Since the 49-year-old actress first appeared on One Day at a Time beside co-star “sister” Mackenzie Phillips, shes been through the gamut of Hollywood headlines: After a more-than-20-year marriage to rocker Eddie Van Halen (they had one son, Wolfgang), she went through a public divorce.
In 2007 after reaching 172 pounds, Valerie became a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig and lost 50 pounds; she now stays around 128 pounds.
Shes since written two books: 2008s Losing It was a number-one New York Times best-seller, and the follow-up, Finding It, just debuted in October.
Valeriewho looks as amazing in person as she does in pictureslives with her boyfriend of five years, investment-fund manager Tom Vitale, her son “Wolfie,” 18, and Toms 19-year-old son, Tony. Sitting on her patio overlooking the Pacific, Valerie fields all your questionsabout her weight, divorce, and happy, new life.
Q: What was your big “aha!” moment that made you realize that you wanted or needed to lose weight?Erin Buzzella, Austin, Texas
Valerie: The “aha!” moment happened when I saw myself on the last film that I did about three years ago [a movie called Claire for Hallmark]. I had spent a lot of time avoiding mirrors. But when I was at home and I saw the rough cut on screen, I went, “Oh my goodness, who is that ugly, old, fat woman?” I couldnt watch the whole movie, because I just couldnt get past how I looked.
And that just made me feel terrible. And ashamed. And I was tired of feeling ashamed. I started to visualize myself, what I knew I could look likeand I didnt want to look like that person on the screen. So I started to picture what I knew I could look like as a healthy, vibrant woman. A couple of months later, Jenny Craig called.
Q: What diet trick really keeps you on track?Jenny Brosius, Oklahoma City
Valerie: Volumizing things. Im going to make the [Jenny Craig] Tuscan Soup today, because theres a bunch of stuff ahead of me and Ive been feeling emotional and Im afraid Im going to start using food as a crutch again. So Im making this soup. Its only 63 calories and satiates you.
Q: Is it a lot of pressure to lose weight in the public eye, and do you ever get scared to eat in public because of it?Annette Powers, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Valerie: When I do go out and eat in public, its very funny. I was just on a flight home from Cape Cod and the flight attendant was giving us the [menu options] and she goes, “I want to hear what youre going to order.” And I was like, “Oh my god, seriously?” Even if they dont say it, I can kind of feel the eyes on me. Every time Im at the supermarket, you can see people looking in my cart. Im like, its cool, but hey, I have kidstheres other stuff in here. Sometimes it keeps me in line, and other times, Im like, “Hey, Im on a splurge day, leave me alone!”
Q: What are your secrets to keeping off the weight?Lisa Wyatt, San Francisco
Valerie: That is the key. Because every single one of us is brilliant at losing weight. In fact, Ive been a master at it for 30 years. Its the maintenance part I havent quite mastered, and thats what Im trying to get my PhD in now! Its just about staying vigilant. Which sometimes I think, Why do I have to be vigilant every day of my life? I just want to relax! Well, you know what? We can take days to relax and we can have our splurge days, but if we want to treat our bodies well, we have to stay vigilant. It sucks [laughs]. But Id rather be vigilant now than go through what Ive been going through my entire life.
Q: Is there anything you avoided before that you now do?Jen Haviland, Long Beach Island, N.J.
Valerie: I avoided getting dressed and going out for a night on the town, because I knew that if I walked in my closet, I would be miserable. So I didnt want to put myself through that. And I avoided foods all the time, but I still got fatbecause I would avoid them so much and then gorge.
Q: I found Mackenzie Phillipss story about her father so sad. How did it affect you when you found out. Did you feel sad, too?Denise Mathieson, Larchmont, N.Y.
Valerie: I was devastated for her, but incredibly proud of her. Shes taken a subject that most people will not talk about, and shes given it a face and a heart. I have trouble getting over anger at her father, but its not my job to do that. My job is just to support her and be her friend, and I do that willingly and gladly.
Q: When you surprised Mackenzie on Oprah, youd said you didnt know what was happening. Did you sense that something was wrong?Jill Martinez, Portland, Ore.
Valerie: You can tell when someone is as self-destructive as Mac was that something much deeper is happening. This is why I believe her. Shes not a liar. Why is it so often that the victim is put through this again? Granted John [Phillips] is not here to defend himself, but its really indefensible. Like, this whole thing with Roman Polanski. Its like, Are you crazy?! He pled guilty! How can you be supporting him? I dont care how brilliant somebody is, its not OK!
But even if I had known [about Mackenzie], I was so young and so self-involved, I dont know that I could have helped her. It all comes out when its supposed to. Shes going to help millions and millions of people. And when you can help other people, thats when you get the most healing.
Q: You were always the all-American sweetheart one on the show. Did you ever feel guilty that fans didnt embrace Mackenzie in the same way?Dana Simons, Locust Valley, N.Y.
Valerie: Sure, I did feel guilty because I was doing drugs with her! Not to the extent she was, but it doesnt matter.
Q: You were married to Eddie Van Halen for more than 20 years. How did you decide after all that time that it was better to be apart?Elizabeth Spencer, Los Angeles
Valerie: It just got to a point that as our son was getting older, this was going to be his version of how two married people in love treated one another, and I didnt want him to think that this was it. Our marriage was very broken.
And we werent treating each other with kindness and love. So [Wolfie] was getting a wrong version of what marriage was like. When it was clear that we just werent going to get any further, we both basically ended it. A lot of people stay together for their children, and theyre making a mistake.
Q: You were at Eddies wedding in June. How do you stay friends after all youve been through?Danika Sydlosky, New York City
Valerie: Because hes a really good guy, and hes a really special man. I dont love him like a wife could love someone. I love him like a brother. Ill always love him. Hes the father of my child, [who is] the light of my life.
Q: Whats the key to co-parenting?Julie Brown, Glendale, Calif.
Valerie: You have to love your child more than you hate your ex. If you speak unkindly about the other, youre not hurting your ex, youre hurting your child! Why would you want to do that?
Q: Are you at all worried that Wolfie will be tempted by some of the same unhealthy choices you and Eddie made?Claire Ashton, Denver
Valerie: Every day. Every day. Im here for him, but I have a feeling his albatross will be the same as mine was. He uses food as comfort, too, but I think hell get through it. But you know, which would I take: drugs, alcohol, food? Id pick food. He can work out more and find better choices.
Q: What advice would you give to Jon and Kate Gosselin, another couple who have to divorce in the public eye? Maria Amaro, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Valerie: Boy, did that turn around quickly, huh? People hated her, and now hes the bad guy. But Ive got to say, Ive never seen a man go through such a midlife crisis so early. Ill say it again: You have to love your kids more than you hate your ex. He said on national TV that he despises her. Well, you think the kids arent going to see that? That hurts them, it doesnt hurt Kate. I feel bad, because I dont know these people. But look out for the kids.
Q: Whats better, looking good or feeling good?Terri Castillo, Los Angeles
Valerie: Feeling good, without a doubt. When I feel good, I look better, because it shows from within.