After spending years putting pressure on herself to eat "healthy" and shed weight while starring on the long-running soap "Days of Our Lives," it took actually getting a new job -- as host of weight-loss competition show "The Biggest Loser" -- to make Alison Sweeney realize the error of her dieting ways.
"I had chosen a plan that was just about cutting calories, but maybe not always the right calories," Sweeney confesses in an interview with omg!. "I made the kind of traditional mistakes that lots of people make. I was not eating breakfast. I was one of those people who would eat baked chips or low-fat cookies, who thought a Caesar salad was good for me. The saddest part is you think you're being healthy."
The show has been as educational for her as for its contestants and viewers. "I've personally learned so much about my health and fitness and just how to live the rest of my life that I would have never had known if not for being a part of the show," says Sweeney. "I'm so lucky."
One big lesson? Changing the way she works exercise into her day.
"I plan it out now. I'm so busy and there's so much going on, that the gym or a workout can't be a last minute thought, like 'I have nothing to do today I'm going to go to the gym,'" the 35-year-old explains. "Now it's 'When am I going to find time to work out tomorrow?' And then I put it in my calendar so that it's on my radar and it's a set plan and I have to take my gym bag with me to the studio."
Sweeney wasn't the only one in her family who needed a little help getting on track health-wise. Turns out her family dog, 5-year-old Winky, was battling the bulge too. Though being three pounds overweight doesn't sound like an issue worth worrying about, it is for a Boston Terrier. "My vet had a serious conversation with us about the fact that every ounce makes a big difference on a 20 pound dog," she says.
After putting Winky on Hill's Science Diet food and making sure he became more active, the pooch dropped the excess weight, prompting Sweeney to begin working with the dog food maker to kick off a new campaign called The Million Pound Pledge, a call-to-action for pet owners to help their dogs and cats shed excess pounds.
"We really saw results right away and her food was all pre-measured so it was easy for my 6-year-old son to be part of the solution. We took Winky on walks and she was really getting more energy and her coat was looking better," gushes Sweeney. "You could just see the change in her."
As for meals for the human side of Sweeney's family -- which includes her husband of 11 years, David Sanov, and their two children, son Ben, who turns 7 in February, and 2-year-old daughter Megan -- Sweeney heads outdoors to do most of the cooking.
"I know most Americans don't have this luxury, but we are in Los Angeles and are lucky enough to be able to grill outside almost all year long," Sweeney boasts. "It's my favorite way of preparation because it's so clean and it gives it such a great flavor. You need very little oil and the protein can be really cleanly prepared and perfectly cooked."
A typical night's dinner might include chicken, shrimp, or even portobello mushroom fajitas made with bell peppers from the family garden, and a side of corn on the cob. And with Sweeney now focusing more on cooking and less on eating out, even many "date nights" with her hubby have turned into good-for-you evenings at home.
"We have stay-in date nights where we make a plan to watch certain TV shows together," Sweeney shares. "'Survivor,' for example, is our favorite show. And I make a healthy dinner and we sit down and it's our date. I love it."
As for another one of her favorite reality shows, Sweeney insists that despite multiple changes to "The Biggest Loser" in recent seasons, including the departure of its famous fitness guru Jillian Michaels, a short-lived stint by tennis pro Anna Kournikova, and the addition of hunky new trainer-to-the-stars Dolvett Quince, the series hasn't lost its main message.
"The heart of the show remains the same, which is that people are making their goals happen every day," says Sweeney. "I mean they are literally grabbing fate by the horns and saying 'Now I'm going to make my own fate.' I find that incredibly inspiring."
The mom of two is so inspired, in fact, that she's taking on a new personal challenge: completing her first-ever marathon. She's currently training for the annual L.A. race, which takes place in March, but the "extremely nervous" runner isn't getting hung up on any sort of goal time. "I just want to finish!" Sweeney laughs. "For me it's just an accomplishment, it's a bucket list thing."