Allison Sweeney: Successful 'Loser'

Making the leap from daytime to primetime television, Alison Sweeney vacillates
between playing Days of Our Lives villain Sami Brady and simply being herself as
she supports and motivates The Biggest Loser contestants to slim down and change
their lives forever. How can a natural beauty such as Alison understand dieting
challenges? Because she, too, has struggled with her weight—and has successfully
unlocked the secrets to staying slim, energetic and healthy.

By Patrick Dougherty

January 2008

    NBC didn’t have to look far to find the perfect host for season four of its smash-hit reality program The Biggest Loser. Alison Sweeney, the blonde bombshell actress and star of the network’s long-running daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives, easily slid into hosting the popular diet contest show, ready to assist contestants with a lifetime of her own hard-earned weight management wisdom.

First arriving on the soap opera scene at age 15, Sweeney has portrayed popular Days character Sami Brady through thick and thin. . .literally. On the show, Sweeney’s own dieting struggles were in plain view, as her weight fluctu­ated from season to season. As if the camera adding those proverbial ten pounds wasn’t hard enough, Sweeney’s weight management issues were further magnified in front of an audience of millions—in a notoriously unforgiving television genre known for its almost impossibly slender starlets. (And you think that dealing with the image in your own bathroom mirror is rough!)

Despite the soap opera world’s scrutiny and the sometimes unreasonable standards of beauty, Sweeney persevered through the years. In her book All the Days of My Life (So Far) (Kensington Books), Sweeney candidly relates the ups and downs of her journey to well-being and happiness—from finding balance between work and romance to finally discovering a successful and realistic weight management regimen.

Today, Sweeney is a radiant vision of natural beauty. Glowing with health and inspired by the arrival of her son Ben in 2005, Sweeney has elevated her personal well-being and health advocacy to a whole new level. Always seeking to spread the good word on nutrition and natural health, Sweeney has helped to launch a campaign designed to educate parents on the importance of good nutrition for toddlers. And she has further supported natural living by touting the environmental benefits of baking soda as a non-toxic, eco-friendly alternative to chemical-based household cleaners.

The nurturing, compassionate personality that drives these efforts has also made Sweeney the ideal host for The Biggest Loser. On the show, Sweeney offers contestants much-needed emotional support and sincere encouragement—along with powerful inspiration that could only come from someone who has conquered her own weight management demons. Energy Times sat down with Alison Sweeney to discuss The Biggest Loser, her work promoting toddler nutrition and her secrets for natural beauty and healthy weight management.

Energy Times: Fans of The Biggest Loser can easily see how contestants transform physically. But can you talk about the changes we can’t see—how they transform mentally as well?

Alison Sweeney: This show truly changes contestants’ lives. It’s such an amazing experience to watch them all go through so many changes, because so much of struggling with weight is mental.

Overcoming that is a big part of what they work on and what the contestants have to focus on as they go through this experience on the show. A lot of it happens behind the scenes, and a lot of it happens inside themselves, but it all starts with that first success—when you get on the scale and you see a change, you feel a change. On the show, you have professional trainers really motivating you and letting you know that you can push yourself harder than you ever expected. Those are the beginning steps to mental commitment. One of the show elements that reflects those mental aspects is the “goal shirt” [contestants are given a shirt with a printed message of a goal they are to achieve]. One contestant, Julie, had a goal shirt I personally related to; it said “To Finish What I Started, For Once.” I think that message is so true. How many people can say that they’ve tried a fad diet and it doesn’t work, so they give up? But weight management is one of those things you can’t give up on easily; you have to focus, try hard and give 100%. That’s what contestants are doing on The Biggest Loser.

ET: Can you talk a little bit about your own struggles with weight management?

AS: I’ve been upfront about my struggles with weight my whole life. I’ve been on Days of Our Lives since I was 15 years old, so anyone who watched the show could see when I was struggling with weight—there was no way to hide it. I saw this as an opportunity to be open about what I was going through and how difficult it has been for me. So many other people know what it’s like to walk that road and struggle with their weight. They know what it’s like to be unhappy when looking in the mirror. I ended up writing a book, where I talk about these struggles extensively, as well as talking about my own routine and what my habits are. I’m definitely not a nutritionist and I don’t have professional training, but I’ve spent a lot of time with different trainers and people who gave me advice on how to eat right. In the end, I had to figure out what was best for me. I’m a working mom with two full-time jobs; I have a son to raise too, which is a third full-time job. I had to figure out how to accommodate getting healthy meals in my day and working out as often as I could. That’s the balance. The mental aspect for me is that I’m not going to beat myself up if I have a sweet one day; I’m not going to kill myself over it. I’m going to pick myself up and be extra careful tomorrow, and move on.

ET: What inspired you to become as active as you are in toddlers’ nutrition?

