In a state that ranks as one of the most obese in the country, the new Miss South Carolina offers the classic example of how we got into this mess and how we can get out.
Since 22-year-old Bree Boyce won her crown Saturday night, the buzz around her weight-loss story has attracted attention from national and international publications. A national obesity report released Thursday indicates how much her neighbors in South Carolina need to listen to her story. The state has the eighth-highest rate of obesity, and like the rest of the country, the problem is getting worse each year.
Boyce said she was heavy as a child, then really got into trouble when she was old enough to drive.
"I'd drive around to fast food restaurants and order anything and everything on the menu," she said.
Boyce eventually weighed 230 pounds.
At that point, the Florence resident was a typical South Carolinian. Two-thirds of the state's population -- 66.4 percent -- is overweight and 30.9 percent is obese, according to a report released Thursday by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Both statistics have been rising for 15 years, not only in South Carolina but nationwide.
Boyce has no easy-to-follow diet to push. Her weight-loss success was all about wanting to lose weight, working at it and changing habits.
"I did a lot of the fad diets, and they would work for a short period," Boyce said, "but then I'd go back to the foods I love."
She finally started shedding pounds when she consulted a nutritionist and followed the basic advice. She started eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. She cut out fast food and began cooking more of her meals. And she began exercising daily.
"It's all about changing your lifestyle," Boyce said. "I don't like the word 'diet.' Don't ever say that you're on a diet because you're setting yourself up for failure.
"There is no secret. If there is one thing that is the secret, it's hard work."
Boyce said her journey to Miss South Carolina "was a three-year process of losing weight slow and healthy."
Boyce starts most mornings with scrambled egg whites and oatmeal. If she has a particularly busy day ahead, she'll add an apple.
A typical lunch might be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato and onions. For dinner, she loves to cook lemon pepper grilled tilapia, with fresh vegetables -- peppers, cucumbers or squash -- and a small dish of brown rice.
When she feels the need to splurge a little on calories, she'll put blue cheese dressing on her salad instead of vinaigrette. And when she has a craving for something sweet every week or two, she treats herself to a small cup at a frozen yogurt store.
The former 230-pounder didn't just lose weight, she toned up enough to win one of the Miss South Carolina swimsuit preliminaries. Boyce loves Zumba, the latest dance-exercise craze, and kickboxing. She often exercised an hour or more daily, but she realizes many people don't have time for that kind of program.
"You just need daily exercise, even if it's just a walk around the block with your dog," she said.
All of her suggestions should sound familiar. She simply followed the kind of routine health experts have been suggesting for decades.
"I just educated myself on what we've been eating and cut out the junk and started putting the good fuel in my body," Boyce said. "Our bodies are like cars; we need to put the right fuel in them."