Everything to Gain
updated 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT
"It was obnoxious," admits the 30-year-old Franklin Square, N.Y., resident. Still, that gung-ho attitude earned her a spot on the second season of the reality series. It also helped Mendonca (who began at 230 lbs.) drop 40 lbs. before her elimination on the Oct. 11 episode. Since then, she's dropped another 40 lbs., and plans to lose 20 more before the Nov. 29 reunion taping. During shooting, Mendonca exercised six hours a day despite stress fractures in her foot.
"She never let on she was hurting," says Loser trainer Bob Harper. "She's one tough cookie."
There's a word no longer in her vocabulary. Before Loser, Mendonca routinely ended night shifts at McDonald's, where she'd put away four breakfast sandwiches and six hash browns before bed. "It sounds disgusting;" she says. "But I'd eat all that and the first thing I'd think when I'd wake up was 'When am I going to get my next fix?'"
Thanks to the habits she picked up in her eight weeks on Loser, Mendonca, who lives with fellow cop and fiancé Mike Ruocco, 29, now works out daily—kickboxing, spinning, running, bike riding—and eats a diet long on lean protein and vegetables (see box). Not that there haven't been lapses—like the time she polished off a box of Pop-Tarts. Still, she says, "you have to forgive yourself."
Moments of weakness notwithstanding, no food gives Mendonca the joy she felt trying on size 10 wedding dresses at bridal designer Henry Roth's Manhattan showroom in early October. Emerging from the dressing room in a strapless gown, Mendonca got giddy seeing herself in the mirror. "Oh, God, I have a flat stomach!" she squealed. She plans on keeping it that way until her wedding day next May or June. "I will never set foot in a fast-food restaurant again," she says.
Mendonca's love affair with food goes back to childhood in Fairhaven, Mass., when she would fill up on family favorites like spicy Portuguese sausages and bread. By high school she was overweight, but also a jock who ran track, played basketball and made the cheer-leading squad. ("I was never the one they threw up in the air," she says. "I was the one at the base of the pyramid.") She and Ruocco met in 2001, after Finishing police academy. "She was the first girl I'd gone out with who finished everything on her plate," he says. "I definitely got my money's worth!"
When back pain due to an on-the-job car accident left Mendonca immobile for five months in '04, her weight soared, which prompted her to try out for Loser. Since leaving the show, she's inspired the 6'4" Ruocco to lose about 15 lbs. from his 260-lb. frame. "The things she learned are brushing off on me," he says.
For Mendonca, there's no turning back. "If you told me a year ago that I could lose 80 lbs., I would have said you were nuts," she says. "I love my life today. I cannot go back to what it was."
Jennifer Wulff. Debbie Seaman in New York City