Battling weight: A 12-year-old's health journey

Ashlyn and her mom make a healthy dinner for the family.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- More than one-third of American children are obese, making that weight battle last for decades. It's a struggle one local 12-year-old is battling.

But she's hoping the work she's putting in now will prevent her from being an overweight adult.

Eating healthy is hard work, but worth it if you want to lose weight, says Ashlyn Conway.

"I've lost 31 pounds," she says.

Weight has been an issue for Conway for most of her life.

"It was hard because I would have to go in the women's section to get clothes and I couldn't go in the kids section because I couldn't fit in," she said.

She also didn't fit in at school; bullies made sure she knew it, too.

"Someone actually told me I'm too fat to live, so I should kill myself," Conway said.

The bullying broke her parents' hearts.

"She used to come home crying all the time," he said. "I got a bit of a temper and there are times I wanted to go rap some heads."

The abusive words only got worse in middle school.

"In the beginning of the year, I would always wear a jacket because I hated people seeing my -- I hated people seeing my arms and stuff," she said.

Conway hid from others and herself until a school nurse noticed what many had overlooked -- her walk. The nurse gave Conway a pamphlet for Louie's Kids, a health-focused group for overweight kids.{}

"At first I was kind of embarrassed and upset because no one has ever really confronted me about it, except like my doctor," Conway said.

Then the nurse's words sunk in. She said she was happy someone was willing to step in and offer her help.

Within six months, Conway had shed weight and something else.

"I've grown out of my shell. I'm not, I guess you can say, as anti-social as I was before," she said.

Her parents can't describe how proud they are of her physical -- and mental -- transformation.

"She's not worried about what people are thinking. It's still in the back of her mind, but she's able to manage for the most part," her dad said.

But those changes are not stopping with the 12-year-old Conway. She's turned getting healthy into a family affair.

"With Louie's Kids, I think it's more than just learning about how to lose weight. It's about learning how to mentally cope with the junk you're dealt," Conway said.

That junk used to litter the lives, minds and waist lines of the Conway family, but no more. Junk food and junk thinking are a thing of the past for this family.

"You knew the fat was there, but then you look at the sugar that turns into fat eventually and you just kind of drop your jaws like, 'I can't believe I used to eat that,'" Conway's mom said.

That means no more Dr. Pepper for dad. But there are new vegetables.

"Asparagus. I made asparagus one time and I like asparagus now," he said.

And Conway is sharing with her parents what many adults never learn.

"No on can force you to change yourself. You have to want to change yourself and want to become a better person. It might be hard, but you have to keep trying if you really want to do it," she said.

The change comes from within.

Conway not only changed the way she eats, she's also made regular exercise part of her life. Louie's Kids offers free workouts at Hampton Park in downtown Charleston at 6 p.m. on Thursday and 9 a.m. on Saturdays.

Anyone is welcome to attend.