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From a size 22 to a 2: 'The Biggest Loser's' Helen Phillips

May 13, 2009 | 11:57 am

Helen "The Biggest Loser's" Helen Phillips said she knew what her more youthful competitors were thinking: "They never considered me a threat... They just looked at me and said, 'You know what? She's 48, she's never going to make it.' "

And that's just the way she wanted it.

Mike, 19, and Tara, 24, were considered by many to be the front-runners going into the Season 7 finale. But instead, victory was snatched by Helen, the retired retail manager who showed up at the ranch at 257 pounds and went on to lose 140 pounds — or 54.47% of her body weight. She went from a size 22 to a size 2, and in the process won the $250,000 prize and the title of  the Biggest Loser, becoming the oldest person to ever do so.

"Lucky for me, huh? I kept my mouth shut and flew low under the radar," said Helen, sounding jubilant despite just three hours of sleep — she was whisked off to New York after Tuesday night's finale so she could be interviewed on TV bright and early this morning.

She said she struggled at times during the season when she lost challenges to younger, stronger players. (You can take a look back at the season here.) Now, though, it all makes sense:

"There's a reason I didn't win anything else — I was meant to win the big one."

Helen said her decision to lay low was her only foray into game play — the rest was old-fashioned hard work and, cliched as it might sound, starting to believe in herself.

Got-milk She said that when she got to "The Biggest Loser" ranch, she couldn't blame anyone for dismissing her. "I never believed in myself in the beginning, either." But when she made that decision, when she said, "I'm tired of doubting myself," something clicked. "The minute I started doing that, things changed for me."

While many of this season's contestants — Aubrey, David and Joelle — struggled to continue losing weight after they were sent home from the ranch, Helen excelled. She began working with the football coach at her son's high school and worked out a jaw-dropping six hours a day doing old-school workouts like flipping tractor tires end over end for a full-body workout and running bleachers over and over and over.

"I really stayed focused when I got home," said Helen, describing the grueling regimen.

 She'd wake up at 4:30 in the morning, hit the gym for two hours, go back for two hours midday and then back again at the end of the day for two more hours. In between? "Plenty of good food and rest. It paid off. I was concentrating on finishing my journey."

She said the prize must be shared with her husband, who "held down the home front" for eight months and allowed her to focus on herself. She said No. 1 on her list of things to do is to take hubby to the Bellagio in Vegas and "give him a break."

Biggest-loser-makeovers Next up for Helen? A whole new life. Helen, who just shot a "Got milk?" ad, said she wants to open a spinning and wellness center and become a motivational speaker, focusing on men and women of a certain age or those who fear they are too busy with family obligations. "They don't need to settle because they're middle age. Get on a diet and exercise and nutritional plan ... make it a family affair."

One downside to the 140-pound weight loss is lose skin, particularly in the chest. She said she would not rule out surgery, but first she is going to apply the same tried-and-true tactics that got her this far. To date, she had focused on losing weight. Now she will focus on toning and building muscle strength and see where that leaves her before she makes any other decisions.

She's not worried that this new workout regimen may put on a few extra pounds -- "It will all be lean muscle."

— Rene Lynch

(Photos courtesy NBC, Milk Processor Education Program)

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