Valerie Bertinelli'S Weight-Loss Victory
After decades of struggling with her weight, Valerie had managed to lose over 20 pounds by joining the Jenny Craig weight-loss program. And now she was reveling in the results.
"I started with size 12s, and they were too big!" Valerie excitedly wrote in the blog she keeps on the Jenny Craig Website. "'Oh, Tom? Could you get me a 10?' And then I tried on one suit I loved in a 10, and it was too big. And even better? I could see that proud look on Tom's face."
Just a few months later, Valerie reached her goal: an incredible 40 pounds lost. Along the way, she's had the love and support of a whole team, from her longtime beau (and bathing suit assistant), Tom Vitale, and son, Wolfie, to her closest female friends and even her ex-husband, rock star Eddie Van Halen. But at 47, Valerie knows from experience that, like a trim figure, happiness is hard-won.
Made famous at 15 by the seventies hit series One Day at a Time, Valerie has struggled with her weight ever since. At times she became dangerously thin, hitting 98 pounds before realizing she needed to start eating again. "I was just up and down, up and down," she has said. Her lifelong weight and self-esteem issues only intensified after her 20-year marriage to Van Halen fell apart. Together the two had weathered some particularly difficult storms: By the time they separated, she had been in therapy for, in her words, "years and years," and he had battled substance abuse and two bouts of oral cancer. "We all have our painful pasts we have to get through," she has said of the relationship. "My addiction is food. His is something else." During the stressful period after the split, Valerie fell into a pattern of emotional eating, and the weight came creeping back — until she called a halt.
"I kept buying bigger and bigger jeans, and once the size 14s got too tight, I thought, That's it. I'm not buying the next size." She wanted to stop the weight gain — but when Jenny Craig came calling, she had to think twice. Becoming a national spokeswoman didn't seem like a natural fit for the publicity-shy star. But it turned out to be just the push she needed.
"I've agreed to make my journey public, because despite my life in front of the camera, I am a person just like you," she wrote on her blog. "No private chefs, no personal trainers on staff.... I'm just a busy mom who needs to make some big changes."
After her second week on the program, Valerie was joined by boyfriend Vitale and a couple of girlfriends, including longtime pal Suzanne Ferleger.
"We were into cooking and entertaining — and eating," Ferleger says, laughing about their old ways. "But we don't reward ourselves with food anymore. Now Valerie buys fancy, gorgeous shoes and enjoys them — it's healthier than the way we used to splurge."
Kathryn Brumwell, who was Valerie's personal diet consultant at Jenny Craig — everyone who joins the program has one — was amazed that the star didn't want any special treatment. Though the company offered to send a consultant to her home, Valerie insisted on going to the local center herself. "She wanted to experience the program like everyone else," Brumwell says. "She would come in and meet with me, and because she showed up every week, she got to know the other clients who had their consultations at the same time. She'd stand around with them, exchanging encouragements and trading tips."
That support system came in handy when Valerie encountered every dieter's foe: the dreaded plateau. Though her TV commercials have chronicled her impressive successes, the truth is, there were weeks that the scale barely budged. Or worse, went up a notch.
"My weigh-in with Kathy showed a plus 0.4 pounds on the scale," Valerie wrote after one consult. "Less than half a pound, but it feels like it might as well be 20 ... I'm upset because I told myself that I would never see these pounds again ... once lost, they were supposed to be gone forever. So my old feelings of the weight-loss seesaw have come back to haunt me. It feels like some sort of awful joke."
But Brumwell was able to help Valerie put the gain in perspective. "We had an affirmation: progress not perfection," Brumwell says. "I told her to focus on looking at things week by week." Soon, Valerie was back on track. "That plateau was yesterday," she later wrote on her blog. "Today I am armed with even more knowledge of what my body and my mind need ... and I'm never looking back."
