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$300 loan.

It’s been a few months since the conclusion of The Biggest Loser, but I still occasionally think about the winner, Danni Allen, and the battles she faced on the show.

Danni, 26, lost 121 pounds total, going from a women’s size 22 to size 4. When she walked onstage at the live finale, my jaw dropped and I shouted “wow!” so loud my husband came downstairs to check on me. It was emotional to watch her lose weight on the show: Most of her team members were voted off so that, for several weeks, she was on her own. She was also on Jillian Michaels’s team, who’s favorite pastimes with clients include climbing on their shoulders or backs while they do exercises, yelling loudly at them to work harder, and this season, pouring a bucket of water on the head of Danni, who was considering giving up on her workout.

Now, I’m not really a fan of Michaels’s approach — I appreciate no-nonsense, but I respect the signals my body sends me and listen when I need to slow down. When I watch The Biggest Loser, however, I always remember that this is a TV show meant for entertainment not education. Although you may learn something, I would suggest hiring a trainer to understand proper form if you’d like to replicate some of the exercises they do on the show. And while we may find ourselves in need of a nutrition-education makeover, they tend to harp on calories a bit more than I prefer. Yet…

Given my combined love of TV and my interested in health and weight loss, I’ve watched most of the seasons since its inception, and even got a chance to interview season 11 runner-up Hannah Curlee when she was in town a few years back. The bonus now: I DVR the show, so if I feel like there’s too much yelling or drama about game play, I can fast-forward. I’m really most interested in the contestants’ interviews, and how they are feeling about where they are at in the process.

We’ve also discussed the weight-loss show phenomenon in the magazine before, and do have some concerns that hopefully people keep in mind: This type of weight loss is dramatic, and some critics worry it’s not healthy for the body. As you gain and lose weight, your body needs time to reset its metabolic processes. If you’ve lost weight quickly before and found yourself starving, even at a lighter weight, it’s no surprise: Your body and hormones are still reacting the same as when you were consuming larger amounts of food, so you’re still getting signals that you should eat more.

And we see a lot of the sweat and tears and assume the participants are working out all day long — that’s not the case. They work out with the trainers for about three hours every day, according to Curlee, then the rest of the day is their own to walk, hike, swim or bike, or just lay around if they choose. Wherever you stand on the show, I do think the stories are fascinating, and many of the messages about why we turned to food for comfort are universal for those struggling to maintain a healthy weight.

I was particularly surprised (and impressed) with this past season: There seemed to be more compassion coming from the trainers (there was even a touching episode where Bob started crying with finalist Jeff, telling him he truly wanted the best for him; it seemed very genuine and was touching to watch, so much so that I’m embedding that video below, too), the contestants themselves were less competitive and kinder to each other, and the focus on strength and improved health seemed to trump weight loss. Even Michaels softened. And Dolvett, the newest trainer from last season, continued to serve as an enthusiastic coach, no doubt motivating his team with that dashing smile. They even addressed childhood obesity.

But back to Danni and why I’m still thinking about her success…
There was something in her story that really spoke to me. A young woman wanting to be healthy and confident, wanting to make her dad proud, and stuck in the mindset of “if I were skinnier, I’d be able to do that.” To see her commitment on the show and her joy at the finale was really inspiring. She said she felt like a winner no matter what. And her continued message about getting your mind right is one I value and one that’s helped me lose weight. Hear more from Danni, and see before/after photos and show footage, in this interview from the Today show:

And here’s that sweet moment with runner-up Jeff and trainer Bob:

Thoughts to share?

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