"I exercise. I've never exercised before. I play tennis. I do aerobics. I walk," Reynolds, 45, told PEOPLE Monday at a Washington, D.C., reception for First Star, a group dedicated to helping abused and neglected children.
"And I take exercise classes that kick my butt, which was not something that I was ever confident doing," she continued. "Because when you're a really overweight person, you're not very comfortable being in a classroom environment. I think being in a classroom motivates me now."
Still, she added, "I never consider myself thin."
Her dramatic new bob haircut also gave her a brand new attitude: "I think what it did was allow me to be just a little bit more confident without all the glamour, makeup, and all the jewelry and all the eyelashes and all the hair," she said.
"It's a little toned down. I'm much more confident – that it's okay to be a smart woman. I don't need to hide behind the insecurities that I had before."
Reynolds was in Washington to take part in a congressional briefing on Tuesday to announce First Star's finding that nearly half of U.S. states fail to provide legal representation for foster children.
"The child's interest is often not represented," said Reynolds, a former assistant district attorney and goodwill ambassador for First Child. "Oftentimes [it] conflicts with what the biological parent might want [or] what the courts say. Moving a child 11, 12, 13 times before he's 18 is outrageous in our country."
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Reynolds has had time to reflect since leaving ABCs The View last June. She readily admits her fame made her lose perspective at times.
"I know I've been guilty of that, absolutely," she said. "It's intoxicating. Sometimes we allow the benefits of celebrity to usurp the obligation. I feel really strongly that I have to make sure I don't do that."