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Ali Vincent on “The Old Ali” | Club Industry East 2010

Part 2: Ali Talks Candidly About Life Before The Biggest Loser.

There she was, Ali Vincent, The Biggest Loser’s (TBL) season five (Spring 2008) winner.  This time she wasn’t on the flat screen, but live and in person just a few feet in front of me as a keynote speaker at the 2010 Club Industry East Show—I was dead-center in the front row!  And, as an added bonus, Ali’s TBL teammate and mother, Bette-Sue, was also in the front row a just few seats down.

As an Exercise Physiologist it was interesting to have the chance to look at and listen to a person, first hand, that did a total physical and emotional transformation in front of our eyes—she went from 234 pounds down to 122 pounds for the win!  From a body composition standpoint she passed the test; still looking fit and firm—two years later.  Now it was time to hear her message.

In this post, I thought I’d report and comment on the “Old Ali.”—through her words, and my impressions of those words.  Who was Ali Vincent before TBL?  As you read through this post, think to yourself: “Does this sound familiar?”  For fitness professionals, Ali’s stories may be your clients’ stories.  For non-professionals this may be your story, or the story of someone you know.  I welcome your feedback…

Ali was a champion synchronized swimmer; she defined herself as a swimmer.  Ali told us about the life and lifestyle of a high-level synchronized swimmer:  Train hard and often AND eat voraciously—both to fuel the body and keep weight ON.  We also learned that she did not have a healthy lifestyle game-plan in place for her post-swimming life—a substitute activity and exercise program and a modified eating (habits) program.  We saw the net result of her lack of a game plan 10+ years later when she showed up on TBL’s campus—all unhealthy, unfit, cigarette smoking, 234 pounds of her!

As I go through my professional life, I see too many examples of athletes who are victims of “lack-of-a-game-plan-itis.”  For example, I’m shocked and horrified by the post playing-days physiques that I see when I attend football coaches’ trade shows.  Football coaches may get to play “at” football every day, but they are not playing football.  Big difference—big guts.   

Former athlete and competitor that she was, Ali told us about her 10 + years of attempts and strategies to stem the (weight gain) tide.  She did try, but ultimately, as we saw, she failed.  These are two that caught my attention:

1)      She had a lot of Polaroid pictures of herself. Each picture was a “Before” (weight loss) shot—because “This will be the time,” she promised herself, picture in hand. (I lose the weight).  Alas, as she described, she ended up with a lot of “Before” pictures, and no (permanent) “Afters.”  She did claim to have lost hundreds of pounds during her life; unfortunately, it was the same 30 pounds over and over.

2)      As a former athlete, it is natural to join a gym.  In Ali’s case it was 24 Hour Fitness.  Alas, as she noted, good intentions did not have a good result—she never used her membership!

Does this describe anyone you know?  

Ali’s failed attempts to lose weight and get fit lead me to ask a question—that can apply to anyone—not just the overweight and unfit:  What does it take to break the cycle of broken self-promises?  Comments are appreciated!        

During the course of Ali’s talk—about the old post-swimming Ali—I was most interested to hear discuss her feelings about the path she was on.  I also keyed in on her non-verbal “talk,” i.e., her facial expressions and body language.  She didn’t need words to express that her post-swimming, pre-Biggest Loser, past was painful!  Secondarily, it was also interesting to hear about what she inferred “others” were feeling and thinking about her.

I’ve broken Ali’s “feelings” (AV) comments into six categories: 1) Weight Gain, 2) Giving Her All, 3) Romantic Relationships, 4) Closeness, 5) Help, and 6) “Deep” inside.  Below her comments, I’ve added MY reactions (DrB) and some secondary questions to her statements—a little food for thought.  Interestingly, as I assembling this post, I find that for every comment and observation, I raise, in my mind, a new set of questions—to which I do not have answers, only opinions.  Your comments are welcomed!!

1)  Weight Gain: “I got used to each five pound weight gain…but, I never added up the fives.”  “I got used to gaining…not comfortable with it.”

