Alison Sweeney Interview: 'The Biggest Loser' and 'Days of Our Lives' Star on Her Book 'The Mommy Diet'
Busy actress Alison Sweeney is best known for her portrayal of Samantha “Sami” Gene Brady (1993-present) on the long running NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives. In 2007 she also became the host of the reality weight competition game show The Biggest Loser.
In December 2010, the California native released The Mommy Diet, a book that helps moms-to-be stay fit, positive, and pampered during pregnancy then steers them through a healthy recovery after the baby is born. Sweeney shares many tips, personal anecdotes, nutrition advice, exercises and recipes in this warm, funny guide that takes the reader from pregnancy through the first nine months postpartum and beyond.
"Everyone has their own journey, their own struggles that have brought them to the ranch. They constantly inspire me with the way they find the inner strength to overcome those hurdles to succeed."
Sweeney and her California highway patrolman husband Dave Sanov have two children, a son (Benjamin Edward) born in February 2005 and a daughter (Megan Hope) born in January 2009.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Alison, you are one busy lady! How do you juggle two television shows and a new book with keeping in shape and spending time with your family?
Alison Sweeney: It's definitely not easy to make time for all the important things I want to do! It's a give-and-take type thing, where every day I just make the best decisions I can for that day. There are always tough decisions to make, concessions, but you do the best you can and I don't hold myself up to an impossible standard.
I make the best choices I can, and then at the end of the week I review how it went and think about what I should do differently, so I'm always learning, growing, and adjusting. Yes there are definitely times I feel overwhelmed. It can really add up over time when I'm slammed with work stuff or if the kids are sick, or if I'm not getting enough sleep. That's when the stress seems to mount up.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you do find some “me” time to relieve stress, are there other activities you enjoy besides exercising?
Alison Sweeney: There are things I do when I feel the pressure, like sit in a hot bath with a glass of wine. I just unwind with a book or go for a hike with my dog. Mostly at times like that, I need something that really takes me away from my issues … something that requires my full attention so the niggling little worries can’t creep in for at least a short time.
That's also why I like my spin class so much. It requires my full attention – like a good yoga practice – you are just focused on your physicality. Even if it's just 40 minutes a day, it totally helps me when things are tough.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How long did it take to compile all of the diet, nutrition, fitness, skin care, and fashion advice into The Mommy Diet?
Alison Sweeney: When you're pregnant people feel free to just offer you up advice, whether you like it or not. There were so many great tips I got during my pregnancy completely unsolicited, but also some horror stories that you wouldn’t believe people tell a pregnant woman.
What I learned, though, is that there are so many great tips out there and things I would never have known without the amazing community of women I met. I wanted to share what I'd learned with … well, anyone who would want to read it! That's where the book came from.
I wrote down notes while I was pregnant with Megan and as I was going through the weight loss process myself. But then, when the publisher set deadlines and it was all official, I spoke into a recorder a lot, definitely did much Q&A about specific time periods and subjects with my trainer (while I was sweating), my nutritionist friend (while we were eating a healthy meal), and my make-up artist, Corina (while I was getting hair & make-up done for Biggest Loser). You probably get my drift by now.
I have so many friends and experts I rely on to help me every day! I turned to them to help me pull together all the advice for the book. It happened sort of all the time for more than six months.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): During my childhood, the thing you heard from mom was “clean your plate.” That definitely starts a youngster on the wrong road to obesity and health problems. But, it takes willpower to eat a healthy portion and then walk away from the table. How do you handle that when you’re eating away from home?
Alison Sweeney: One of the things that helped me with that was understanding that you don't “feel” full for at least 10 minutes after you are full. That's one of the reasons it's important to take your time with your meal. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but you'll eat less if you take longer at the meal because you'll know when to stop!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s so tough for some people to “afford” the right kind of diet. Many times they are reduced to a diet full of high sodium canned goods. What are some inexpensive alternatives that are healthier?
Alison Sweeney: Well, I certainly understand that fast food can be super cheap and so can some of those unhealthy processed foods like potato chips and stuff. But really, stuff like that isn't even filling … so you'll be hungry again sooner and end up eating more than if you spent a little more on healthier options. One loaf of white bread may be cheaper than its whole-wheat competitor, but if you end up eating five slices a day instead of two, maybe it all evens out in the end.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good point. There is definitely a link between overeating and depression. What is your advice for those who have a problem with emotional eating?
Alison Sweeney: There are definitely other issues that lead to obesity on a much deeper emotional, psychological level than just the obvious “eat less” cure. That’s something people really need to identify and consider getting help with.
One thing that's also important to be aware of is how often people eat because they are bored. That's something I hear on many occasions and certainly I am guilty of, too. On a set there's a lot of waiting around, and suddenly you think, “I'll go down, check out crafty (craft services).” You can just smell someone walking by with a yummy treat from catering.
