The Princess Diet

updated 03/28/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/28/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Rocking a formfitting red suit at Scotland's St. Andrews University on a royal outing last month, making the rounds at a London charity ball in a plunging halter gown or pulling off a barely-there bikini on a Mediterranean vacation, Kate Middleton has something every woman wants-and it's not just a handsome prince who is madly in love with her. The 29-year-old princess-to-be has a famously sleek physique and, with the royal wedding only one month away, her willowy form has suddenly taken center stage. "Kate has a fantastic figure," says a friend. Adds Brides editor Deborah Joseph: "She can put on anything, and it looks great."

If that's hard to stomach, then chew on this: The 5'8" future Queen, who wears a size 2 or 4, actually eats. "She's always had a very normal attitude toward food," says the friend. "She has fantastic genes. It's not down to dieting." In recent weeks the British press has made much of Kate's seemingly thinner frame. On March 8, at her appearance with William in Belfast, one well-wisher cautioned Kate not to shed more weight; she reportedly replied, "It is all part of the wedding plan." Still, those who know her say it's likely nerves, not self-denial, that's keeping the royal fiancee slimmer than ever. "I'd be surprised if she were starving herself to fit into her wedding dress," says the friend. Confirms a Palace insider: "She's not on any diet." A few weeks ago Kate reportedly lunched on a foie gras terrine, sea bass and pistachio souffle (with ice cream!) at lunch with future stepmother-in-law Camilla at Koffmann's, a restaurant in London's Berkeley Hotel. "She looked so thin," says an observer, "but she seemed to be eating. They were laughing and talking." Says royal biographer Katie Nicholl: "Kate has a really healthy appetite."

Indeed, Kate and William share a passion for food and sharing meals with friends. "They love to make pasta and Italian and traditional British food," including such calorie-laden favorites as bangers and mash (sausage and potatoes) and Toad in the Hole (sausage in batter), says Nicholl, author of The Making of a Royal Romance. Dining out, they have a taste for the exotic-at London eatery Archipelago, William has ordered crocodile while Kate has feasted on wild boar-but they're also known to stop by Automat, an American brasserie, for old-fashioned cheeseburgers. If Kate skimps anywhere, it's on alcohol-she's a fan of the 600-calorie pina coladas at London club Mahiki, but usually nurses one all evening-and sugary treats (she has been known to leave chocolate mousse untouched).

Kate's flawless figure may seem effortless, but it wasn't always that way. In her early days at Marlborough College secondary school, "she didn't hold herself well," says school chum Gemma Williamson. "She was not really confident." Once she made the field hockey team, she discovered the thrill of sports-and the fitness benefits that go along with physical exercise. "She was this smiley, sporty girl-good at tennis, swimming, running, everything!" Williamson says. "She never missed a meal; she ate all the time. Yet she was skinny."

The girl who never gained a pound gained a ton of confidence, and it was while modeling a see-through dress at a 2002 charity fashion show as a first year student at St. Andrews that she caught the eye of one Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales. As their romance blossomed, her commitment to working out grew. Kate began taking early morning runs, then joining William in the cafeteria for nutritious breakfasts of muesli and fruit.

In 2007 she and William briefly broke up-a painful crash that might have sent another jilted lover racing for the ice cream. But Kate joined a female rowing team for a charity dragon-boat race. "The training was hard-core," says fellow rower Emma Sayle of the regimen, which included five rowing sessions a week, supplemented by running and pilates. "It's better than a shrink," says Sayle. (Kate ultimately dropped out of the event because of safety concerns after she reunited with William.) One by-product of the sweat-therapy: Already slender, Kate dropped a dress size.

If the future princess is a model of health, she's the opposite of William's late mum, Princess Diana. Plagued by anxiety about her body, she famously said her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles and the pressures of Palace life drove her to bulimia. "Kate," says Lynn Grefe, chief executive officer of the National Eating Disorders Association, "seems to be an example of how to live a balanced life and promote a healthy body image."

She's doing that even as royal wedding fever builds-and if she needs to blow off steam, there's always tennis with William, in which she routinely kicks his royal butt. She's also been spotted at London's chic Harbour Club gym (where Princess Diana worked out later in life), cycling and swimming. It's little surprise that fashion insiders predict that when Kate does glide down the aisle with maybe, oh, a billion people watching, she'll sport a body-skimming gown that shows off her figure and her ever-growing confidence. "She'll be," Nicholl says, "in the best shape possible."

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