sweets but now it’s all about the trail mix. The kind I like even has a few chocolate chips sprinkled in for sweetness.

OCT. 29

I must admit it’s hard to eat right while on the road. The closer we get to the movie coming out, the busier I get. Thank God for trail mix. That’s what I eat throughout the day.

NOV. 2

I’m doing lots of photo shoots and I enjoy it because I’m back to my own size. We’re doing Oprah in a few days. I’m glad I put in all these months of jogging and good eating—I want to look good for her show!

NOV. 9

I’m in New Orleans with kids who are putting on a school production of Dreamgirls. We had an authentic New Orleans dinner last night: green tomato soufflé, grilled snapper and dessert. All healthy but with lots of soul!

NOV. 24

Thanksgiving in London. I had Nobu sushi for dinner, a seafood soup and salmon. I did splurge—it’s the holiday—and have cookie dough cheesecake. We went around the table and said what we were thankful for. As for me, I am living my dream.

NOV. 28

Six days until my first premiere, so I want to be fierce. I’ve been preparing for this for months! I just have to take it one step and one day at a time.

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