It's so tempting out of sheer boredom to go investigate and then you end up eating lots of useless calories. I still go down, check everything out, but I have learned to minimize the excess calories because I've identified what's at the root of it – boredom, or being overly tired, or getting close to a meal break. All those things tend to get me into sneaking pointless calories in the form of sweets and salty treats.
Alison Sweeney: We make grilled fajitas. I love cooking on the barbeque. Well, rather, I love it when Dave barbecues! I prepare the proteins & veggies on the skewers and he lights up the grill. I'll do a side dish of quinoa & salad or something, and voila! Dinner is ready!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Now you’ve really made me hungry! Alison, what are some of the most common questions you receive from new moms?
Alison Sweeney: "Will I ever get my body back?" is one I get all the time. There is often a moment when you start to feel helpless to get back on track. As a new mom your priorities shift to your newborn and your own body is the least of your worries.
Then you get out of the shower and catch yourself in the mirror or as you're getting dressed (still in your maternity jeans). You just have moments where you feel really dissatisfied with your figure and believe me, I get it. It's important to use those feelings to the positive. Do something active to work towards a solution and you will start to feel better about yourself immediately!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For you personally, what are some of the greatest success stories on The Biggest Loser?
Alison Sweeney: Everyone has their own journey, their own struggles that have brought them to the ranch. They constantly inspire me with the way they find the inner strength to overcome those hurdles to succeed. Not everyone can do that. In fact, you will even see that this season too. It's all part of the process. It just proves how difficult the BL ranch is and that the work they do to change and get healthy is just that – hard work!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What can we look forward to from the contestants this season?
Alison Sweeney: There are so many lessons I take away from each season and every person I meet at The Biggest Loser. I am constantly inspired by how hard they work and the miracles they make happen each week on the scale.
This season there was a challenge that occurred in episode 10. It hasn't aired yet. I can't wait to share my feelings about how incredible that day was. It was unbelievably inspiring and motivating to me. More on that in a few weeks!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Guess we’ll have to wait for that. I’ve watched Days of Our Lives since the show first aired as a 30-minute soap. Many people were saddened when Sami and Lucas broke up. Are you friends with Bryan Dattilo (Lucas) off screen?
Alison Sweeney: I will be Bryan's friend for life. I miss him every day at work. There is always a moment, something that happens that reminds me of a past joke or old incident and my instinct is to share it with Bryan and it often takes a moment to realize he isn't there.
I am so used to having him around. It has been very hard to adjust to being there without him, but I do keep in touch with him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do your fans feel about Sami being with Rafe? With EJ?
Alison Sweeney: Fans are very torn by the EJ or Rafe thing. Well, actually that isn't quite right. People seem to be either 100% in the “Safe” camp or 100% in the “EJami” camp. There is no middle ground with them. I am glad to be part of a story that is so dramatic and compelling!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sami has been a troublemaker almost since day one. What do you think has been the most dangerous situation she has found herself in thus far?
Alison Sweeney: No doubt! Troublemaker is a good way to describe her (laughs). I suppose that would have to be when she was almost executed for a crime she did not commit! Though, you could also argue the time Austin ran her over with his car. Twice. That was pretty hairy, too (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Looking back on your almost 20 years on the show, what has been your favorite storyline that did or did not include you?
Alison Sweeney: In my 18 years at Days I have been a part of some amazing stories … stories I'm really proud to have been in, as well as other stories I just enjoyed watching! I think Days is such an amazing cast of extremely talented actors. I am constantly challenged every day I come to work – which is why I keep doing it!
My all time favorite storyline? That’s so tough. If you force me to pick one, it would be Grace's death. I think that story challenged me the most, intimidated me from the beginning, and I am so proud of the way everyone contributed to it being so real and painful and something people could relate to.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you think Days has lasted for 45 years?
Alison Sweeney: Days is all about family & love – something that hasn't changed in 45 years. For all our innovations and changes and technology, at heart, people who watch our show then and now want to believe in true love, family, and fighting for happily ever after.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you feel about the cancellation of daytime dramas?
Alison Sweeney: Just like the rest of television, daytime has had to make changes to the financial model to survive. If we want to survive in this new and changing marketplace, we have to stay competitive. In some cases we don't even know what that means! I think Days has done an amazing job keeping the show relevant, exciting, and in budget to keep the lights on!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you make any New Year’s resolutions, Alison?
Alison Sweeney: I believe in New Years “intentions.” For me the word “resolution” seems very harsh. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like when you struggle with the resolution and you cheat or fail, you just give up because you broke your resolution.
With an intention there is no failing. You struggle, but then you pick yourself up and try again. That works better for me. I like a little leeway because it keeps me invested for the long haul. For 2011, my intention is to be more organized. I have a lot of balls in the air … and I just need to focus more energy on keeping everything on track.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I don’t know how you’d have time to add anything else to your schedule, but what’s next for you, Alison?
Alison Sweeney: Right (laughs). Um … I am sort of busy dealing with all the stuff I'm working on now! I’m definitely excited about the future, though, because there are lots of things coming up!
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