October 14, 2015 12:00 PM

Country star (and new mom!) Carrie Underwood opens up about body issues, breast-feeding struggles, and how she makes her marriage work. Subscribe now for exclusive family photos and an inside look into how she’s adjusting to motherhood, only in PEOPLE!

It’s been 10 years since Carrie Underwood won American Idol — and the singer admits that back then, she wasn’t always happy with how she looked.

“I knew that I weighed more than I had ever weighed before,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

“But then as soon as you start making little tweaks, people immediately go, ‘You look so great!’ Then you start wondering, ‘How bad did I look before?’ Then it’s like, ‘Well, I guess I should keep on going.’ Then you start eating less.”

Underwood, 32, admits that she turned to weight-loss supplements to slim down.

“I was taking things with ephedra in it,” she says. “It wasn’t the best way. If I could go back and talk to myself I’d be like, ‘Here’s how you do it the right way.’ “

Asked if she ever had a problem, she answers, “No, because none of it was intentional, you know? I wasn’t eating enough calories, but it wasn’t because I was trying to starve myself. I just didn’t know how many calories I should be eating.”

Ray Mikshaw/FOX; Ken McKay/ITV/REX

And exercise was an afterthought: “I’d do 20 minutes on the elliptical and think I was doing awesome.”

Today the strict vegan, who hasn’t eaten meat in more than 20 years and works out daily (and looks stylish while doing it thanks to her activewear line Calia by Carrie Underwood), says she takes a healthier approach to her weight.

“I weigh more than I did when I was at my smallest, but I have a lot more muscle tone,” adds the CMA Awards host, whose new album, Storyteller (preorder it here), is out Oct. 23.

As for the changes in her body since delivering her first child, 7-month-old son Isaiah Michael, via C-section in February, “for some reason, I feel leaner after,” she says. “It’s really strange the way my body has reacted to exercise after having him. I feel like my bum’s a little nicer than it used to be.”

Then there’s the four-leaf clover abdominal tattoo that doesn’t quite line up after her C-section.

“It’s not really a four-leaf clover anymore, it’s a multileaf,” she says. “It doesn’t match up with the top! And I think most people deal with this after a C-section, there’s like a little pooch over the scar. It’s something that I’m probably going to have forever.”

Joe Pugliese for PEOPLE

For much more of Carrie Underwood’s intimate interview and exclusive personal photos, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

— Michelle Tauber

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