Bethpage native Tara Costa was used to being in the limelight. A former plus-size model, Costa was paid to pose for photo shoots. However she said her recent weight gain has left her feeling self-conscious and frightened for her health.
"When you get to a point when you're so overweight and you stop living, that's a problem and that's where I was," she said. "I was a person who used to get paid to wear clothes and now I'm ashamed to take pictures."
That's when Costa, 24, decided to audition for season 7 of the television reality show, The Biggest Loser: Couples.
"Thank God it worked out because it has changed my life," Costa said.
The series challenges and encourages overweight contestants to shed pounds in a safe and recommended manner through diet and exercise as they compete for a grand prize of $250,000.
Costa, a financial manager at L'Oréal and her friend, Laura - also a former plus-size model, are part of a team on the show. She began the show 12 weeks ago at 294 pounds and has lost 99 pounds as of this week's show.
While Costa said her goal is around the 155-range, she added that she is "going to where I can feel comfortable."
During week 11 of the show, Costa had only lost two pounds. While she said she dieted and exercised before, Costa could never break the 200-pound barrier.
"You're working out so intently and for such long hours and you do get tired," she added. "That was the hardest week for me to try and break that. It's also a mental block I believe because when you feel comfortable around a certain weight and I do feel comfortable around that 200-pound and I was able to work and model there. It's still not normal. I'm still overweight."
Costa said her motivation is regaining her life.
"I didn't want to do anything," she added. "I was so embarrassed of myself. My friends would go to the Library Café for happy hour on Fridays and I wouldn't want to go just because I didn't feel comfortable there. I took myself out of the game of life."
At the ranch where the series is taped, Costa and other contestants' lives are lived on camera for the most part.
"They're with you 24/7," she said. "There are cameras everywhere. Right now I don't even know that they're there. I've allowed myself to be who I am. There's no faking it with me. What you see is what you get.
The most difficult part about being on the ranch for Costa is that you are there for weight loss competition with game aspects that will "get to you."
"But this is your life," Costa added. "You have to think - big picture. I just try to give it everything I have."
Even though being away from family and friends for so long is difficult, Costa said "it was the most beneficial for me to actually transform and change."
"It allowed me the opportunity to reflect only upon myself and to not be deterred from my normal life's routine," she continued.
Although Costa currently resides in Manhattan, she said she still frequents Bethpage on the weekends to visit her family.
The show airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.