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Signing up to be the face of one of America's biggest weight-loss franchises is not without a bit of pressure. And despite Valerie Bertinelli's three and a half decades in front of a TV camera (she landed her first commercial, for a department store, when she was 12), her stint as spokesperson for Jenny Craig introduced her to a whole new level of responsibility. After all, this gig has little to do with remembering lines or playing a part. This is about being real and coming clean in front of millions of Americans -- first by losing 40 pounds, then by managing to keep it off, all the while knowing that the paparazzi are waiting with their cameras for the very first setback.
Scary? Yes. Fun? That, too. At age 48, Bertinelli is so over worrying about what other people think. "My decision to lose the weight was about me -- how I wanted to feel inside," she says a few days after her FITNESS cover shoot. "I had to do this for myself."
Amen to that. Still, after years of yo-yo dieting, Bertinelli knows all about the road paved with good intentions. She sat down with FITNESS to share her thoughts on getting -- and keeping -- the body she's worked so hard for.
FITNESS: What's been one of the biggest lessons for you in your weight-loss process?
Valerie Bertinelli: You have to give yourself time. It doesn't happen overnight. I started this journey in March 2007. It's got to be a long-term commitment.
FITNESS: You dieted off and on for years. What motivated you to stick with this program?
VB: You've got to have a goal. It could be as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day -- that was my goal -- but whatever it is, you have to set one for yourself. It helps to find someone else to do it with you, whether it's a fellow carpool mother or your spouse. It's not always about losing weight; it could be something like hiking a certain hill. Just having the goal is what matters. I also weigh myself every day on my scale at home, even though I'm not supposed to. I take off everything but my ring! Seeing my progress keeps me on track.
FITNESS: Some people think it's easy for celebrities to lose weight because they have all the tools and money at their disposal.
VB: Well, truthfully, most celebrities do. Look, I understand the cynicism that we have all these people working for us, doing everything we need done. But that's not the case for me. I cook, I run my own errands. No one can do my workout for me -- no one lifts the weights or does the treadmill or elliptical for me. I don't have someone calling me up to make sure I'm exercising. I have good programs saved on TiVo -- the new Bonnie Hunt show and Oprah. That's my motivation: I watch them while I exercise.
FITNESS: What's your usual workout?
VB: I'm not big on the gym. I would rather be outdoors. You really can get fit without an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. I have this one-mile loop around my house that I like to do. My first goal was to walk the loop and make it up the hill at the end without stopping two or three times. Then, as I got in better shape, I tried to do it while wearing my weighted walking vest -- it felt so heavy, I couldn't believe I made it up the hill. Now, my goal is to jog the whole loop while wearing the vest.
FITNESS: Do you have a set schedule for when you exercise?
VB: No, I like to throw on jeans and a T-shirt and fit in a 15-minute walk here, 20 minutes there. It's fun to do activities with friends or family. On the weekends, for instance, we'll play Frisbee on the beach. There's a steep set of 102 steps I have to go up and down between the beach and my house. That's a workout! The day I shot the FITNESS cover, I must have gone up and down those stairs at least six times. By the end of the shoot, my calves were killing me.
FITNESS: What do you see as your biggest challenge in trying to maintain your healthy weight?
VB: I am an emotional eater, and those habits are really hard to change. If I'm feeling upset or stressed, I eat. There was one time when my boyfriend, Tom, was out of town; my son, Wolfie, was starting his senior year in high school; my new sitcom was launching the next day; and I was in the middle of shooting a pilot for a show. There were a lot of things to stress about. I sat down and ate almost an entire bag of chips. So my biggest challenges are making sure that I eat but don't overeat and that I don't eat for emotional reasons.
FITNESS: You talk a lot about having a negative relationship with food. Are there ways it makes you feel good, too?
VB: I love to cook. I enjoy the smells of a new dish; I like the camaraderie of cooking with Tom or my son. I'll put some music on in the kitchen while we work. And I've got some great new recipes thanks to my Jenny Craig program. One thing I'm always aware of is portion size. At some restaurants, when you order a steak they bring you a 48-ounce T-bone. That's just stupid. A serving is four ounces -- the size of the palm of your hand!
FITNESS: Speaking of which, what's your diet downfall?
VB: Certain drinks definitely put the weight on me. A glass or two of white wine is fine, but fruity drinks or hard alcohol -- that'll pack on the pounds.
FITNESS: How has your weight loss changed the way you feel about yourself?
VB: Mainly, I have stopped avoiding people. Before, I was going through so much in my life, but I felt like I was all alone. I would try to avoid making connections with people because of how I thought I looked and the way I felt about myself. Now, I'm the opposite; I'm more of a people person. Writing my book [Losing It, published in February 2008] helped me see that everyone has been through something in their lives, one way or another.
FITNESS: What's the best thing about your new figure?
VB: Having five pairs of jeans I look good in! I used to wear big T-shirts and leggings. Not anymore. And I'm proud of my mom -- she's losing weight with the program too. She's down almost 50 pounds, so she and my dad keep boxing up her old clothes [for charity]. My dad writes "Courtesy of Jenny Craig" on the boxes. She's so excited; she hasn't been this slim in nearly 30 years.
FITNESS: Do a lot of people comment on how great you look?
VB: Yes, although sometimes I hear, "Oh, she had plastic surgery." No, I just finally got healthy. Looking back at old photos, I've realized that being overweight ages you. As I lost the pounds, my vibrancy came back. But getting too thin ages you as well. I don't want to lose too much; you don't want to be my age and still shopping at Forever 21!
FITNESS: What's surprised you most about this whole process?
VB: That being thin is as much a feeling as an actual appearance. I always knew the way I wanted to look; the real satisfaction comes from how I feel inside.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2009.