“Why are you fat?”
Jillian [Michaels] asked me this pointblank. That question changed my life. You can’t change anything without discovering the “why” behind it.
Danni Allen lost 121 pounds — going from a size 20 to a size 4 — during her time on season 14 of “The Biggest Loser.” She took home the $250,000 first-place prize, but the real reward is that she reclaimed her life and, thanks to trainer extraordinaire Jillian Michaels, has the tools to live a healthy active one.
The 26-year-old from Wheeling, Ill., became the last member of Michael’s team early in the season. Known for pushing her team members hard, Allen said she was scared at first.
“Jillian was rather harsh in the beginning,” she explained. “It wasn’t until later that I realized the method to her madness. You can’t rebuild without breaking it down first. Once I was ‘broken,’ I couldn’t get any lower. Everything was exposed. That was my breaking point, and that is when my mental strength built up. I knew then that Jillian wasn’t a villain; she was someone giving me tools that I could use for the rest of my life.”
As the season went on, their relationship developed and they both learned to trust each other. Allen said she found a new level of fitness that she never knew.
“I got to be her workout buddy at a Parkour gym. So fun!”
After 10 weeks on the Biggest Loser Ranch, winning every challenge except two, Allen had secured her spot in the final three. Jillian helped give her the foundation to have success outside of the ranch.
“I was able to go through a discovery process of what was right for me; I think everyone should do this. We are all different — there isn’t one answer for everyone. Though I have success on my own, I do think surrounding myself with people to encourage my lifestyle is very important. I didn’t cut anyone or anything in particular from my life, but added many more positive influences.”
With the help of a BodyMedia armband, a wearable weight-loss and activity monitoring system, Allen was able to track her caloric burn and intake every day. Allen says you can’t lie to yourself if you write it down. The BodyMedia armband ensures that you’re not “tricking” yourself about how you actually ate or worked out each day.
She started the competition at 258 pounds. By the season-ending grand finale show, Allen was down to 137 pounds. The runner up, Jeff Nichols, lost to Allen by only 1 pound. Now that she is back to her “normal” life, Allen had to make a lot of adjustments. Since she has a crazy schedule, she has to fit in workouts when she can.
“I am grateful that I found a love for running — no matter where I am, I can always go out and run; it’s my therapy,” she said. “I also am an avid spin cyclist. Before the finale, I found a home with Fly Wheel Spin Studio. There are classes at any time of day, and I know when I leave that I got a killer workout.”
Last year, Allen’s father was hospitalized in the intensive care unit. Much of his illness was triggered by his weight and poor health. Through his recovery, Allen said, she realized she needed to change her habits or in 25 years she would be the one in a hospital bed.
“Watching my dad take his life back helped me push forward and keep the motivation I needed,” she said.
During a conference call with reporters in March, Allen reported that her father is doing very well and he’s now on the bandwagon to start his healthy life.
Her mother is also an inspiration and one of her favorite workout buddies. They both love to box. Allen says it gives them “a heck of a burn and it’s just plain fun!”
“I love working out with my mom. She is so curious and excited about fitness. My mom seems to do everything right; she eats right, works out regularly and also knows how to let loose. We even worked out on Christmas Day this year — a new tradition we plan to uphold,” she said. “There are times when I was challenged mentally, and she was there to give me support and perspective. ”
“I think the biggest thing that I hope people learn from my experience is that you can do this! Whether it is weight-loss-related or not, everyone has some aspect of their life they wish would improve, she said. “Everyone has untapped fire and strength within. If I can do it, you can.”
If you’re in the beginning phase of a new weight-loss program, Allen advises you to understand that you are making a change to your lifestyle, not just to your diet. She also recommends investing in your health by finding a trainer, nutritionist and/or psychiatrist.
“Much of weight-loss is mental — you need to ask yourself the hard ‘why am I the way that I am?’ I think a professional in the fitness/mental field is a must — trust me. I was SO lucky to have Jillian,” Allen says.
Whether it is your thoughts for the day, food you ate or who annoyed you on the drive home, Allen advises you to write it down.
“Look at your nutrition wheel to see how your energy was that day and tweak your diet accordingly. Seeing it laid out in front of you really helps!”
To stay fueled and healthy, Allen starts her mornings with gluten-free oatmeal, eggs and berries.
“Breakfast is my largest meal and helps keep me full and fueled,” she said. “I try to balance in a lot of lean proteins and green veggies. Do you know how many green veggies there are? Tons! I am also not about deprivation at all; I still love my sweets. A great guilt-free sweet snack is Frozen Fage 0% Greek Yogurt with Crystal Light mixed in — delish!”