Katharine McPhee Talks Body Confidence, the Importance of Therapy, and Her Intense Workouts: “I’ve Never Felt Stronger”

“I’ve always liked doing lists going into a new year,” says Katharine McPhee as she kicks back on the deck of the Little Beach House Malibu. Because, well, those lists have worked so far. She made one after her American Idol run in 2006, saying that in five years she wanted to be on a TV show—”and five years almost to that day,” she says, “I was on Smash.”

Today the singer and actress, 33, is laid-back in ripped jeans, boots, and a black cardigan. She’s just finished a day of shooting her CBS show Scorpion, now in its fourth season. She also has a new album of jazz standards, I Fall in Love Too Easily. But what she’s mostly giddy about is her home life, since she “impulsively” just bought a house three doors down from her best friends. “I say ‘impulsive’ because that is a characteristic of mine,” she says, laughing.

As fog rolls in over the water, Katharine pulls her cardigan tighter while she shares what’s on her life list for this coming year and how she’s focused on a healthy body and a quiet mind.

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

What is the healthiest thing you do?

I would say two things. I’m taking the most care of myself when I have a really strong workout. And then, when I go to therapy. It’s not as consistent as I’d like it to be, but when I make the text appointment, I feel like I’m taking care of myself, and that makes me feel like a responsible human being. And truthfully, an intense workout does so much for me mentally as well. So it kinda goes hand in hand.

What is your go-to workout these days?

My trainer Simon Carter is the hardest trainer I’ve ever had. He’s not a drill sergeant, but he takes it to the next level. I go three or four times a week if I can, for an hour. I love Khloé Kardashian, and I wanted to do her workouts, and he seemed kind of similar to the Khloé workouts that I was watching. We’ll run and we’ll, like, in the middle of each intersection do, 20 push-ups or 20 jump squats,and then start running again, and go for four or five miles. And he’ll put kneepads on you to take you up these hills, and you’ll be lunging up and down all the way. I’ve never built muscle like I’ve built with him. It’s so street. But I love it, because there’s no fuss to it. Nose to the ground, you just do it. It’s not for the faint of heart at all.

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

What move gets you the most results in the least time?

The jump squats into the bounce. For a solid minute, when you’re jump squatting on a bench, it’s a burn, and then after that, you stay in the position, in the squat, and he’s like, “Bounce. And bounce. And bounce.” And it’s horrible. And then you go and do it, like, three other times.

If you had to pick a celebrity to work out with, who would it be?

Khloé. 100 percent her. ‘Cause she probably goes into beast mode, and I want her to know that she has a partner in crime. I could be there right beside her.

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

Do you have a favorite body part?

I’m really loving my abs right now. I like a move on the bench where you bend. And the scissors are, like, crazy. It’s the knees coming in and then out that works a different part of your lower abs. But it’s really the number of reps that you’re doing it.

What’s your favorite thing about your trainer?

I love at the end of a workout, just having quiet time and talking about life stuff. He’s very focused and disciplined, way more disciplined than I ever will be. I’m all over the place—I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. Which is why I love boxing, where you have to be really intense and intentional. Yoga’s hard for me, ’cause it takes almost half a class to quiet my mind. Which is probably why I should go.

Are you trying to add more mindfulness to your life?

Yeah, I’ve definitely added time to my life where I’m not at work or meeting somebody. I find on days where I’m more intentional about my quiet time, I don’t dip in and out of moods. I think that’s the whole thing about mental health—just an awareness of how you feel.

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

So how’s your love life?

I’m pretty single. I had a relationship with my lead actor on my show that was almost two years. I still am crazy about him, and we have a really great working relationship. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to get over someone you see every day! It’s still an adjustment. But I haven’t had anything super serious since.

It’s funny, because your characters are now together on the show!

I know. Of course it happens like that! Kissing each other feels very natural. Sometimes I’ll slip him the tongue, just to be rude.

What are you looking for in a relationship?

Someone’s who’s spontaneous and adventurous, who’s ready to just go do something—or let you go do it at the drop of a hat. I’m so independent now; I wasn’t really that independent when I was in my 20s, so I need to be with someone who has their own life.