AS: Having my own child motivated me to get educated about children’s nutrition. I took it very seriously because I personally struggled with my weight and I wanted to get my son on the right path from the beginning. I didn’t want him to learn bad habits like I learned; I wanted to give him the best possible tools for the healthiest metabolism from day one. Many experts say that’s how it’s done: getting kids off on the right track. Simple things, like getting him accustomed to eating fruit instead of sweets. Making sure he gets his fruits and vegetables every day. It’s easy to forget; you’re working and you’re on the go—but that was a major priority for me and my husband when we had Ben.

What I discovered along the way was that there’s a lot of information on how to care for a child the first year: formula versus breastfeeding, how to introduce solid foods, etc. But once they get to toddler age, it’s sort of not discussed anymore. As it is now, the government assigns kids adult portions, calories per day and serving sizes. . .and it’s like wait a second, my two-year-old child should not be having the same serving size as my husband! So I just want to speak out about how important it is to learn what nutrition is right for toddlers.

ET: Do you use any tricks to get Ben to eat his veggies?

AS: I consider myself a stricter parent. I reinforce that I’m the parent and that he has to eat fruits and vegetables. Luckily he loves salad! He’ll eat any lettuce leaf and mixed greens from the farmer’s market. Last summer he was eating organic lettuce we grew in our backyard. He’ll eat broccoli and green beans, especially if he gets to dip them in sauces. So I’ll make honey mustard dressing and let him dip green beans and asparagus in that, almost treating it like a French fry. He’ll get the hang of it and think it’s fun. I’m a big proponent of making sure your kids get their fruits and vegetables, however they can do it.

ET: You’re incredibly busy—how do you get your nutrition?

AS: I focus on planning ahead. I’ll take a weekend trip to the farmer’s market or health food store and buy whole-grain bread and other healthy foods to arm myself. This is one of the tricks I learned while working on The Biggest Loser. For example when I came to work this morning, I brought organic yogurt and fresh fruit from home, and an apple and some natural peanut butter for a snack, and whole grain bread for toast. I’m obsessed with almonds, I love them, and so I get them in bulk and keep them in my car or in my bag. If you let yourself get too hungry it’s bad for your metabolism.

Starving will not help you lose weight; the next time you eat, your body will instinctively hoard all of that, because it’s afraid you’re going to starve it again. Also, if you try to starve yourself you’ll eat worse food or more food than you would eat if you ate a little bit throughout the day. Snack to keep yourself from becoming super hungry. Having snacks handy—almonds, string cheese, an apple—helps me avoid making bad choices. It tides me over until I can get home and have a healthy meal.

ET: How do you stay energized?

AS: The more I work out, the more energy I have. I’ll be exhausted for that ten minutes after the workout, but I find that it gives me much more energy throughout the day. I end up craving it if I miss a day. Eating healthy and eating the right foods also gives me energy.

ET: Can you discuss the benefits of cleaning with baking soda as it relates to the idea of maintaining a non-toxic household?

AS: It is important to make sure that your house is clean and healthy. You have to have the right products that will give your children every opportunity to have a healthy life in a healthy environment. When I was a new mom, I needed all the advice I could get. One of the best suggestions was to use baking soda to clean all of my baby’s toys and bottles. I was concerned about using harsh cleaning products for my son, so using the baking soda to clean his bottles and his teething toys was the perfect solution for me. My son has a favorite blanket, and it gets pretty grubby, even after it’s been washed. Using baking soda to freshen it up a little helps clean it and removes all those unpleasant odors. You know, people talk a lot about going green—I’m so inspired to be a part of that, to be a part of the solution. So I really try to take any opportunity to get people the right information and help them be part of the solution.

ET: Do you have any natural beauty tips for our readers?

AS: It may be a bit counterintuitive, but I find less makeup is better and that people love a fresh face. Keep your skin clean and scrubbed to get that healthy glow. I’m a big fan of protecting my skin from the sun; I’m a big believer in a little tanning cream for that sun-kissed glow without having to go into the sun. That’s my little tip. . .and steer clear of tons of products, because you’re beautiful the way you are. What I really admire about The Biggest Loser is the idea of being naturally beautiful. We’re not here to give you cosmetic makeovers or change who you are. We’re saying you’re beautiful when you’re healthy and fit; when you love your life and you’re happy. Those are the goals we’re trying to help our contestants and our viewers achieve. We’re not trying to give you a certain number that you have to be. We want you to be healthy and happy. That’s what makes you beautiful.

ET: What kinds of projects do you have coming up on the horizon?

AS: Well, we’re getting ready to start The Biggest Loser 5, which will premiere in January. I’ve kept myself so busy with that and Days of Our Lives. Days is going green; our production is shifting to be more environmentally friendly, which I love. I’m very active with my website, www.alisweeney.com. I post a lot of news, answer questions from fans, talk about my shows and what’s going on in my life. If any fans want to start a conversation, I would love to hear from them!

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