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MISS SOUTH CAROLINA BREE BOYCE, THEN: 234 LBS.
Five years ago, the Florence, S.C., native reached her heaviest weight due to unhealthy eating habits. "I enjoyed food so much, any kind. I never disliked any kind of food, which was a big problem for me," Boyce, 22, tells PEOPLE's annual Half Their Size issue, adding, "I'd just go through the fast food line and call it a day."
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BREE BOYCE, NOW: 120 LBS.
With education, healthier eating habits and the help of her family, Boyce dropped 114 lbs. and competed in the 2012 Miss America pageant. "I learned that if I became a healthy person, I could achieve all the goals I wanted to in life," she says. "It was definitely about making that drastic change. It was not about going on a fad diet. For years I had failed attempts. People are always searching for a quick fix. It's all about changing your lifestyle."
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WENDY MCCONKEY, THEN: 449 LBS.
With a diet consisting mostly of fast food and junk food, the Tacoma, Wash., resident tipped the scales at nearly 500 lbs. "I'd shop from the men's Big & Tall catalog because a women's 6x was too small," McConkey tells PEOPLE of her limited clothing options.
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WENDY MCCONKEY, NOW: 147 LBS.
After suffering joint pains and frequent heartburn, the 38-year-old began making a change. "It wasn't until 2005 I was noticing I was having chest pains too. That's when I really started realizing, This is really bad." McConkey began eating healthier and attending fitness classes, which led to her dropping more than 300 lbs. "For me, Zumba was like a light bulb went off," she says. "When I took my first class, I weighed 320 lbs. at the time and I was grinning from ear to ear. I couldn't believe this is exercise."
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YOULANDA MARSHALL, THEN: 292 LBS.
"I got tired of the yo-yo," the Houston native says of her failed attempts at dieting. "I looked at all these different options … I thought, Why not sidestep the surgery and learn to eat the right way?" So Marshall took action, working out at Curves and following Weight Watchers. "Before, I stayed home a lot. Now I don't mind going out – I can dance the Wobble!" she says.
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YOULANDA MARSHALL, NOW: 146 LBS.
Marshall, 34, is now 146 lbs. lighter and can fit into skinny jeans, which has her students raving. "Being a middle school teacher, you're always in shock at how the kids change in high school. Now they're in shock about me," she tells PEOPLE. "They'll come back and go, 'You used to be so fat! Now look at you – you're skinny!' That reaction is so nice."
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ANGELA MCCULLOUGH, THEN: 285 LBS.
"I couldn't stand up and bend over to tie my shoes. I had to sit in a chair; otherwise, I would feel like I was going to pass out," the New Milford, Ill., resident says of the burden of carrying all her weight, which she began losing after following Jenny Craig.
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ANGELA MCCULLOUGH, NOW: 135 LBS.
Now 150 lbs. lighter and a volunteer firefighter, the 35-year-old has a new lease on life. "Since the weight loss, my stamina has gone through the roof," McCullough tells PEOPLE. "I can do an hour of advanced Pilates and strength training after my Pilates session."
To see more weight-loss winners, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.