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When you were married, was that lack of independence something you struggled with?

Yeah, I think I did for sure. When I got Smash, it was, like, the first thing I had that was on my own. I went to work every day on my own and had my own colleagues, and I think that was a real turning point in terms of getting my own independence.

What’s your favorite thing to do on your own now?

I love to book a nice hotel somewhere, and if someone wants to come with me, great, but if they don’t, great. But I dunno—maybe by the time this comes out, I’ll be totally in love and met somebody! But that’s one area in my life I’m being much more conscious about: Does this feel right to me? I do still believe in marriage, but I don’t know if I ever will get married again. I feel a really good sense of strength being independent and not being reliant on somebody.

What about those rumors about your dating David Foster? His daughter Erin Instagrammed you two in September, saying, “Excited about my new step mom” and “My parents.”

So we were sitting there at the table, and she said, “Do you wanna, like, do a thing?” And I was like, “OK.” So I mean, we were in on it. She’s so funny—I mean, you saw what she wrote about “my parents.” Truly, you think that’s how she’d announce it? On Instagram?

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

So to sum it up, your relationship with David is…

We’re very close friends, and we’ve been friends for a long time. I’m really, really fond of him, and I think he’s an incredible person. I’ve known him since I was 21 years old, you know? He produced my first single. So he’s been really good to me. People can say whatever they want.

What health rules do you like to break?

If there’s somewhere special I wanna go—like for Mastro’s butter cake or a pizza with some delicious red wine—I break every rule. I’m gonna have the appetizer, the entrée, some of your entrée, and dessert, just because I love food. I stopped weighing myself and doing calories a long time ago. I find the second I start fluctuating is when I say I can’t have something: “I just ate this, I can’t eat that.” It’s just not good for me. I don’t think it’s good for anybody.

You’ve talked about struggling with an eating disorder in the past. Do those restriction issues trace back to that?

Yeah. But it’s more that your body is gonna go through changes every few years— especially as a woman—and knowing, “OK, I have to make a shift now.” My body definitely changed in the last year, so I fluctuate more than I did. So it’s about being sensible and eating what you want but only to the point where you’re not stuffed. And just being kind to yourself. I’m in a place where I’m trying to find more balance, less torture, more moderation.

Image zoom Jeff Lipsky

What’s your feeling on trends like detox diets or juicing?

I can’t do that—it’s too restricting for me. Personally, juicing is not interesting enough for me; I like to, like, eat my food. I love salads, I love clean food; it makes me feel good. But the idea that you can never eat a burger and french fries weight five days later? I just don’t believe that’s true.

Where do you stand with your body confidence today?

I know when I feel best, so I have to fight the times when I don’t feel my best. I used to drive my poor ex-husband crazy, because I was so thin and saying, “Oh, I’m fat.” I’ve moved away from that, thankfully, and I’ve grown up. But God, sometimes I still wanna say something negative, but at the end of the day, I really do love my body. if it’s not in its exact, perfect form, you have to still love it and appreciate it.

How do you catch yourself if you’re about to say something negative?

I just won’t say it. Literally, I’ll say to myself, “Katharine, it’s in your head. Nobody sees that.”

As you think about the new year, what will be on your list for 2018?

I really want to tour around with my music. Personally, I’m so satisfied. I’ve been renovating the house that I just bought, doing home projects I’m really excited about. I’m open to meeting somebody who wants to have a relationship, but I’m also not sure that I’m ready for it. I think that’s what dating is about, kind of figuring out, “Do I want this?” We’ll see.

Photography by Jeff Lipsky. Styling by Karen Shapiro. Hairstyling by Ericka Verrett/Bumble and Bumble/Dyson Dryer/TMG-LA. Makeup by Amy Oresman/Neutrogena/Starworks Artists. Manicure by Whitney Gibson/Chanel/TMG-LA/

Katharine McPhee doesn’t want to hide anymore. The “American Idol” runner-up comes out as a recovering bulimic in the new issues of People and Teen People, which hit newsstands Friday and June 30, respectively.

Ardent observers may have noticed that McPhee dropped three dress sizes from when she first auditioned for “American Idol,” but the singer attributes the weight loss to her recovery, not her illness. Her battle with bulimia started her junior year in high school, and McPhee said her real problem was avoiding her emotions.

