Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Women I Admire II: The Health Edition

It’s no secret that I am appalled and disgusted by the fact that America is such a fat, unhealthy nation. Don’t get me wrong, I love food and rarely turn down a piece of chocolate or a dish of creamy pasta. But I also eat lots of fruits and veggies and exercise four to six times per week. I am a reformed lazy slob junk food addict with asthma, so I know how difficult it is to change a lifestyle. I also know that once the commitment is made, you never want to go back to the way you were. Being healthy just feels too good.

Looking at my “Women I Admire” list, I realize that I may have composed it prematurely. I still admire all those women now more than ever before. But I didn’t acknowledge some women that I personally believe are contributing greatly to combating the country’s problems with obesity. These women have overcome personal obstacles to get where they are and now they’re on top of their game and living awesome lives. They’re driven, beautiful, healthy, and best of all, happy. And all but one are part of my favorite show at the moment. They are:

Alison Sweeney Most people know Alison as the awesome host of NBC’s The Biggest Loser. For 16 years, I’ve known her as the devious Sami Brady on Days of our Lives. I haven’t always been a Sami fan (though I am now), but I have always been an Ali fan. Her acting is incredible! She’s just a few years older than me and I’ve been watching her so long, I feel as if we’ve grown up together.
As I watched Alison grow from a teenager into a beautiful wife and mother, I also watched her waistline shrink. Ali was certainly never obese, but she was a chubby teenager even by non-Hollywood standards. She openly admits to having struggled with her weight and feeling the pressure to be thin, which she talks about in her book, All The Days of my Life… So Far. She lost weight and got healthy simply by changing her diet and exercising. These days, anyone who follows Ali on Twitter knows she’s a fitness fanatic.
My admiration for Ali goes beyond her commitment to health. She’s an amazing actress, a wonderful mother and obviously cares about the contestants on The Biggest Loser. Recently, I had the great honor of meeting her and interviewing her and was pleased to realize she’s also a genuinely nice person. Talking to Ali was, without a doubt, one of the best days of my life so far.

Jillian Michaels Looking at the gorgeous, perfectly svelte, tough as nails Jillian Michaels, it’s almost impossible to believe that she was ever anything but a fitness addict. But she admits to being overweight as a child and teenager, crediting a martial arts class for her initial weight loss. Some people think she’s too tough on the contestants on The Biggest Loser. But the people on that show have spent years, if not their entire lives, saying the words “I can’t.” Jillian pushes them far beyond their limits and makes them realize they’re capable of so much more than they ever give themselves credit for.
With supplements, exercise videos, books and (soon) her own show, Jillian is definitely busy promoting a healthy lifestyle. I admire her take-charge attitude and love the fact that she’s so into animals. I even adore her harmless little crush on fellow trainer Bob Harper (I share her feelings). My favorite Jillian quote: “Fitness to me isn’t about a crunch or a push-up. It’s about taking your power back.”

Abby Rike They say everyone has a story that will break your heart. Abby has one that will simply rip your heart out. A few years ago, Abby had everything: a loving husband, a young daughter and an infant son. In October of 2006, all three of them were killed in a head-on collision. My husband and I are already total saps when it comes to The Biggest Loser, but we couldn’t even look at Abby without crying.
Always a big girl, Abby vowed to lose weight and get her life back. In a cast of very nice people, she was the nicest of them all. I watched her encourage others while fighting her own battle. Even her own elimination in week 8 was her idea. She felt she was ready to leave the ranch and that others needed to be there more than her. Though Abby lost her kids, she showed the world that she still thinks like a mother. Despite fracturing her knee, Abby is down from 247 pounds to 165 and is a motivational speaker who bravely tells her story to large groups of people. She is a hero and an inspiration to us all. On days where I feel like life is too hard and I should just give up on chasing my dreams, I remember this woman and how she has come back from the worst possible tragedy and it helps me keep going.

Tara Costa This girl, a contestant on The Biggest Loser Season 7, impressed me from Day 1. A plus-sized model at the age of 13, Tara was eventually dropped from the agency in her twenties when she gained weight. She admits to being out of control and weighed a whopping 294 pounds when she joined the cast of The Biggest Loser. But immediately, Tara admitted that she was responsible for her actions and got to work. She won challenge after challenge, even pulling a car full of weights in a race when her fellow cast members conspired against her. There was nothing Tara couldn’t do and by the finale, she was down to 139 pounds.
Now, Tara runs marathons. I have never weighed 294 pounds and have been working out regularly for seven years, and I get tired just watching marathons. Her competitive attitude and her motivation make me wonder how she was ever overweight in the first place. Tara clearly had an inner athlete dying to be let out. Her story makes me wonder, how many others have an inner athlete inside them? How great would it be if people realized, and lived up to, their full potential?

Michelle Obama My admiration for this woman has absolutely nothing to do with politics or who her husband is. Perhaps I am a bit biased as I tend to always like the First Ladies of the United States, dating all the way back to Nancy Reagan (despite her bullshit factually inaccurate war on drugs). Each first lady tends to pick a cause and promote that. Michelle has chosen to promote healthy eating and fitness, something our country definitely needs help with.
When I heard Michelle Obama had decided to plant an organic garden on the White House Lawn, I was ecstatic. Say what you want about the Obama family, but doing this sets a good example for the rest of the nation. Planting a garden is surprisingly low in cost, especially if you have a small family. My husband started one this year, which I stayed far away from due to my inability to keep plants alive. I was surprised at how cheap it was and how easy it was to keep the veggies pesticide-free.
Of course, much like all the First Families before them, if the Obamas so much as sneeze someone will have something to say about it. The MidAmerica CropLife Association sent Michelle a letter encouraging her to use poison… sorry, I mean pesticides… in her crops. But Michelle stood her ground and the Obamas continue to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Of course, not everyone has time, room or money to plant a garden. But everyone should eat more produce and, if possible, make it organic. Yes, organic fruits and vegetables cost more, but studies have shown that eating these whole foods actually save you money in the long run because you’re less likely to develop serious health problems that will cost you thousands even with health coverage (that’s another blog post). Michelle and I may not see eye to eye on every issue, but I certainly admire the example she’s setting for her children and for the nation.


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