Dieting triumph is a jewel in Miss Nevada's crown

September 14, 1995|By Gwen Florio | Gwen Florio,Knight-Ridder News Service

With this year's Miss America Pageant barely into its preliminaries, it's too soon to tell who will walk down the runway Saturday with a tiara on her head. But win or lose, one contestant already has a rare victory to her credit.

Over the last five years, Miss Nevada, Jennifer Christine Joseph, has lost about 100 pounds -- the equivalent of an entire Miss America contestant.

In Atlantic City, N.J., Saturday night, she'll be balancing a mere 135 pounds on her high heels, a weight that will put her among the heaviest of contestants -- ever. Of course, only at the Miss America Pageant would someone who looks like Jennifer Joseph be considered heavy.

"I grew up around good food," said Ms. Joseph with a shrug. "I'm half Lebanese, and my mother's parents are from the South, so I got it from both sides." In high school, she had topped out at more than 230 pounds.

When she sought to begin a professional singing career, would-be employers liked what they heard, but not what they saw.

"A friend finally told me, 'You have this talent. But you can't do it [get jobs] at your weight,' " Ms. Joseph said. "She had to be a really good friend to say that to me."

After that painful conversation, Ms. Joseph, now 24, simply . . . stopped . . . overeating.

A former bulimic, she developed the willpower to let an entire box of candy sit in her room, untouched, for months. "Before," she said, "I'd have eaten it all in one sitting." She limited herself to fish and chicken, and "major" salads sans dressing.

And she did it all herself. No gimmicky diets. "I had to learn to listen to my body," she said, exercising when her body told her it felt sluggish, eating what her body thought was good for it. "I also had to learn whether my brain, or my stomach, was telling me to eat. I had to decipher between hunger and appetite."

"I'm a much happier person," said Ms. Joseph, "but I remember what it was like to be hurt by mean comments." Her pageant "platform issue" is self-esteem, something she has plenty of these days.

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