September 30, 2013 12:00 PM

Nina Davuluri hasn’t always felt like a beauty queen. The newly crowned Miss America, 24, was so uncomfortable in her own skin, “I was too embarrassed to go to the gym,” admits Davuluri, who struggled with bulimia as a student at the University of Michigan. “I was ‘study snacking’ and eating chips and candy at all hours of the day.”

Judging from the jungle-print bikini she rocked at the Miss America competition on Sept. 15, those days are long gone. Davuluri has lost 53 lbs. since college, first with the help of Jillian Michaels DVDs and then with cardio classes at the gym. Later she hired a personal trainer, who taught her the importance of strength training.

“It’s one thing to lose the weight, but I’ve kept it off for a year and a half now,” she says. She maintains her new figure with CrossFit, Bikram yoga and Flywheel spinning classes, along with a high-protein, low-carb diet. A favorite meal is a homemade burrito bowl with quinoa, chicken and fresh salsa. “I am so proud of my hard work!”

Her history with body-image issues makes the recent allegations that she called last year’s Miss America Mallory Hagan “fat as s–t” all the more shocking, but Davuluri denies the accusations. “It was such an unfortunate situation,” she told Good Morning America. “I never made those comments. I apologized to Mallory because it was the right thing to do.”

The Fayetteville, N.Y., native is generating the most headlines for being the first Indian-American woman to win the Miss America title.”To live in a country where other cultures are not only accepted but welcomed is such an honor,” she says. But her historic victory has come with a downside. After her win Davuluri became the target of racist sentiments online. She has said she’s determined to “rise above” the hateful comments. She’s also reveling in the journey that’s taken her from suffering from body issues to being so richly rewarded for flaunting her figure on national TV. Says Davuluri: “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about some of my ex-boyfriends.”

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