"I worked really, really, really hard. Physically definitely. I wish to God I had worked just as hard on my mental shape," says Valerie Bertinelli

By Liz McNeil
May 13, 2020 08:00 AM
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When Valerie Bertinelli put on a green bikini to pose for the PEOPLE cover in 2009, it was the first time she had worn a bikini in almost 30 years.

She was about to turn 49, and after nine months on the Jenny Craig diet, for which she was a spokesperson, and countless stomach crunches, she had lost more than 40 lbs. "There's a lot of pride and a lot of shame associated with that cover," says the beloved star in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "I worked really, really, really hard. Physically definitely. I wish to God I had worked just as hard on my mental shape."

"But when I don't work on what's eating me, I'm going to start eating," she says.

Valerie Bertinelli's 2009 PEOPLE cover

Eleven years later, the 60-year-old host of Food Network's Valerie's Home Cooking is doing "the mental and emotional work" underlying her complicated relationship with food. Issues she's been exploring in an interview series she began with the Today show — where she is now a special correspondent — in January, when she said, quietly fighting back tears, "I want to know what true joy feels like."

Valerie Bertinelli
John Russo

The series began, she says, "because I wanted to lose 10 lbs. for my 60th birthday — and then it became much more than that. It became, 'I'd like to lose the weight but I may never lose the weight.' How do I love me for who I am right now? Today. At this body. At this age."

Valerie Bertinelli and Hoda Kotb on the Today show
Nathan Congleton/NBC/Getty

"That means you have to do the internal work. I've been really good at covering it up and eating through it. It's just ... I'd like to be good at something else now," Bertinelli adds with her signature laugh.

Now self-quarantining at home in Los Angeles, with her husband of nine years Tom Vitale (where she is doing live cooking classes from her own kitchen for the Food Network Kitchen app), she hopes her story can help others in this time of isolation.

  • For more from Valerie Bertinelli, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
John Russo

"So many kind people have reached out to me, and said, 'I feel that way too,' it's overwhelming," she says. "It would be a gift to connect with people and hopefully have them feel good about themselves. Treating each other with kindness, starts with ourselves."

And as for the green bikini, she keeps it tucked away in a closet drawer. "The funny thing is, the green bikini was a size large," she notes.

"Even at the lowest weight I've been in decades, I was still wearing a large," she says. "Everybody's shape is what we should be celebrating."