Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic; Chelsea Lauren/WireImage
December 09, 2014 06:00 PM

After working hard to lose 60 lbs., Marissa Jaret Winokur gained back 20 lbs. – and she couldn’t be more pleased.

“I decided I wasn’t going to work out 12 hours a day, live on 1,200 calories and be miserable and not kind to my family,” the actress and former Dancing with the Stars contestant tells PEOPLE. “I’ll tell you, I am much happier since I put a little weight back on.”

Even her 6-year-old son Zev is glad.

“My son is like, ‘Oh, yay. She’s not off to work all the time,’ ” says Winokur. “I would say ‘I’m off to work’ and go to the gym all day. I worked out every second of every day and ate nothing but whole proteins and vegetables. There was no happiness in that. You have to find the happy medium.”

These days, Winokur, 41, is exploring similar themes of empowerment and confidence in the new rom-com Muffin Top: A Love Story.

But Winokur, who got down to a size 2 in 2012, admits she has not always been entirely confident about her own figure.

Despite the fact that she has considered herself “a plus-size role model,” Winokur says, “On the inside I would be thinking, ‘If I lost 10 lbs., I’d be a lot happier.’ But I’ve started to change my view.”

“I got to the ‘promised land’ where I was skinny and there was no water or gold. There was nothing extraordinary. My life didn’t change. What is more important is the emotional management of it all. It has nothing to do with your size. It has to do with how you feel,” she says. “You have to love yourself now, not 5 lbs. from now.”

Loving Yourself at Any Weight

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