The People Weight-Loss Challenge!

updated 10/06/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2008 01:00AM

In January, we took eight people from Mississippi (the nation's fattest state) and asked them to try to lose weight—not at a special facility or with a new gimmick, but in real life, with diet and exercise. That meant plenty of bumps (and binges) along the way, but in the end they lost a combined total of 347 lbs.! TANYA BURNETT
LOST 52 LBS.

MELODY OSBORN
LOST 21 LBS.

NEDRA JACKSON
LOST 38 LBS.

He lost the most weight!

ROB DYESS
LOST 82 LBS.

MISTY & JASON NALL
LOST 38 & 27 LBS.

APRIL KING
LOST 23 LBS.

GENA HILL
LOST 66 LBS.

Rob and Gena were the most successful!

ROB DYESS

BEFORE
290 lbs.*

NOW!
LOST 82 LBS.

AGE: 41
HOMETOWN: Ridgeland
OCCUPATION: Salesman

"My blood pressure is now perfect"
The weight-loss challenge was one unwelcome wake-up call for Dyess. "There would be mornings I would go, 'Oh God, I can't believe I have to go to the gym!'" says Dyess, who started his workouts at 5 a.m. four times a week. But all those nights of soaking sore muscles have paid off: At 208 lbs., the 5'11" father of two is the champion loser of the bunch. Along with "working my rear off," Dyess—now an avid runner—has also made adjustments to his usual food favorites. He makes cheeseburgers with bison meat, fat-free cheese and whole-wheat buns, and "you know what? They're not so bad!" he says. But the biggest change came with the May birth of his second son, George. When his first son, Henry, now 3, was born, "I was so heavy I couldn't get the scrubs on," says Dyess. When George arrived, "I fit!"

GENA HILL

BEFORE
242 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 66 LBS.

AGE: 40
HOMETOWN: Ethel
OCCUPATION: Office Manager

"I can run a mile in 12 minutes"
The biggest hurdle for the 5'3" former beauty queen was getting past the plateaus. "I had been working hard and then the scale wouldn't show anything. That brings you down pretty quick," she says. Hill's husband and two sons helped her stay motivated, and she is now 176 lbs. and a size 12, though "my goal is a size 10." she says. Still, she feels strong and confident enough to enter local 5K races—and in July strutted her stuff in a beauty pageant for the first time in more than 20 years. Says Hill: "I never thought I'd be back on that stage!"

TANYA BURNETT

BEFORE
248 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 52 LBS.

AGE: 43
HOMETOWN: Picayune
OCCUPATION: Procurement Specialist

"I'm no longer considered obese"

In August, Burnett's father-in-law died after a painful battle with cancer. And yet, instead of coping with food—like she has in the past—Burnett made sure to get in a workout instead. "I had so much going on," says the mother of two, "but I had to set aside the time to get healthy." Down to 196 lbs., the 5'9" Burnett wants to lose another 20. She now adds kick to her salads with sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, and while she won't "deprive" herself of one of her old favorites like burgers, "I won't just eat 'stuff' anymore," she says. "I want to know what's in it before I put it in my mouth!"

NEDRA JACKSON

BEFORE
241 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 38 LBS.

AGE: 28
HOMETOWN: Charleston
OCCUPATION: Boys & Girls Club Director

"Being healthy has become a priority"
Most of her life, "I'd lose weight quickly—and then put it back on," says Jackson. Not this time. After she lost 15 lbs. in the first few months of the Challenge, Jackson's work commitments kept her from the gym for most of the summer—but she kept up daily walks and portion control (half a burger instead of a whole one) and didn't gain any weight. For the first time, "I saw I could still eat food I wanted," she says. "I just needed to be disciplined." Now back to hitting the gym three days a week, the 5'7" Jackson is 203 lbs. and, though she'd like to be 165, says, "My measure of success was to lose weight and keep it off—and I did that."

MISTY & JASON NALL

BEFORE
265 & 256 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 38 LBS.

NOW!
LOST 27 LBS.

AGE: 30 & 36
HOMETOWN: Starkville
OCCUPATIONS: Homemaker; Food services director at Mississippi State University

MISTY: "I run more in the yard with my kids"

JASON: "I'm down two pants sizes"

Though he lost 50 lbs. in the first three months, Jason earned a promotion this summer that distracted him from his workout routine, causing his weight to climb back up to 229 lbs. on his 5'11" frame. "The biggest challenge is committing to exercise," he says. Not so for his 5'2" wife. "I need an intense workout," says Misty, who struggled after gaining 5 lbs. on summer vacations with their two kids. But Misty continues to work out and eat healthy snacks like granola every two hours to trim down her 227-lb. body: "I'm doing it regardless if my other half chooses to or not!"

MELODY OSBORN

BEFORE
274 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 21 LBS.

AGE: 29
HOMETOWN: Holly Springs
OCCUPATION: PetSmart Salon Manager

"I've lost 62 inches overall"
First the 5'7" Osborn broke her foot; then she had kidney stones. But in May a new trainer got the single mother of three on track and down to 253 lbs. "The desire to eat unhealthily isn't there," she says. "An apple with peanut butter is now my favorite thing!"

APRIL KING

BEFORE
273 lbs.

NOW!
LOST 23 LBS.

AGE: 29
HOMETOWN: Jackson
OCCUPATION: Accountant

"I can go a full hour on the treadmill"
"Portion control was hard for me to grasp," admits the 4'11" King, who was losing only about 3 lbs. a month until July, when a new trainer limited her food choices to mostly lean protein like chicken. Says King, now 250 lbs.: "My weight loss may not seem like much, but it's a world of difference to me."

*We introduced our Mississippi 8 in our January 14, 2008, issue with lower starting weights; all gained weight before beginning the Challenge.

For more on the Mississippi 8, please tune in to our ABC prime-time special Half Their Size: The PEOPLE Magazine Weight-Loss Challenge, which airs Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. ET

To see a preview of the TV special, go to people.com/mississippi8

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