From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
lost 114 lbs.

At age 12, Bree Boyce was an avid fan of playing hide-and-seek in her Florence, S.C., home. "My mom would buy different things from the grocery store, like cookies or chips, and she would hide them from me so I wouldn't eat them. But I eventually found her secret hiding spot up in a cabinet," says Boyce, who at her heaviest tipped the scales at 234 lbs. "My siblings were all naturally thin. I suffered most of my life being overweight. I felt like an outcast."

Now she's part of an elite crowd of 53: After losing an astonishing 114 lbs. in three years, Boyce, 22, will flaunt her new killer body (hello, bikini!) and represent her home state as Miss South Carolina in the Miss America pageant on Jan. 14. "A lot of little girls watch Miss America and say, 'One day I want to be Miss America,'" she says. "That was one of my dreams. I never thought it would maybe come true!"

Growing up, Boyce didn't put much thought into what she was eating. "After school I would go to the local fast food joint, order 10 chicken fingers with a side of fries, then drive right back through the line after eating my meal in the parking lot," confesses Boyce. "I was young and could care less that the food I was eating was harming me. When others made fun of me, I would eat more because what would an extra cookie hurt? I figured I would always look this way." During times she did try fad diets or workouts, "I wanted to drop the weight fast and get it over with. I wasn't committed to the lifestyle."

That changed at 17, when she weighed in at 234 lbs. during a doctor's visit. "My knees felt like they were going to give out every time I stood up. The doctor told me the weight had to come off if I wanted to be a healthy adult," she says. "I knew I had to make a drastic change. There were so many things I wanted to do: go to college, get married, have a family." And one unspoken wish, to win the Miss America title. "I competed in small pageants until age 7, when my weight became an issue. But my sister Tiffany competed her whole life, and I was always the chubby supportive sister behind her," Boyce says. "Secretly I wanted the crown."

After researching healthy foods and recipes, Boyce learned to steer clear of her favorite macaroni and cheese and opt for more vegetables and fruit with each meal. "Before, I would tell my mom I would get sick if I ate a banana. I did not like them at all," says Boyce. "Now I'm a huge banana fanatic. And I love broccoli: raw, steamed or grilled." By 2009 Boyce entered her first state beauty competition 100 lbs. lighter, only to hear critics comment on her midsection. "I had some loose skin. People said I needed surgery," she says. Instead of a tummy tuck, "I did a lot of strength training. I was determined to prove them wrong." She did: Boyce dropped another 12 lbs. and nabbed the Miss South Carolina title at a trim 122 lbs. last summer. Now with her platform devoted to fighting obesity, "I want to share my struggles and show young girls and boys what you can accomplish."

Bree's Big Changes

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]