That didn't mean that she'd put all of her issues behind her. Her resolve was tested this past summer when her son, Wolfie, now 16, left home to go on tour with his dad, playing guitar with the band. Faced with an empty nest, worrying about her son on the road, Valerie then confronted another crisis: Her beloved cat, Dexter, became gravely ill. Coping with all this made the temptation to dive into comfort food greater than ever.
"Here I am, curbing the overpowering desire to eat," she wrote one night. "As an emotional eater, I eat to soothe. I want to eat ... but I haven't, and I won't. But when my heart hurts, I want to feel better."
Over the next few months, Dexter recovered, Wolfie came home, and Valerie bounced back — big-time. Her original dream had been to drop 30 pounds, and by August, five months after she began, she reached that goal. Instead of celebrating, however, she decided to go for another 10. But Valerie has never wanted to get ultra-thin. In fact, she wants to send a message to an industry obsessed with size 2 starlets.
"When we first met with Valerie, she had been hiding herself," recalls Steve Bellach, a director at Jenny Craig. "She needed to understand that we didn't want her to become supersexy or supertiny. We wanted to help her find a weight that she'd be comfortable with. And she was tired of the fashion industry defining what a healthy weight was — she wanted to be part of redefining that."
So no celery sticks or extreme workouts. Instead, Valerie stuck to Jenny Craig foods at first — cheese curls and lemon cake were favorites — and began hiking or hitting the elliptical machine while wearing a weighted vest. ("When I finally take it off, I feel light as a feather!" she blogged.) She later began cooking lower-cal versions of her can't-live-without-'em foods. "For football games, she used to make this big pot of chili," says her pal Ferleger. "Now she does it in a more Jenny-friendly way so we won't throw each other off track."
Sticking to the program has had some professional payoffs, too. Once back in the spotlight, Valerie found her career on an upswing, as she became a correspondent on Rachael Ray's talk show. In one episode, she set her old size 14 jeans on fire.
"Valerie is one of us," says Ray. "She's the girlfriend and neighbor you wish you had. We relate to Valerie's life, from raising a child to divorce to the weight issues she has faced. She mirrors our show's viewers with this one exception: She has lived through all of life's ups and downs in the public eye."
On the day that Valerie weighed in 25 pounds lighter, she celebrated with a martini — which led to two more, which led to an almost half-pound weight gain. But Valerie was not about to give up. "I've seen her mess up, but she gets right back on it," says Ferleger. "She'll have a martini, but the next things in her mouth are some baby carrots."
Nowadays, Valerie likes to snack on radishes dipped in balsamic vinaigrette and logs some 10,000 daily steps on a pedometer, both of which have paid off. Right before Thanksgiving, she finally reached her goal. "She got onto the scale and just screamed 'Yes!'" says Brumwell. "We hugged and it was an incredible moment. And then, a few weeks later, at an annual Jenny Craig conference, Valerie came and talked to everyone about her good moments and her bad moments.... She was so open and emotional, and so ready to talk about what she'd been through. I found myself tearing up."
In a memoir to be published next month, Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time, Valerie writes about all her struggles, particularly the dark days following the collapse of her marriage. "I feel guilty for not holding up my end of the bargain," she has said about the split. "If I could have done anything else but separate from Ed ... I would have done it. But sometimes, it's better to divorce, so your kids can have a better life."
Three years ago, she met Vitale, a former financial analyst. Now they share an L.A. home with Wolfie and often get together with Van Halen and his girlfriend, Janie Liszewski, and Vitale's four children from a previous marriage. The Bertinelli house is full these days — with love, laughter, and chaos. But not necessarily food.
"After a lifetime of losing and gaining weight, I get it. No matter how you slice it, weight loss comes down to the simple formula of calories in, calories out," she wrote on her blog. "Before, I was unsettled and uninformed. Yes, I knew that I wasn't supposed to be eating huge restaurant-size entrées drenched in butter. But I didn't know why I did it anyway.... Now, I still eat all the time, but it's the right food, for the right reasons."
Still, before signing off that day, the newly svelte star typed in one last message to remind her fans that, no matter what her dress size, she's just like them: "Oh, but why does butter have to be so evil?"