In Slim Role, Bertinelli Beats Back Bulge

Actress Valerie Bertinelli
Actress Valerie Bertinelli

She's a winner for losing big.

Actress and author Valerie Bertinelli is most famous - recently - for going on a diet, dropping 40 pounds and making her achievement public, posing for a camera in a bikini.

The bikini bit was fitting, in a way, as the latest chapter of a life spent in front of a camera, reports "CBS News Sunday Morning" Correspondent Tracy Smith.

Bertinelli's career began in 1975 when she was an insecure teen with cuteness to burn playing opposite Mackenzie Phillips on a CBS sitcom.

"You were 15 when you got 'One Day at a Time'?" Smith asked.

"Yes," Bertinelli said.

"And Barbara Cooper was every young man's crush," Smith said. "I mean, you were it."

"I didn't know that then," Bertinelli said.

"Did you have the same insecurities and weight issues?" Smith asked.

"Oh, goodness, yes," Bertinelli said. "Yeah, definitely. Well, I was next to Mackenzie, who was thin as a rail, and I thought was, you know, very sexy. And she had the personality and she knew how to speak to people. And, yeah, I was very insecure."

The public spotlight got even brighter in 1981, when she married rocker Eddie Van Halen. But the marriage - which lasted more than two decades - had some built-in problems.

"Ed and I were never best friends," Bertinelli told Smith. "I was madly in love with him. I believe the same from him, but I think because we were never really friends that it was much easier for the relationship to fall apart even though it took us a long time.

"I think we're both stubborn."

And when her insecurities got the better of her, she found comfort in food, with predictable results.

"I was so unaware and so unconscious, and I was just feeding an empty pit of despair," Bertinelli told Smith, laughing. "I mean it. It was really that bad to a certain point. I was really low, low, low.

"I used to argue with Ed all the time. I said, 'You're an alcoholic, but you don't have to drink. I have to eat!' And that's not fair to an alcoholic because they feel they need it."

"But it's a good point," Smith said.

"But it's a good point!" Bertinelli said. "You don't have to be a drug addict. You don't have to be a gambling addict. You don't have to be, you know, a shopaholic. You cannot do any of those things. But eat? You gotta eat."

And eat she did.

"Just give me the numbers," Smith said. "How much did you weigh and how tall are you?"

"I'm 5'4" and change," Bertinelli said. "The highest I ever got was 176. When I started the program I was 172."

"Which is really not that big," Smith said.

"Oh, for me, it was big," Bertinelli said. "My knees hurt. I couldn't breathe. My asthma was out of control. Yeah, it wasn't good."

Enter Jenny Craig. In March 2007, Bertinelli signed on with the weight loss company as a spokeswoman. By December of that year, she was 40 pounds lighter and a huge hit.

"Do you think at this point you're better known for acting or for losing the weight?" Smith asked.

"You know my manager was saying the other day, 'You're going to have to do something soon because now you're known for writing these inspirational books and losing the weight and you need to get back to your roots,' and I can't disagree with him," Bertinelli said. "I would love to do a sitcom, and I would love to do a talk show, but that's not acting either. So we'll see."

Of course, a diet - any diet - is only as effective as you make it. Former Jenny Craig spokeswoman Kirstie Alley lost 75 pounds only to gain it all back.

"It worked for you," Smith said. "You're living proof, and then we have other living proof that it doesn't always work."

"Because only you can do it," Bertinelli said. "Only I could do it. People weren't putting food down my mouth. I was doing it.

"If you want to take care of yourself - and I want to take care of myself - I have to stay vigilant and be aware of what I'm putting in my mouth," Bertinelli said.

"For the rest of your life," Smith said.

"For the rest of my life," Bertinelli said. "Ugh!"

In her new book, she talks about her ongoing struggle to stay thin and why posing in a bikini was only the beginning.

"Where do you go from the bikini?" Smith asked.

"I don't think I want to say it out loud 'cause then I'll have to do it," Bertinelli said.

"C'mon, say it," Smith said.

"Marathon?" Bertinelli said. "I think I'm gonna have to do a marathon."

"Do you have a timeframe?" Smith asked.

"I'd like to do it before I'm 50," Bertinelli said. "So I've got six months."

She's training for it now, actually. Truth is, keeping the weight off is a race in itself, and for Valerie Bertinelli it's unclear when - or if - she'll ever cross the finish line.

"You can lose the weight, but then you have to start figuring out what the hell got you in that space in the first place, why you were so miserable, and I'm still tryin' to figure it out," Bertinelli said. "I'm three years into this, and I'm still tryin' to figure out what's gonna keep me sane. Got any clues for me?"

For more info:
"Losing It - and Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time" by Valerie Bertinelli (Free Press)

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