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Valerie Phillips: Utah 'Loser': You need to move to lose

Published: Tuesday, May 31 2011 5:58 p.m. MDT

Denise Denise "Deni" Hill and daughter Sarah Nitta pose after finishing NBC's "The Biggest Loser." (Provided by Deni Hill, Nbc)

She said she would do it, and she did.

Denise "Deni" Hill, a 59-year-old Bountiful mother of eight, won $100,000 on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" TV show last week, for losing the highest percentage of weight among the previously eliminated contestants.

Hill went from 256 pounds at the beginning of the competition to 131 at the season finale. She lost 125 pounds, or 48.83 percent of her body weight.

She was only slightly bested by grand-prize winner Olivia Ward, who went from 261 pounds to 132, for a 49.2 percent weight loss. Ward won the $250,000 grand prize and title of "Biggest Loser."

"That was my plan," Hill said matter-of-factly during an interview on Friday, as she was driving home from California. "It was all really thrilling."

One of the most exciting parts of the experience was seeing the other contestants, who were transformed by their weight loss.

Denise Denise "Deni" Hill and her daughter Sarah Nitta after the finale of NBC's Biggest Loser. Deni took home $100,000 for losing the highest percentage of weight among the previously eliminated contestants. She lost 125 pounds or 48.83 percent of her body weight. (Provided by Deni Hill, Nbc)

"We all get along well, and we were all so happy for each other," Hill said. One of the most changed was Justin Pope of Logan, who went from 365 to 193 pounds.

"When he first came up to me and gave me a hug, I didn't know who he was," she said. "He looked fabulous. It was incredible."

In fact, Pope came very close to beating Hill for the eliminated contestant prize. Pope partnered with Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, who voluntarily left the show and didn't attend the finale.

Pope and Gardner are partners in a Logan gym, and Hill said that Pope is also hoping to open a low-cost facility for kids and families. She plans to donate some of her prize money to buy spin bikes for it.

And although $100,000 sounds like a big payoff, after taxes and tithing (Hill is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and paying off debts, "It's basically gone," she said. "But I will be out of debt."

Denise Denise "Deni" Hill and daughter Sarah Nitta pose at the start of "The Biggest Loser." (Provided by Deni Hill, Nbc)

Hill's exit from the show was a bit controversial. During Week 8, she and another parent, Jesse Wornum, purposely gained weight to be sent home — "I drank a lot of water and ate really salty food," she said.

Because of alliances forged among some of the other players, Hill said she felt the need to sacrifice herself to save her daughter, Sarah, from possible elimination.

But Sarah ended up being 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."

When Hill came home, she quit her sedentary job as an administrative assistant, and worked out 3½ to 4½ hours each day. She used two personal trainers — one at Four Pillars Fitness and another at the South Davis Recreation Center, and she also attended workout classes at the Skills Fitness Center.

She also received weekly deliveries of meals, a gift from eDiets to all of the contestants.

"I didn't use them all the time, because I like to have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables," she said. "But it really helped once in awhile when I didn't have time to cook for myself and I was dashing out the door."

Hill said she's gotten some complaints on "The Biggest Loser" message board that not everyone can afford to quit their job to lose weight.

She pointed out that Ana Alvarado was able to lose a great deal of weight despite being eliminated the first week of the show. (And Ana would also be a shoo-in for the Miss Congeniality Award, Hill added.)

"But Ana is a letter carrier with the Post Office, so she walks a route every day. My job was sitting at a desk eight hours a day, and my goal was to win. Now I will just maintain the weight I am at.

"I lost it fast, but if I can do it, anyone can do it," she said. "I was a total couch potato. You can find time in the morning or after work. You just need to move to lose."

And, don't shy away from the gym because you think you're too heavy, she advised.

"That's what the fitness center is there for. I was so intimidated going to a gym, but they are for heavy people, not just people who are already in shape. Find one that will show you how to use the machines and give you a program to follow, so you don't get intimidated. A personal trainer is great, but if you can't afford one, go to the exercise classes. There are all sizes in the classes."

Also thrilling was hearing her body fat statistics.

"I went from 52 percent body fat to 22 percent. That's an athlete. And I can't believe my kness. They were so bad before, because I was carrying an extra 125 pounds. And my sleep apnea is gone."

And now, she'll be job hunting. She half-jokes that her ideal job would be at Costco, "because I would have health insurance and I'd be doing a lot of moving and lifting."

She hopes to have an opportunity to do motivational speaking, and will be doing some work with Nu Skin as well.

She's especially proud of her daughter Sarah, who looked fabulous at the finale in a hot pink, size 4 knit dress. Sarah actually brought it for her mother to wear.

"It looked good on me, but it looked fabulous on her," Hill said. "The dress I wore was one that I brought with me from Nordstom. I had a lot of neat comments that I looked very beautiful and modest, which was my intent."

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com. Email: vphillips@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company