America fell in love with Valerie Bertinelli when she starred as Barbara Cooper, the gorgeous girl-next-door on the hit CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, and more than 40 years later, she’s still a welcome guest in many viewers’ homes thanks to her growing cooking empire on the Food Network.
Bertinelli was just 15 years old when she landed the role that would introduce the world to her charms, her first major acting job, and she appeared in nearly every episode during One Day at a Time’s successful run, from 1975 to 1984.
She later starred in several made-for-tv movies and headlined two more sitcoms, Sydney and Café Americain. More recently, she co-starred with the legendary Betty White in TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland.
At age 20, when One Day at a Time was at the peak of its popularity, Bertinelli famously married rocker Eddie Van Halen. The pair would have a child, Wolfgang, now 27, and stay together for two decades before splitting in 2001.
Bertinelli says the marriage was doomed from the start due to cocaine addiction—his and hers. In the years following the high-profile breakup, she kicked drugs and remarried. Now in her 50’s she looks and feels better than ever. She also sought to reclaim her health by losing weight, eventually dropping 50 pounds. She’d been using food as a drug for years, she realized.
In 2008 Bertinelli signed on as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, the nutrition and weight-loss company, and wrote a book, Losing it—And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time. The following year she wrote a follow-up, Finding it—And Satisfying My Hunger For Life Without Opening the Fridge.
She even appeared on the cover of People Magazine—wearing a bikini for the first time in nearly 20 years—to celebrate her 49th birthday.
Although Bertinelli is no longer affiliated with Jenny Craig, she says she learned plenty during that partnership.
“I learned that I’m really good at taking off weight,” she tells Growing Bolder. “I’ve been at it for my entire life. It’s when it starts to creep back on that I get fearful. I start panicking, saying, ‘What am I going to do? What are people going to think of me?’”
Through therapy and her own research, Bertinelli says she’s come to realize a truth about addicts: They’re often locked in a vicious cycle of beating themselves up and then reaching for things that aren’t healthy to cope. She admits that she still struggles to avoid falling back into old habits.
The actress’s public battle with weight gain is why it came as a surprise to her fans when she announced her latest venture in 2015: hosting a cooking show on The Food Network.
She laughingly acknowledges that a Food Network gig may not seem like a great idea for someone with an admitted food addiction. But she says working on Valerie’s Home Cooking has helped her remember a time when her love for food was healthy.
“The way I grew up, food was love,” she says. “It was how you showed that you love each other. But it was a healthy love, not ‘eat until it hurts you.’ Unfortunately, as the years went on, I would lose track of that. I started overstuffing myself or eating snacks that aren’t good for you.”
On her show, Bertinelli gets to demonstrate some of her favorite family recipes—sometimes with assistance from her husband, Tom Vitale, and her son, Wolfgang, whom she calls “Wolfie.” Even famous friends drop by, including White.
“This is probably the hardest I’ve ever worked because it’s just me up there, talking and cooking at the same time,” she says. “But it’s also the most fun I’ve ever had.”
And that joy is clearly connecting with viewers. That’s why Food Network tapped Bertinelli to co-host other top shows on the channel, including Kids Baking Championship with cake artist Duff Goldman, and Food Network Star: Comeback Kitchen with celebrity chef Tyler Florence.
Bertinelli hopes to inspire others who’ve fought weight problems—and to help them realize that food doesn’t have to be the enemy.
“It’s all about trying to find that balance,” she says. “All the things I really love to cook and eat aren’t bad for you, if they’re taken in moderation. Nothing is really bad for you if you take it in moderation.”
Another key to Bertinelli’s success at maintaining a healthy weight is staying busy. When she’s not working, she does whatever she can to avoid getting bored.
“I now do crossword puzzles every morning.” she says, “I love to read. I knit. I started coloring in those adult coloring books. I’m always searching for new things to experience, learn and try.”
Many celebrities try to give off a cool, self-assured vibe. But talking to Bertinelli feels like talking to Barbara Cooper, her sitcom character. She’s charming, self-effacing and quick to acknowledge her fears and insecurities. She’s also endearingly determined to do her part to make the world a little brighter.
“I love Growing Bolder and what it represents,” she says. “It’s such a lovely idea to put out into the world. Even at this age, when I think I have it all together, it still makes me cry when I think of the fears we’re all still carrying around. I know I can only speak for myself, but I want to take fear out of my life because then love can shine through.”
Bertinelli even has an assignment for you. Next time you’re walking down the street or through the grocery store, try smiling at strangers instead of glowering at them because they’re in your way. When they smile back, she says, “it’s going to give you an amazing feeling.”
“We’re here to be kind to one another. It’s so much easier to spread the light than it is to spread the darkness. There’s enough darkness out there; we need the light.”
This article originally appeared in Growing Bolder Magazine. For more great stories like this, click here to subscribe to the digital or print editions of Growing Bolder Magazine. All past issues of GB Magazine, including the one that features this article, are also available to read online exclusively on the GB Portal. Click here to find out how to become a member!