Miss South Carolina symbol of state's fight with obesity

Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce has become a symbol in the fight against obesity.

Story by Joey Holleman
(McClatchy Newspapers)
Mon, Jul 25, 2011
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — 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 earlier this month, the buzz around her weight-loss story has attracted attention from national and international publications. A national obesity report released earlier this month 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 here each year.

Boyce said she was heavy as a child, then really got into trouble when she was old enough to drive on her own. “I’d drive around to fast food restaurants and order anything and everything on the menu,” she said.

It’s so easy, and the food tastes so good. But so much of what’s on fast-food menus is bad for you, especially when super-sized. Before she wised up, Boyce 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 July 7 by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Both of those statistics have been on the rise for the past 15 years, not only in South Carolina but nationwide. In fact, despite the state’s increases (16.6 percent to 30.9 percent obese, and 51.4 percent to 66.4 percent overweight), South Carolina’s national ranking is the same as in 1995.

That’s why people want to hear Boyce’s story. She seems to have found the secret to losing weight. She could write a diet book — The Beauty Queen Diet — and sell a million copies.

Except she has no easy-to-follow diet to push. Her weight-loss success was all about wanting to lose weight, working at it and truly 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 with a nutritionist and followed the basic advice. She started eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. She cut out fast foods and began cooking more of her own 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.”

If Boyce did write a Beauty Queen Diet, it would start the way she does 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 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.

All of her suggestions should sound familiar. She simply followed the kind of routine health experts have been suggesting for decades. In fact, she sounds like a nutritionist when she tells her story.

“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.”

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