With her beaming smile and flawless figure, Bree Boyce looks every bit the pageant winner. But the path she took to get there was anything but ordinary.
Before being crowned Miss South Carolina July 2, the 22-year-old lost 110 pounds — nearly half her body weight — over three years.
"I'm not on any kind of crazy diet; I'm just living a healthy lifestyle, and that's what I try to promote," Boyce told TODAY.com.Miss USA: I don't like wearing heels!
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The aspiring singer from Florence, S.C., lost her weight the old-fashioned way — and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Appropriately, her pageant platform is "Eating Healthy and Fighting Obesity."
Boyce will take her platform national when she competes for Miss America in January. Until then, she'll be traveling around the country encouraging others to get healthy by eating well, exercising, and believing in themselves.
“That’s really what I want to focus on,” she told NBC News in an report that aired on TODAY Tuesday. “It’s not about a number on the scale or the size [of] your pants; it’s about being a ‘size healthy’ and loving yourself and having that self-worth.”
An overshadowed child
Self-worth is something Boyce struggled with for most of her life. The youngest of four, she says she always felt overshadowed by her siblings — two brothers and a sister, Tiffany. That feeling intensified when Tiffany, six years her senior, started competing in beauty contests.
"I loved going to the pageants and seeing how beautiful she was and glamorous she looked, but I also felt like I was kind of being dragged everywhere," Boyce told TODAY.com. "It wasn't that my family wasn't loving and supportive, because they definitely were. But emotionally, I just always felt like I was in the background."Video: Beauty queen struts her stuff, 100 lbs lighter (on this page)
To cope with her emotions, she turned to junk food, often sneaking around so that her family wouldn't find out.
“When I got my license, it really got bad,” Boyce said. “I would run to the local fast food joint, get something and eat it in my car.” Or she would eat entire pizzas and then stuff the boxes in the outside trash can before anyone came home.
“It got to the point where it was wearing on me emotionally,” she said, “because I knew that I was unhealthy and that I was lying to my family.”
The extra weight was also taking a toll on her 5-foot-7 frame. “At the age of 17 I was at my highest, which was 234 pounds,” Boyce told NBC News. She was wearing size 18 jeans. When her knees started hurting, she went to the doctor for some relief.
What she got was a wakeup call: "He grabbed my legs and thighs and told me that it was time to lose weight," she recalled. He warned that her knees and joints couldn't support her weight, and that she would have more problems in the future if she didn't slim down.
Boyce read up on nutrition and learned to cook, favoring white fish and vegetables. She also got moving, walking around the neighborhood at first, then gradually picked up the pace. Now she exercises 30 to 60 minutes every day — two to three hours if she’s preparing for a pageant.
She credits her sister Tiffany, now 28, with helping her get in shape. “She’s taught me a lot about training and working out. She also reassured me that I could lose the weight naturally and didn't need surgery.”
Despite her confidence, Boyce admits that the swimsuit portion of the competition was intimidating.Slideshow: Miss America 2011 (on this page)
“When I set foot on the stage, I knew that all eyes were going to be on me because of my platform and because I had lost all that weight.”
So when she found out she won the swimsuit round, she said, it was the proudest moment of her life. And when she was crowned Miss South Carolina, she told TODAY’s Ann Curry Tuesday, “I just thought to myself, ‘I did it. I did it all on my own.’
“I did it for myself, and I'm just so thankful to have this platform and to share my success story with everyone,” Boyce added.
And right there supporting her when she won was her sister Tiffany. “She was at the end of the runway grabbing my hand, saying ‘You did it, you did it!’ ” Boyce told TODAY.com. “You’re going to be the best Miss South Carolina and hopefully the best Miss America ever!’ ”
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