Former Miss Korea wins diet survival show
Lee Hye-chong rediscovers self and courage
By Noh Hyun-gi
In 1990, Lee Hye-chong stood 173 centimeters tall and weighed 54 kilograms, and became a winner of the 1990 Miss Korea beauty pageant.
In 2011, the 42-year-old weighed in at 99 kilograms and stood with other contestants at the “Diet Survival BIGsTORY,” a reality television show. Through a course of four months, she put in sweat and blood to become winner of the program that aired on SBS.
“I never thought I was going to win. I actually had a nightmare that it was all a dream,” Lee told The Korea Times over the phone. The Korea Times is a sister paper of the Hankook Ilbo, which hosts the Miss Korea pageant. She thanked SBS for giving her this miraculous opportunity.
The overweight former beauty queen shed 40.5 kilograms under the guidance of celebrity trainer Sean Lee. In the final episode, the five contestants who reduced the most body fat and weight were announced as finalists. Lee received the highest points of 19.5 points from judges and a group of panelists and became the winner.
After winning the pageant, she returned to her home city of Los Angeles and got married and started a business.
She said her business fared well, even through the global financial crisis in 2008. It was only this year that it started to go downhill, a painful experience that still hurts when she talks about it
The business failure led her to a vicious cycle where she drank heavily, and ate huge amounts as well. It was detrimental to her daily life. Her 13-year-old daughter wanted her mother to accompany her to water parks, but Lee lied saying that she was afraid of those places.
“I lied. It wasn’t that I was afraid. I was afraid to wear a bikini,” Lee said.
She doesn’t exactly know what prompted her to muster up the courage and take part in the survival program.
“It was one morning, 6 a.m. I got up and started searching over the Internet and clicked on the name ‘Sean Lee.” I looked at it, packed my bags and came,”Lee said.
“And I came as Lee Hye-chong the person, and put aside my former beauty pageant history aside,” she said.
As a woman in her 40s, she said dieting and working out was challenging for her, after the third month. The other finalists were mainly in their 20s and 30s. But her life experiences eventually made the challenge surmountable and even enjoyable. “I’ve got to like the low-salt diet,” she said.
The hardest part for Lee probably was being away from her daughter in the United States for months. Lee had to miss her 13th birthday.
“But when I apologized to my daughter over the phone, she said I gave her the best birthday present in the world by showing her that I can do it,” Lee said.
And personally for Lee, “I got my courage back,” she said.
Lee received 100 million won and a car in additional prizes and earned an opportunity to perform as a diet trainer on the small screen.
She wants to encourage other middle-aged women who are on diets that they can do it.
Lee advised others to keep a 3-day promise with oneself. “Tell yourself to stick to a regime for three days, and after the three days, renew that promise. This way you will get through months.”