“Food was my crutch,” McPhee told People. “It was how I dealt with emotions and uncomfortable situations. It was literally a drug.”

The singer said she thinks her body-image issues started when her body changed at age 13. Before then, she said, she didn’t think about food. She was a “stick” and “could eat all I wanted.” Then, seemingly overnight, she had “womanly curves,” which made her uncomfortable. Though she had always been athletic, taking dance classes and competing on the school swim team, she started exercising compulsively and starving herself.

“I got more and more obsessed with trying to lose weight and looking like other 14- and 15-year-olds,” she told Teen People. “I think it has to do with growing up in L.A. where more people are body-conscious.”

She didn’t force herself to vomit until she was 17, she said, and she was able to hide the behavior for about six months, at which point she told her mom. She tried going to therapists and dieticians and then relapsed. She tried going to Food Addicts Anonymous but only lasted two weeks.

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“It always starts off with a diet,” she told Teen People. “The more I dieted, the more I became obsessed with food. Food was like a drug to me. It was such a miserable life.”

McPhee’s problem got worse when she went to college, studying musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, where her behavior was encouraged by her dorm-mates. “I definitely put on the ‘freshman 20,’ ” she told Teen People. “We would , get back to the dorm at 2 in the morning, have three slices of Little Steve’s House of Pizza — which were big — and go to bed.”

McPhee recognized that her behavior was self-destructive, but she thought it was the only way to succeed as a singer. She likens the purging to “putting a sledgehammer to your vocal cords.” When she was rejected from 195 of 200 auditions she went to in the 18 months before “Idol,” she attributed the failures to her weight, not a lack of talent. Her manager reinforced this perception, telling her, “Just lose 10 to 15 pounds, and we’ll start booking stuff,” she said.

“She looked beautiful but felt she wasn’t camera-ready,” her mother Peisha told Teen People. “It’s unfortunate our society is obsessed with being so stick-thin.”

But the 22-year-old finally realized she needed help. When she auditioned for “Idol,” she was vomiting seven times a day, and she knew if she made the show, that couldn’t continue — not if she wanted to win.

“Food — my eating disorder — was the one thing holding me back,” she told People. “I mean, here I am, this singer, and it was so horrible on my vocal cords. So when I got on the show, I said, ‘You know what? I can do well. Let me give myself a chance and just get a hold of this thing.’ “

McPhee entered a three-month program at the Los Angeles Eating Disorder Center of California in October so she could start shooting the show in December. She did group and individual therapy six days a week and read “Intuitive Eating.” She lost her fear of so-called “bad” foods by allowing herself to eat ice cream, peanut butter and mini Snickers bars (four with each meal). Now she doesn’t want Snickers anymore, and she hasn’t binged since two weeks before entering the program.

“I was actually addressing the issue, not trying to lose weight,” McPhee told Teen People. “I was letting my body do what it naturally wanted to do, by eating normally.”

While McPhee doesn’t consider herself completely healed, she’s thrilled at the progress she’s made so far — and is hopeful that by coming forward now, she’ll “encourage other people not to hide.”

“I’ve learned to deal with my emotions differently,” she told People, “to deal with them, instead of with food.”

Get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.

Katharine McPhee: ‘Idol’ saved my life

American Idol may have saved Katharine McPhee’s life. The runner-up reveals in this week’s People that she battled bulimia for years but didn’t get her eating disorder under control until being selected for Idol motivated her to find a program that worked and stick with it. She attributes her dramatic weight loss over the months between her audition and her appearances in the show’s final weeks to her improved health after having finally learned how to eat normal meals.

I’ll let others wring their hands about how society (and showbiz) pressures women to be ultra-thin, or speculate on the link between her changing weight and the apparent inability of Idol‘s stylists to dress her in flattering outfits, or contrast Kat’s story with Ruben Studdard’s. I’ll just congratulate her on having conquered a life-threatening obsession and note that her unflappable poise during the competition now seems even more remarkable.

addCredit(“Katharine McPhee: Mark Sullivan/WireImage.com”)

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