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Nineteen-month-old Sam, just over a fever, is teething. Little sister Lola is making it known she needs a nap. Spend time with their mom, Denise Richards, and it quickly becomes clear she has more on her mind than whittling her waistline. But just months after she gave birth to Lola June 1, that waistline is enviably tiny. How did she do it?

People have been asking that question ever since the actress, already slim just two weeks out of the delivery room, was spotted shopping in Calabasas, Calif. She instructed her publicist, "Please tell people I'm not exercising. I don't want women to think they have to start exercising right after a C-section!" Nursing Lola for three months and being "naturally thin" may have helped pare down the 30 lbs. she put on (just as she had with the first pregnancy). But the real secret? Richards says, only half joking, "It's called the Stress Diet."

The regimen goes something like this: File for divorce (from husband Charlie Sheen, father of Sam and Lola) in your sixth month of pregnancy. Cope with the public scrutiny that follows—to a point when you feel less camera-ready by the day ("Toward the end I was waddling in my schleppy sweats. I wish I looked like Heidi Klum with her cute outfits"). Then start filming your new TV show (Sex, Love & Secrets, since canceled by UPN) just six weeks after giving birth. "I had so much going on in my life," says Richards, curled up on a love seat in her cozy bedroom. "Juggling both babies and starting a job."

Once she got the go-ahead from her doctor to work out, Richards, 34, threw herself into the task. "I'm not going to lie and say, 'The pounds just came off,' " she says. "There's definitely pressure in Hollywood to be thin, but even if I didn't have to work, I would still want to lose the weight. Who wants to keep weight on after 18 months of being pregnant in the last two years?"

In late July she began meeting with trainer Garrett Warren four to six times weekly. "I'm disciplined if someone shows up at my house—otherwise I'd be hitting the snooze button." With Warren as a motivator, she says, "I get up at 4:30 and work out from 5 to 6, when it's quiet. That's my hour. I think it's so important for moms to have that balance of time for yourself, work and the kids."

Warren, who also worked with Kate Hudson after her pregnancy, has Richards weight-train, box, kickbox ("That got me back into my skinny jeans!") and do abdominal exercises "like I've never done in my life." Of Richards, Warren says, "I push her a little bit, but she really wants to do it."

She also gets help with her diet. Though she cooks for Sam, Richards has her own portion-controlled meals delivered by nutritionist Carrie Wiatt's Diet Designs. Dinner is often 4 oz. of chicken with vegetables, rice or potatoes—or pasta. For snacks, "I love fruit and cucumbers," she says. "I eat little meals throughout the day."

Svelte as she is, Richards isn't totally happy with her post-baby body. "The boobs don't look as good," says the actress, who admits she isn't opposed to plastic surgery. "I'm maybe going to have to do that. Sorry, your body does change."

So, inevitably, does life. "This has been a bittersweet year for me," says Richards. Splitting with Sheen "was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. And to deal with it publicly was even worse." She hopes she and Sheen, who was at Lola's birth and spends a lot of time at the house, will be able to reconcile. But there has been no official word of a reunion. "If our marriage could work out, it would be the ultimate blessing to have our family back together," she says. "And if it can't, then Charlie and I will focus on being the best parents we can be. So we'll see."

Allison Adato. Julie Jordan in Los Angeles

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