Andrea Wilamowski is a small-town Michigan gal who turned household name practically overnight with her debut on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" Season 16. While she was eliminated from the grand prize she would claim the show gave her the best prize of all - the ability to love and accept herself through life's ups and downs. Read more about her compelling journey in this month's Empowering Women blog post.
You have your hands in so many projects! How did you get started in the dance/ cheer/fitness industry?
I’m from a very small town in Michigan. A beautiful little city located right on the Lake Michigan coastline named Frankfort. I started in sports at a very young age playing softball and cheerleading. When I was in high school I played basketball, was a cheerleader, ran track and was on the ski team. I grew up being “busy” and I wouldn’t have it any other way! When I went to Michigan State for college, I started dancing on the intramural dance team. I started the first professional dance/cheerleading team in Detroit and they are amazing ladies. My actual interest in the fitness industry didn’t come until after being on The Biggest Loser television show.
What qualities do you think are important for a person to have in order to do what you do?
Most importantly, you need to have a great sense of “crazy” about you that you CAN control! You can’t be afraid to talk to anyone or in front of anyone, and you must be able to multi-task like a pro! I deal with so many different kinds of entities and each one is different. You need to be flexible and able to tailor your personality to fit the situation. From city and state governments to groups of a thousand people or more, you have to be able to adapt to your surroundings and theirs!
Your NBC BL bio states: "Wilamowski started gaining weight at 23 years old after an abusive marriage stripped her of her self-confidence. Poor eating habits, no time for exercise, constant stress and working long hours made it hard to find a healthy balance;" - how have you now found that balance or are you still seeking it?
While I still have constant stress and long hours (I think most people do!), I have learned a way handle it through diet, exercise and taking time out each day for myself! Since the show, I’ve continued working out, I eat very healthily, and drink a ton of water. I learned what the difference of eating to fuel my body and eating for comfort truly is. Until three months ago, I’d never felt better in my life and was able to keep all but 10 pounds of my “finale” weight off. In May of this year, my life was changed forever. I got very sick and ended up in the hospital for 13 days. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, neither of which have a cause or cure. Now, in addition to chemo biologic infusions I receive every 3 weeks, I was put on high doses of steroids which caused me to gain 30 pounds and I’m rockin’ a great looking “moon face!” My diet had to completely change yet again and because of my immune system being altered, I’ve lost my sense of smell. Let me just tell you, when your doctor tells you that you may or may not get that sense back, it’s a total game changer! It has really caused me to re-think every piece of food that goes into my mouth. Let me put it this way…pizza is no longer a challenge! This “hiccup” in my life has again caused me to re-evaluate everything I thought I had learned and adjust to another new way of life.
Describe your experience as a very public person during the Biggest Loser Season 16 - how did it help shape the person you are today?
Being on The Biggest Loser has changed so much about the person I am today. I remember, like it was yesterday, sitting down in front of the television to watch the first episode of our season, completely unaware of what was going to be shown or what I would look like. When I got my first glance of myself, I broke into tears. I can’t begin to explain all of the emotion that goes through your mind and body. It ranges from utter disgust to absolute joy, all within about a minute.
How did you break through the "emotional eating" plateau? In People Magazine you describe your "a-ha" moment - how'd that go down?
Things started changing for me very early during the show. The moment Jessie Pavelka (my trainer) asked me if I “loved myself?” I think it might be the hardest question that anyone has ever asked me. I could have solved a complex mathematical equation easier…and I’m NOT good at math! I honestly didn’t know the answer. It bothered me so much that it was all I could think about.
I still emotionally eat from time to time…. the difference is that I can recognize it now. Bob (Harper) and I were talking one day, and he asked me if I could tell when I was emotionally eating. I really had to stop and think about it. We talked about the difference between eating to fuel my body (which was a totally new concept for me) and eating to “just to feel full.” So I started to peel back the layers and take each emotion….one at a time. The first one that came to mind was how much I hated being alone. Then, realizing how scared I actually had become from different things that had happened to me in my life. Some of them things that I didn’t think bothered me at all, but actually had left quite an impression. That was the “a-ha!”…I figured it out….how all of my emotions were controlling almost everything that I put into my mouth. I may have literally been in love with pizza and chocolate cake as they “comforted” me when I was feeling alone or afraid. But, somehow, between Bob and Jessie, we figured it out. It took 7 months, but on our finale night, January 29, 2015, I finally knew the answer to Jessie’s question: “YES! I DO LOVE MYSELF!” Trust me when I say it’s a process. And you need to “surrender to the process!”
What or whom empowers you?
I am empowered by empowering others. I give freely. I’m empowered by watching others grow and succeed. I’m empowered by my own faith and my own love of life. I love to create opportunity and to watch as people realize goals that they thought were impossible to achieve. I’m empowered by true happiness!
Which women (either famous or someone you know that's not so famous) inspire you?
