When Renée Zellweger appeared at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards in Los Angeles on Monday, it almost appeared as if there may have been a mix-up. So different was her physical appearance compared to the one we've all seen in films such as "Jerry Maguire" and "Bridget Jones's Diary," that before-and-after pictures of the 45-year-old quickly went viral online.

Despite rampant speculation about cosmetic surgery, Zellweger told People that her transformation has everything to do with embracing a healthier lifestyle.

"I'm glad folks think I look different! I'm living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows," she said. "My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn't doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn't allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion."

Zellweger added that taking a step back from Hollywood (her last project was in 2010) and finding focus on the important things in life has made a tremendous difference for her.

"I did work that allows for being still, making a home, loving someone, learning new things, growing as a creative person and finally growing into myself," she said. "People don't know me in my 40s. .. People don't know me (as) healthy for a while. Perhaps I look different. Who doesn't as they get older? ... But I am different. I'm happy."

Whether you believe that such a lifestyle change can account for her appearance, that she's happy and has found some measure of peace is a wonderful thing. Look for her to make her return to Hollywood next year opposite Keanu Reeves and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the crime thriller "The Whole Truth."

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Renee Zellweger credits healthy lifestyle for dramatic new look
Actress surprised everyone with a revamped physical appearance earlier this week. She says she's thrilled the world has taken notice.