Jordin Sparks message of building a strong self-image through healthy living is one that all women can learn from.

Platinum recording artist Jordin Sparks has come a long way from the 17-year-old girl who won the top-rated season of American Idol in 2007. Her self-titled debut album, Jordin Sparks, which was issued just months after she claimed the crown, sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Sparks continued to take the music industry by storm in 2009 when she released her second album, Battlefield, which landed in the seventh spot on Billboard Album charts. A turn on the Broadway stage in 2010 with the Tony Award-winning musical In The Heights and on the silver screen with 2012s Sparkle solidified her place as a rising star.

But ask the 24-year-old Sparks about the turning point in her burgeoning career and evolving life, and the answer may surprise. It came after she finished her run on Broadway, returned home to Arizona and came down with a case of walking pneumonia. Like many young celebrities, the newfound limelight and demands of the business had taken a toll on her health and well-being. I thought to myself, I’m about to turn 21, I should be in the prime of my life right now! It was one of those aha moments, she says. I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself. I had to make a change and put my health first. So, I did.

Tuning in and tuning up

The first change Sparks made was to increase her physical activity. She began to take notice of her body and really get in tune with its needs; the result was a 50-pound weight loss. I started walking around the neighborhood and hiking baby steps at first, but it really got me going in the right direction, Sparks says. I also changed the way I was eating. I would keep eating even if I wasn’t hungry because it tasted good. I started listening to my body and stopped eating when I was full. That was a huge step for me.

Sparks exercises three to four times a week and says that working out with her boyfriend, fellow R&B and pop star Jason Derulo, provides motivation every step of the way. Being accountable makes me want to be better and make better choices, she says. It’s beneficial for both of us. A routine of circuit training, hiking, dance fitness and cardio keeps her engaged. She also credits her father, former NFL player Phillippi Sparks, with helping inspire the play-hard mentality and love for sports that keep things fun for her. I am a daddy’s girl, after all! she teases.

When it comes to nutrition, Sparks keeps a primarily pescetarian (vegetarian and fish) diet, yet allows herself room to enjoy food. I still cheat occasionally. I love to bake, so I lick the spatula and eat a cupcake and do not feel one ounce of guilt, she reveals. Planning around travel keeps her on track with her routine and the items she needs to stay in shape. I pre-pack all my snacks, shakes and any food that does not require refrigeration, Sparks says. Most hotels have gyms I like to get in some weights for strength training and do some type of cardio. Water, water, water!

Sticking with her workout plan can be challenging, especially on those days when she just can’t motivate herself to hit the gym. The magazines and media can make things seem really easy, she says. But changing your whole lifestyle for the better takes a lot of perseverance and patience. I have so much respect for those who have made the same change. It takes guts!

Staying the course

Putting aside the external pressure to be thin, Sparks made simple health her focus. It’s all about being healthy, and healthy is mostly individualized for each person, she says. The goal should be for you to feel good and maintain good health. That is the only message that really matters. We are all different and unique, and we should celebrate that.

Sparks draws strength, motivation and normalcy from her faith and family values, both of which have helped her cope with the demands of success. My family comes first no matter what. Their birthdays, anniversaries, football games and events are just as important as anything else, says Sparks, who only recently moved to Los Angeles for her career. I think that helps with the normality of things, being able to spend a significant amount of time with them.

When Sparks is working, her second family is the close-knit team around her. Keeping the team small and intimate allows her to feel at home even when she is away from familiar surroundings. It doesn’t feel like a different environment when I am out there working, Sparks says. I love them, and I know they love me and look out for me. How many people can say that in this business?

Following her weight loss, Sparks continues to tout that a healthy body image is key to overall health. Her message for women of all ages is, It’s OK to struggle. We all go through insecurities and not feeling at our best. I think when we realize were not alone in those struggles is when we can start to overcome them. Her best advice? Find things that you love about yourself and accentuate and focus on those.

With a third studio album in the works and a starring role in Left Behind, slated to hit box offices in October, Sparks career is flourishing more than ever. Just as gratifying for her are the moments when fans stop her on the street to express that her healthy transformation is an inspiration to them. For Sparks, the true inspiration and accountability that changed her life is reflected in those fans. Take care of your health, first and foremost, she says. When you do that, you will find there are amazing things that come with it. Also, don’t give up and keep pushing. I’m rooting for you!

Tweet @JordinSparks and let her know how her #SamsClubMag story will help you put your health first.

Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.