DrB:  How many people resign themselves to gaining weight…especially if those around them are gaining weight, too?  What does it take to go from not-comfortable to action?

2)  Giving Her All:  “Before TBL I always cut corners…it gave me a reason not to give 100%.”  “That way, I didn’t have to deal with ultimate failure…but I denied myself the ultimate victory.”

DrB:  It was interesting that in a Biggest Loser episode shortly before Ali’s talk, Daris (Orange team) came up with that same revelation about himself.  Over the years, in working with hundreds of personal training clients, I frequently encounter individuals who either cut corners, or were satisfied with coming up “a bit short.”  I would probe those actions by inquiring if they had a fear of failure and/or a fear of success.  As Ali and Daris know, it’s hard to answer questions like that; one has to dig deep “inside” and there is usually an innate fear of what they’ll “find.”  Props to Jillian and Bob for getting to Ali’s and Daris’ cores and eliminating their cut-corners!  Core moments can be the springboard to a new life and a new or renewed self confidence…just ask Ali and Daris.

3)  Romantic Relationships: “…If a relationship leaves me, it is because I am fat and not because of me.”

DrB:  Classic defense mechanism.  As a devoted Biggest Loser fan, I remember the episode when Jillian pulled that realization/revelation out of Ali during a classic confrontation; great TV.  How many overweight people feel this way?  Physical attractiveness and physical fitness play a significant role in the “chemistry of a relationship.  That may sound shallow, but that’s human nature.  It would be interesting to know how Ali is doing in the romantic relationships department these days.  Ali, if you read this, please let us know!   

4)  Closeness:  Ali felt that if she let people get too close to her, they’d see that she was ashamed of herself.  She also noted that she didn’t trust people, and said, therefore, that she became a loner by choice.

DrB:  Obesity is a major problem in this country—from so many standpoints.  Do you ever encounter an obese person and wonder what’s going on “inside,” from a psychological standpoint?  I do!  How many “ashamed-loners” are there out there?  Ali discussed the many ways that her weight problem affected her.  However, she’s one of the lucky ones.  TBL gave her the forum to let/get her emotions and feelings out—and do something about it!  Now, her words and body language project so many positives—confidence, pride, caring (about herself and others), and community.   

5)  Help:  “I was so committed to feeling alone that I couldn’t see the support around me…because I’d have to let them in.”  “…(As I found out) Everyone believed in me, I was the one holding myself back.”

DrB:  How many obese people are in the same boat?  How much support is NOT given because the person in need won’t let the support in (Ali’s case) and/or the supporter doesn’t know how to give the support?  Taking that first step—towards giving and/or receiving—is often the hardest step.  However, one must consider the consequences of not taking that first step towards getting help.  Ali’s life saving and life changing step came in the form of applying to be on TBL.  She hit the “help lottery” with that step.  Very few, however, are that fortunate and their step must come in a different form.  

6)  Deep Inside:  “If we (fat people) didn’t laugh and keep busy (and stood still with our thoughts) we’d cry.”

DrB:  In today’s world, people of all shapes and sizes cry inside for many reasons.  Ali’s emotional recounting of what was going on inside of her as an obese person, and as she inferred, many others like her.  One of the beautiful things about TBL is how these true feelings are brought out of the contestants throughout the course of the show.  The contestants are forced to articulate what so many people can’t, or decide not to.  This is just another example of why I think TBL is such an important program—it can be the springboard to a new life, or at least taking those first few healthy steps, for the millions of obese people who aren’t lucky enough to actually be on the show.  There is help out there.  It may come with a few tears.  But, trading a few tears for a few pounds—that sounds like a great deal to me.   

Thanks again Ali, for being so candid about the Old Ali.  You say what so many people feel.  There are professionals out there to help, but no one knows all of the answers.  As you’ve read, I have my observations and answers, BUT I also have a lot of open ended questions—food for thought and food for discussion—to which I do not have the answers.  And, most importantly, many of the answers to these questions can ONLY come from inside the person seeking help, 

Next post…What’s life like on The Biggest Loser campus.

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