I'm Sick of Being Big

updated 06/22/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/2009 01:00AM

Georgia Davis was 11 years old and about 300 lbs. the first time she heard it. "Doctors keep telling me, 'If you don't lose weight, you'll die,'" she says. Yet that wasn't enough to keep Davis, who had lost her beloved father to emphysema at age 5 ("I saw him laying in bed. and he wasn't moving," she recalls), from trying to wipe out that memory with food—massive quantities of food. "I would eat a loaf of bread a day," she says. "I could eat half a pie in one sitting. Two sandwiches at a time. I was depressed. Food covered the pain for a couple of seconds. Then you feel like crap because you did it—so you would eat again." By 15, the 5'7" girl from Aberdale, Wales, had hit 462 lbs. and been dubbed "Britain's fattest teen" by the U.K. press. More seriously, she'd been diagnosed with diabetes in '07. Her mom, Lesley Miles, says she tried to help her daughter but "she wouldn't listen." At least, not until last fall, when she arrived at Wellspring Academy, a weight-loss boarding school in Brevard, N.C. Says Davis: "I finally decided to take control of my life, instead of ruining myself."

Visit One
FALL '08
462 lbs.

Davis arrives at Wellspring on Sept. 1: "I'm in a new country. I don't know anyone here. But everyone liked my accent, so I was like, 'Phew!' That works well because I talk a lot. I may seem comfortable with myself on the outside, but trust me, I'm not. I put on a brave face. I'm a genuinely happy person ... but I'd be much happier if I was skinny." After just seven weeks at Wellspring, Davis has not only lost 62 lbs., she no longer has diabetes. "I'm not a freak anymore! I actually didn't think my diabetes would ever change here. I've tried loads of diets, and they were all rubbish. I never expected to lose this much that fast. It motivates me. My class has told me how much skinnier I look. But I don't notice it. I don't like mirrors that much. The only mirror I like is my makeup mirror!"

Visit Two
WINTER '08
359 lbs.

By December, Davis has lost more than 100 lbs. But as she prepares to return to Wales for the holidays, anxiety sets in: "I panicked at first. I was like, 'Uh, I can't do it.' I was worried I was going to relapse and just eat what I used to. Here it's controlled for me. There I only know to go to fattening food places. But it was just like everything else I've had to face in my life: a challenge. Smells of certain foods like fish and chips were tempting—but I didn't hesitate. I just ran!" Thanks to her willpower, Davis lost 3 lbs. during her trip—and gained a new wardrobe, including two size 28 black skirts. "I didn't want to go out in skirts before, because I was too fat. I was used to wearing sweatpants. But I'm happy because I can finally see that I've lost weight. I've shrunken. My legs are skinnier and so are my arms. My favorite part of my body is my face because it looks skinnier and ... it's pretty. I have more interest in makeup now. I'm makeup mad!"

Visit Three
SPRING '09
294 lbs.

"I've slimmed down a lot. I'm really happy I've achieved that. But you always get that feeling that you're still big. So sometimes I'll get paranoid and check my body in a mirror. My confidence level has gone up. Back home I was shy. I would be on the sidelines. Not here! Now it's like I can do anything—I'm going white-water rafting! In the beginning of the year they made me go on the easiest hike and I was like, 'I'm not doing that again.' But now I like hiking." On April 1 Davis celebrated her 16th birthday, a benchmark she wasn't sure she would live to see. "I thought I wasn't going to make it to 20. I didn't see a future. Not a positive one, anyway. I just didn't. Now I see my life going somewhere. I can do stuff I want: I can go to college; I can have someone special; I can have kids. I want to do, like, 1,500 things at once. Being here has given me my life back."

Visit Four
SUMMER '09
260 lbs.

After dropping 202 lbs. and trimming her waist from 69 to 38 inches, Davis is ready to return to Wales. "I'm happy because I managed to change my appearance, my attitude and my view on life. Of course in every person there's some part that's worried that you're going to gain again, but I'm confident I can keep it off. And if I do gain, it doesn't mean I'm going to keep gaining weight the rest of my life. It just means I gained one day. I'm not finished losing all my weight. My goal is to be 150 to 160 lbs. This is not going to be the end. This is the beginning of my new life."

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