Friday, January 01, 2010

Review: Believe It, Be It

Ali Vincent's Believe It, Be It is a quick read. The book looks like a lightweight: Slim profile, lots of white space, less than 200 pages, plenty of pictures and tips. The writing is simple and straightforward. It probably could have been a long magazine article rather than a book. At the same time, though, there is some real substance here.

Jillian Michaels said in one of her podcasts that no one gets to be 100+ pounds overweight because they are lazy or gluttonous. "Nobody wants a Snickers that bad." Even with all of our talk show culture's discussion of addictions, though, I think few of us really understand how food addiction works or how it could be overcome. We might have some understanding that this kind of weight gain is a way to deal with serious pain and conflict and confusion, but there is still a tendency to think of solutions in terms of finding the right diet or exercise plan. Ali describes with sadness the people who try out year after year for "The Biggest Loser," because they see it as the magic bullet that will finally fix them. This book contains some diet and exercise tips, but Ali makes it clear that the emotional work she did was just as important as learning to cook healthy food and work out.

I went on national TV and dug into the hardest, most personal questions I can imagine: "Why do I overeat? Why do I punish myself? Why am I unhappy?" The answer to all three questions, I discovered, was the same: Because I wasn't willing to look at my life and deal with it.

Ali talks about the role of relationships in her weight loss without painting herself as a victim or making other people into villans. She loved her free-spirited mother Bette-Sue but resented the chaos and drama of their home life. She managed to be the popular party girl in high school but never really felt like she fit in. She had lots of family members who wanted desperately to help her as she piled on weight, but who did it in a clumsy way and made her feel judged. Bette-Sue's selfless side shows up too, though, when we find out that not only did she get Ali to the casting call, she volunteered herself as a partner when she found out the "Couples" twist at the last minute and charmed her way (and Ali's) onto the show, even though she wasn't exactly thrilled about the grueling challenges she knew she would face on the ranch.

Ali also hints at the role her confusion over sexuality played in her weight gain -- growing up in a strict Mormon community, she started having sex early. She said others saw her as a "trophy girlfriend" but she "was becoming a woman who didn't value her body." Later in the book when she talks about falling in love, she remains gender-neutral when describing the "amazing person" she is dating.

Of course, for "The Biggest Loser" junkies like me, the most fun part of the book is the insider's view of what it's like to be on the show. We get the insider's scoop on the casting call, what it's like to live on the ranch, and what the food and workouts are really like. You can't watch the show without realizing that there are cameras everywhere, but Ali gives a sense of just how true that is when she writes that even in the bathroom, which is camera-free, if more than one person was in there, the camera crews would show up instantly to find out (and film) whatever was happening. There are also some interesting notes from the show's nutritionist about Ali's "Before" diet of coffee, sodas, candy, and fast food.

Ali used visualization to help her get to her goal of being the first female Biggest Loser. She and her mother found good omens everywhere. When they got in line for the casting call, they were in the 11th spot on the 11th day. When they got to their ranch and their team was handed pink shirts, Ali decided pink was her lucky color and started wearing pink and gluing pink crystals to her things for good luck. She used affirmations like the "Believe It, Be It," of the title. She believed so much in the power of visualization that for the finale, rather than choosing from the clothes provided by the show, she put together her own pink-and-black outfit so that she could picture what it would be like to be on the stage when she won. At the same time, she said, she worked hard. While other players let themselves get distracted by gameplay, Ali kept her focus laser-sharp on her food journal and the number on her Bodybugg that told her how many calories she had burned that day.

I think that fans of "The Biggest Loser" would be missing out if they don't read this book. Ali is an engaging guide to the weird world of reality TV. If you're looking for a weight loss plan or details on how to get fit, though, look elsewhere. There are a few recipes and tips, but the focus is really more on the inspirational and emotional aspects of weight loss, not the nuts-and-bolts of food and fitness. Still, I really enjoyed it and devoured the book in a few hours. I plan to reread it at a little slower pace, because even though I'm not "Biggest Loser" material, I think some of Ali's visualization and goal-setting techniques could help me get past my sense of being stuck. It seems like a good motivational book for the new year.


  1. Nice review.

    I wished TBL would do a "those last 10/20/30 pesky pounds" season or specials.

  2. Fantastic review! Thank you for taking the time to give us the goods on Ali's book. I love watching the Biggest Loser and I have always thought that those contestants are the toughest of the though. I've also been playing around with imagining where I want to be. Very helpful!

  3. That sounds like a great book! Her story sounds really interesting. Maybe this will be the year I actually watch TBL.

    Every time I deal with my emotions with food it is because I am trying to avoid something. I wish there was a "pause" feature I could use on myself!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07