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Tara Costa: 'I love my experience on the show'

Tara Costa, 24, of Bethpage, was in the

Tara Costa, 24, of Bethpage, was in the running for a $250,000 prize on "The Biggest Loser" finale. Credit: NBC Photos

Who: Tara Costa, 24
Town: Bethpage
Occupation: Was on NBC's " The Biggest Loser ;" Former financial manager

Height: 5'9"
Weight before: 294 (Oct. 2008)
Weight after: 139 (Show finale, May 2009)

Her story: Tara Costa dropped 155 pounds in front of millions of viewers and competed in "The Biggest Loser" finale on May 12. Although the top prize went to fellow "Loser" contestant Helen Phillips of Sterling Heights, Mich., Costa proved herself to be fiercely competitive and determined on the show. She remembers a time not long ago when her attitude was completely different.

Costa became a plus-size model at 13. By her early-20s she had started gaining weight and was dropped from her modeling agency. As a recent graduate of New York University, things "spiraled out of control," she said.

Her job in finance was demanding, and required long hours. She threw herself into work and stopped paying attention to her health. "I let my professional career take over my health and well-being," she said.

Costa said she was embarrassed and ashamed of her weight gain and changed her lifestyle accordingly. She stopped taking trips to visit friends because she didn't want them to see how she looked. She was also afraid of having to buy a seatbelt extender on flights. The downward cycle continued as she took solace in eating. "The only thing that comforted me was food," she said.

Sitting on her couch with ice cream and cookies, she watched the season 5 finale of "The Biggest Loser" while "bawling my eyes out," she said. But something had changed. Instead of sinking deeper into her unhappiness, she thought, "If they can do it, so can I," she said. The next day she went to her local gym and signed up. She also applied online to be a contestant on the show.

What she eats: Before landing a spot on "Loser," her diet was unbalanced and carbohydrate heavy. For breakfast she'd eat a bagel with cream cheese with a large French vanilla coffee. She'd have pretzels or trail mix for a snack, and then eat a wrap with grilled chicken or salami, plus fries on the side for lunch. For an afternoon snack she often ate cookies with a coffee. For dinner, she would order something quick near her office -- a burger and fries or chicken Parmesan. She finished off almost every night with something sweet.

Now, her diet is balanced, with plenty of protein and leafy greens, plus three to four liters of water a day. She has Ezekiel raisin toast, three egg whites and one egg with mixed peppers and a sprinkling of cheese, two slices of turkey bacon and a cup of tea for breakfast. She has a 150-200 calorie snack of trail mix in the early afternoon, and then a "huge" salad with some type of protein, veggies and miso-Caesar dressing for lunch. In the afternoon she drinks a protein shake with almond milk, protein powder and strawberries. For dinner she has fish -- orange ruffie, tilapia or salmon -- with a large portion of vegetables, often broccoli or green beans.

Workouts: Before the show, Costa said she could barely get up the subway stairs, much less exercise. She would enter her office building "dripping sweat" after her commute, she said.

Training for the show's California finale while in Bethpage, Costa's workout routine was intense. She thinks post-finale she'll continue her morning jogs, five to six miles six days per week. She'll also stick with three to four spinning classes per week and start lifting light weights.

Final thoughts: As she's demonstrated week after week on "The Biggest Loser," dropping weight is about perseverance. While some days are more difficult than others, "you need to realize that it's a lifestyle," she said. "It's your choice and tomorrow is going to be a better day."

Even without the final prize, Costa is proud of herself and the huge change she's made in both her looks and her attitude. "I love my experience on the show," she said. "I wouldn't ask for anything more."