Lindita Halimi grew up during the war in Kosovo, so eating was an act of survival.
“We never knew when the next time was we were going to eat,” Halimi, 27, tells PEOPLE in this week’s Half Their Size feature. “It was the worst feeling in the world, not being able to eat when you wanted to. So, when the war ended, I ate uncontrollably to make up for all the times that I couldn’t. And it took a wrong turn.”
The singer began eating entire pizzas, family-size bags of candy and almost entire jars of Nutella by herself.
“Everything that’s fattening, I ate it excessively,” she says.
Halimi, who is 5’4″, and goes by just her first name professionally, reached a high weight of 250 lbs.
“I gained the weight when I was between 17 and 20,” she says. “Those three to four years of my life were miserable. Honestly, I was okay with my weight, but it turned into health issues. I couldn’t breathe easily, I’d catch colds, flus, pneumonia. [And I was] bullied. Every time I would show up to class, people would be like, ‘Oh look, the big elephant is here.’ ”
After a woman on the train offered up her seat to an 18-year-old Halimi, thinking she was pregnant, she decided that she had to make a change. But when it came to actually losing weight, she didn’t know where to start. She Googled weight loss tips and found healthy cooking tutorials on YouTube.
“I’d look for recipes with salmon — salmon and eggs are the main things I eat,” says Halimi.
Lindita had already lost a significant amount of weight when she moved to the United States in 2013 and auditioned for American Idol, where she made it to the top 25.
Oprah gets candid about her years of diet struggles & how she triumphed with Weight Watchers – without giving up bread, chips, or wine! Subscribe now for the superstar’s emotional interview – only in PEOPLE!
“Idol inspired me to keep working towards being a singer,” says Halimi, who currently lives in Atlanta with her husband of three years. “My main goal is to get a Grammy. I’m not stopping until I get there!” Her next stop? Representing her home country of Albania in Eurovision in May.
Until then, Halimi — who has lost a total of 130 lbs. and lifts weights daily— hopes to open her own gyms here in the U.S.
For more on our six Half Their Size stars and their incredible weight loss stories, watch the full episode of People Features: Half Their Size, available now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) and at People.com/halftheirsize. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
“Now I work out for me,” she says. “I’m not trying to be the cutest girl in the gym. I’m just trying to feel good in my body and in my skin.”