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Valerie Phillips: 'Biggest Loser' celeb Denise Hill isn't one in game of life

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 4:52 p.m. MDT

Diane Sheya, right, helps students select ingredients.

2011 Photograph courtesy of Judy

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Be careful what you wish for! A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about NBC's "The Biggest Loser," speculating as to if/why some of the contestants purposely left the show. Since I'd heard that contestant Denise "Deni" Hill of Bountiful likes Zumba, I remarked that I hoped to someday bump into her in a Zumba class.

The morning the column ran, I was dancing away in a Body Jam class at the Skills Fitness Center in Centerville. It dawned on me that the woman dancing next to me looked familiar. I did a double-take, and finally got the nerve to ask. Yes, it was Deni Hill. And she's looking a LOT thinner than when she left the show about four-and-a-half months ago.

Next week at the show's finale on May 24, she has a shot at winning the $100,000 prize for the eliminated player that has lost the highest percentage of weight.

"I do feel that I will be in the top four, and I plan to be number one," she said. "But if I say anything less than 'Of course I'm going to win,' my husband tells me I need to think positive."

She can't divulge her weight, but said she's lost at least as many pounds at home as she did during her time at the Biggest Loser Ranch. And the 59-year-old Hill was consistently among the top four players for weight loss while she was on the show. Not bad for the second oldest contestant this season.

Hill confessed that she's been so busy that she hasn't had time to watch all of the episodes of this season's show.

"But it's actually kind of fun watching it," she said. "I thought they portrayed us very well, just like we really were."

The most important thing she learned from the experience is "I can do anything that I set my heart to. We were all able to do way more than we ever thought we could," she said, referring to the intense physical challenges and grueling workouts.

It's a far cry from the old Deni. "I watched every season of the Biggest Loser from the beginning, I would sit there with my ice cream and cry."

When she came back from "the ranch," she quit her desk job as an administrative assistant so that she could exercise 31/2 to 41/2 hours a day.

"I knew if I wanted to do this, I needed to make it a full-time job," she said. "I'm lucky enough to have the support at home."

She works out with two different personal trainers — one at Four Pillar Fitness and another at the South Davis Recreation Center. She also attends fitness classes from yoga to Zumba, and puts in mile after mile on the treadmill.

"A personal trainer is great, but not everyone can afford it," she said, when asked about weight-loss advice. "But many gyms or rec centers offer classes that are as good as a personal trainer. Take advantage of those classes."

She credits her daughter Sarah Nitta's "cute personality" for getting past the interview process to get on the show, adding, "She was my golden ticket."

Her exit from the show was a bit controversial: She and another parent, Jesse Wornum, purposely gained water weight to be sent home. Because of alliances forged among some of the other players, Hill said she felt the need to sacrifice herself to save Sarah from possible elimination. But Sarah was sent home two weeks later.

"Hindsight is 20-20," Hill said. "At the time, I thought that was my only choice to keep Sarah. Now I wish I would have just tried as hard to lose as much weight as I could. But it's what it is."

Eliminated players aren't forgotten, however. The Biggest Loser's trainers, Brett Hoebel and Cara Castronuova, regularly call her with advice and support. She's also able to turn to the staff dietitian, Cheryl Forsberg, for nutrition advice.

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