May 29, 2009 -- Actress Melissa Joan Hart is the latest female celebrity to flaunt her trimmed down, bikini-clad body, on People magazine's cover, but the former child star wants people to know it wasn't easy dropping 42 pounds.
"For my 33rd birthday [in April], I wanted to get in shape. I started working pretty hard in January. When People magazine said, 'We'll put you on the cover in a bikini because we think you look pretty good,' I all of a sudden went into high gear," the actress said on "Good Morning America" today.
Hart, who starred in the Nickelodeon show "Clarissa Explains It All" and later spent seven years on television's "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," weighs a slim 113 pounds today, but she gained 55 pounds during her first pregnancy, and then after losing some of the weight she gained another 35 while pregnant with her second child.
And unlike so many Hollywood mothers whose baby weight seems to vanish almost immediately after giving birth, Hart's increased waistline didn't disappear as easily.
And images of the 5-foot-2-inch blond in her pregnant and post-pregnancy states regularly appeared in the media.
"My mistake is that I walked the red carpet, you know, after having babies. It definitely is out there. And I kept seeing it," Hart said. "I just was like, 'I'm going to be 33, and the baby's going to be a year. It's time to buckle down. There were so many pictures of me all over of me pregnant and heavy after baby."
Her wider waistline also had an adverse effect on her career.
"I think first and foremost, my biggest obstacle in my career right now is my own name. The fact that I have had success before, especially for such a long time with one character," she said. "So, that in itself is causing an obstacle in Hollywood."
"And then, on top of that, you put on baby weight and getting older," Hart said. "The young kids are in. Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus — to maintain that longevity is tricky. Losing the weight was part of trying to stay in the game."
The photos showed a much heavier Hart looking very different from the nearly nude star featured on Maxim magazine's 1999 cover.
"It became this huge phenomenon, but it got me so much publicity and it was so great and I, I was so proud of it," Hart said of her decade-old cover.
Post-Pregnancy Bod Pics
But now that image was competing with less flattering ones.
In fact it was an unflattering picture of the 33-year-old on a Southern California beach that got her to take a second look at her body.
Hart was disheartened by a paparazzi picture of her less-than-fit body that garnered some harsh criticism on the Web. Despite having given birth to two sons, 3-year-old Mason and 14-month-old Braydon, bloggers were none too kind.
And Hart too was unhappy about the difference in her shape.
"Shaving my legs in the shower and realizing my knees were getting fat.... I got to put a stop to this," Hart said. "After I had my first baby, it took me about 10 months to lose the weight."
With her second son, the time it took to get fit was longer.
"It's been an up-and-down struggle," she said. "I started dropping the weight right after [my second son]. And then, kind of plateaued for a little while and didn't really kick it into high gear until January."
Hart's Fit Tips
The film and television star, who is married to Coarse of Nature lead singer Mark Wilkerson, said it took 14 months to finally whip her body into bikini-ready shape.
And the transition wasn't easy. It required a new diet and exercise regimen.
"No sugar. Then I work on potatoes, corn, rice — not having that after 4 p.m. — that kind of thing. And slowly just cut away at it," said Hart, who got her acting start in commercials.
She replaced her ketchup with salsa, ditched salad dressing in favor of oil and vinegar and began packing healthy snacks, like almonds, in her purse.
But Hart hasn't totally given up all sweets. After shooting the People magazine cover in her two-piece, she ate a red velvet cupcake.
So perhaps it's only natural that Hart would open her own sweet shack. Recently she opened a dessert store in Los Angeles called Sweet Harts.
"I always allow myself a treat here and there. I'm a foodie. I use food to celebrate every moment in my life," she said.