Danni Allen can travel around the suburbs almost incognito because she looks different from what fans see on the NBC television show "The Biggest Loser."
While the weight-loss series is halfway to its March 18 live finale, all the other episodes were pre-shot, and the contestants are back in their real lives.
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For the 26-year-old Allen, who lives in Wheeling and is a graduate of Mundelein High School, that means working as an advertising coordinator for Camping World and Good Sam in Lincolnshire,
She's excited about revealing her new look next month, but some viewers do recognize her.
"I love running on the treadmill," she said in a recent interview. "Every now and then someone will ask 'Can I run alongside you? You are such an inspiration.'"
And she got a tweet that said "I think I was your cashier at Mariano's" shortly after grocery shopping.
Inspiring people in Wheeling and Mundelein to lead healthier lives is important to Allen, who appreciates the support she has received. One of the high school trainers helps her continue her workouts, and in Wheeling she sees gestures like "Go Danni! Wheeling's Biggest Loser Contestant" on a lighted sign.
This season for the first time three teens have joined the show to lose weight and organize events in their hometowns to help other youngsters learn how to stay in shape.
"I'm really excited to have kids on 'The Biggest Loser,'" Allen said. "They're our next generation, and we have such an epidemic of obesity. With three amazing kids we can help kick this epidemic in the butt."
Allen said some of her accomplishments in life -- playing varsity soccer, singing in the show choir, being president of the student council and earning great grades at Mundelein High School, for example -- came about at least partially because she felt she had to overachieve to overcome stigma associated with her weight.
When her father, Tom, had a serious health scare not long ago, she decided she had to take control of her life. She realized weight was even keeping her from going out with her friends.
"I was tired of living 70 percent of life," she said. "It affected me physically, emotionally and mentally."
"My whole life weight has embarrassed me. I hid in the shadows. I never could get control of it, I never spoke about it. If you don't talk about it maybe it doesn't exist."
The best thing about "The Biggest Loser" was "realizing I wasn't alone in this whole struggle," she said. "Fourteen other people were there, too. I felt very alone like I was the only person going through being overweight and being young."
Allen's revelations on the show were news to her family and friends, who said "we never realized how sad you were."
"And I said 'That's because I was never honest with myself,'" Allen said.
Eating right is probably about 80 percent of weight control, says Allen, who noted that 50 percent of "Biggest Loser" contestants regain weight after the cameras and trainers go away. But she's confident.
"I think I'm a lot less scared because I have such a supportive family and gym trainers," she said. "If I fall off the bandwagon, they're there to catch me. I am working to make home a safe zone."
Showing other people how to live healthier lifestyles is very important to Allen, who likes to quote a favorite family mantra: "Make my mess my message."