There are so many that I couldn’t pick just one. I can absolutely say that I am inspired by all of my Biggest Loser Season 16 “sisters.” We went from being complete strangers to being family, literally over night. It takes great courage to stand up in front of millions of people on television in nothing but a bra top and shorts, and announce your weight, especially when you are 200+ pounds and dying inside of embarrassment and disgust. Since we have been home from the show, we have kept in touch almost daily and have built such a strong bond and trust with each other. Have we all kept the weight off? No. Have we all taken away a certain love for ourselves and each other? Yes! I watch each of these powerful women in their every day lives, whether by social media, through our group texts and calls, or in the news, and I can truly say that they continually inspire me to be a better person and to not give up on myself. We don’t judge each other and we keep each other as accountable as possible. We build each other up and we rely on each other for support. I feel blessed to have friendships and family like them in my life!
What's the best advice you've ever received?
I’ve received a ton of great advice in my life.
- In general, I’d say my grandmother always told me “This too shall pass!” and she was right.
- During my time on The Biggest Loser and beyond I’d say the best advice was “Andrea, remember that many things aren’t equal but everyone gets the same 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. It’s up to you to choose to make time for what you truly want!”
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Well, I’m a night person, so in general it takes a LOT to get me out of bed in the morning! However, my desire to make the Biggest Loser Race Series a total success is my motivator. I have my dream job and 95% of the time, I’m thrilled to start a new day! I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to be on the show and now I have the ability to give others an experience of a lifetime. I want to inspire and motivate others to start or continue their journey so with my creative brain, I’m up until 3am most mornings just thinking and working on ideas on how to do so. I don't get much sleep!
How do you pick yourself up when you're just not feeling it?
I think everyone has days when they just aren’t feeling it. For me, the race series keeps me accountable and gets me moving again. When I meet people at each race, I want them to continue to be inspired by my journey. If I didn’t move every time I didn’t feel like it, I’d be a mess! I do rely on the support of my gym family, my BL sisters and my husband. If they don’t see me in line for a class that I usually attend, they text me or call me and basically force me to get there! Thank goodness for them!
Lately, my life has been challenging me in ways I never thought I would be challenged with. I’ve been “not feeling it” more now than ever! When I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s, my habits had to change completely and my physical activity had to cease. I couldn’t go out of the house for 2 months and I struggled to find balance. I gained 30+ pounds being on steroids and chemo biologics but I refuse to let that defeat me! The old me would have given up months ago. Last week, my physician gave me the go ahead to start working out again. I’ve been smiling ever since! I went on my first bike ride in 4 months last night and it felt AMAZING!! I never thought I’d miss breaking a sweat and I never knew how much I missed working out! I look in the mirror and say “adios” to those unwanted pounds!
What do you like to do for fun?
I love sports! I love playing sports and watching it! I golf, play tennis and basketball, and compete in triathlons. I like to compete! I’m also a reality show addict….guilty of watching The Real Housewives of anyplace and beyond!
How do you like to recharge?
To me, there are two different types of recharging. Recharging after my work outs and recharging my life! After every one of my gym work outs, and I work out about 3 hours per day at the gym, I always sit in the sauna for at least 30 minutes of “me time.” I take with me a huge bottle of ice water and my headphones! I sit quietly in the heat, listen to some of my favorite music, and reflect on my day, what I’ve accomplished, and on my goals. Then, I get out and rinse off in the coldest water I can stand, bundle up in warm sweats and a big sweatshirt and head off for an awesome salad! Recharging is the favorite part of my day!
During the year, I recharge while on vacation! Royal Caribbean and I are becoming best friends. I’m a workaholic, so people tease me that I need to be in the middle of the ocean in order to turn my brain off. I absolutely don’t keep up any exercise regimen while on vacation either, and, as crazy as it sounds, I eat and drink whatever I want! I use my vacation to simply have fun, rest, and recharge! If I kept to all the rules that I have in my every day life, It wouldn’t be much of a vacation. I come back home completely recharged and ready to rock!
What's your favorite indulgence in life?
Wow! Favorite? Let’s start with foods that I am in love with, emotionally of course! I absolutely crave a decadent triple layer chocolate cake on the daily! It’s also hard for me to turn down a really good pizza. And, for those that say “you can still have pizza, just eat one slice,” yes, I realize this, but I want MORE than one slice and I will always eat more than one slice! The difference now, is that I know what it takes to work it off and I do it!
Other indulgences….I fly first class, I get a suite or above on a vacation, and I drink premium liquor or wine. I also will ALWAYS wear a Shefit bra for the rest of my life! The moment I put that on it was a game changer!
What advice do you have for other women who want to make a lifestyle change?
Be committed! Making a lifestyle change is a huge challenge, especially, for women. It takes a lot of self-commitment and most women that I know spend much more time taking care of others before they take care of themselves. To truly change your lifestyle, you need to desire the change, not simply be interested in the idea of change. When you are just interested in something, you do it ONLY when its convenient. When you are committed to something you do it with NO excuses! So, if you don’t KNOW, in your own mind, that you are going to commit and be successful, then you aren’t ready to start.
First and foremost, you must put yourself first! Get your mind focused and in the right place. Deal with your emotions. Learn how to fuel your body with the proper nutrition and begin to eat right. Keep a food diary. Drink a LOT of water. Write down manageable goals. In the end, the easiest part is the actual work out. If you are doing all of the other things, and if you are committed, change will happen! Make sure you have someone to keep you accountable and don’t get mad at them when they DO make you accountable!
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