04/17/2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
When a fractured hip
contributed to her elimination from The Biggest Loser
, former plus-size model Laura Denoux
's exit brought trainer Jillian
to tears. But Laura, 24, is happy now, leaving makeover week
with a new hairdo, new-found confidence, a new career and a new boyfriend. Back in Miami, Fla., Laura spoke to PEOPLE.com -- between rehabilitating her injuries and exercising to maintain her weight loss -- to talk about emotional eating, her life now and her killer spicy shrimp recipe! -- Rebecca GrossHow is your hip feeling and what are your workouts routines like?
I'm much better. My workouts mainly consist of going to physical therapy and cardio, which is limited to spinning on the bike or doing sit-down cardio because I can't put any pressure or weight on my hips. My hip is still fractured. ... So mainly, it's just upper body weights, the bike and swimming, but I prefer being in a gym and listening to my music.
How did you enjoy the makeover and did you get any great advice from Tim Gunn?
It was amazing! I'm still a redhead and I love it. They didn't show this, but I was crying a lot when they were doing my hair because I've been a blonde my whole life, but I love my hair and I'm used to it now. It was great to feel made over with new clothes, especially after being in sweats all day with T-shirts and sports bras. Tim Gunn let us know we were hiding behind big, baggy black clothes all the time. He wanted us to feel comfortable wearing color now that we have new bodies. With Jillian's help, were you able to work through the emotional issues and get to the bottom of why you gained weight?
Yes, one thing was my father passing away from cancer when I was 15. I was filling that emptiness with food. My parents were divorced since I was 5 and being on my own as an only child, I was always looking for food as a comfort. I always related food with my emotional self and now I'm learning that I can't use food as an emotional crutch anymore.
What are you up to these days?
I'm sitting in my office at my new job. I'm doing something very exciting that I'm extremely passionate about. Since being on Biggest Loser: Couples
and changing my lifestyle to diet and exercise, I'm now the Heart Walk Director for the American Heart Association in Miami.
How else has your social life changed since you've lost weight?
I have started to date somebody and so far everything is looking pretty good. I'm just a happier person and I think that everybody is seeing that. I go out and have fun. I like to shop. Before I would make excuses not to go out. I'm more comfortable and have more confidence and I know who I am now, whereas before I wasn't so sure.What is the biggest lesson you learned about food and diet?
Before the show, my diet consisted of eating out a lot and you never know what the restaurants are putting in the food, if they're using oil or butter or salt or sauces. Now I've learned to cook my own food and I've really been able to cut down on my calorie intake by not eating out as much. Something that I like to eat that I made up at the Ranch is this spicy shrimp dish. Shrimp is extremely low in calories. I just use Cholula hot sauce, Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray, and it's like something you'd get at a restaurant!