From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Last year, as America was watching the Super Bowl, "Big Vinny" Hickerson was focusing on an entirely different kind of battle-one to save his own life. Lying in a hospital bed, weighing 450 lbs., with girlfriend Lori Diaz crying at his bedside, the Trailer Choir star had just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and cellulitis, and doctors had told him he'd be dead in two years if he didn't do something. "I realized I'd given myself a disease because of how I'd been living," says Hickerson. "I was like, 'I'm 27 years old; this is not the way it's supposed to be.'"

So Hickerson decided to make some changes. He reached out to friend Dana DeSilvio, who had been a contestant on the reality series The Biggest Loser and had been urging Hickerson to try out for the show. "I called Dana up from the hospital and said, 'When's the audition?'"

Even before the show began taping in June, producers asked Hickerson to keep a food journal. "I always thought, 'I don't eat that much,'" he says. "Then I started writing it down." He learned that an average day-which could include three chicken-and-biscuit sandwiches with hash browns for breakfast, a slice of pizza as a midday snack, cheese dip and then a "big ol' cheeseburger" for lunch, a chicken dish for dinner and Doritos dipped in ice cream for a late-night snack-would often total over 10,000 calories. "If nothing else explained it to me," he says, "just seeing how much I put in my body did."

Within six weeks on the show, Hickerson had so changed his lifestyle that he no longer needed medication to manage his diabetes. After six months he was down to 242 lbs. and is currently 238 lbs. His daily menu includes eggs and spinach for breakfast, a yogurt snack, then a protein shake for lunch, followed by a string-cheese snack and then fish and vegetables for dinner. "I'm in the gym seven days a week. I look in the mirror and I'm like, 'Yeah!' My triceps are cut!,'" says Hickerson, 28. "Whatever else is happening during the day, I make sure I dedicate that hour and a half to myself."

He's also dedicated himself to his new fiancee. He and Diaz, 30, are planning an October wedding. And when they jet off on their honeymoon, there will be one more moment for Hickerson to be proud of. "I sometimes had to buy two seats when flying," says Hickerson. "Now I don't even have to use a seat-belt extender." In November Hickerson plans to have surgery to remove 25 lbs. of excess skin. "Earning the right to get the surgery comes from keeping the weight off," he says. "I need to prove this is my lifestyle forever, so I'm waiting."

For now, he's focusing on making music with bandmate Marc "Butter" Fortney, and the duo expect to have a new album out this summer. "Everyone loved the 400 lb. break-dancer, but I'm excited to have the world focus on what we do as songwriters as well as entertainers," says Fortney. Adds Hickerson: "We'll still be dancing, and I still got my overalls, but I'm excited to show off that I can wear jeans now too."