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Fit After 50: Valerie Bertinelli

Valerie Bertinelli is living proof that it’s never too late to change your life. Following four decades in the spotlight, the actress shed unhealthy habits, transformed her body and crossed a marathon finish line. Now in a new book, Bertinelli shares her recipes for success.

“Summer used to mean covering up my body and dreading the walk to the pool,” says a smiling Valerie Bertinelli to the camera. Moments later, the actress sheds her robe to reveal a svelte new figure in a tiny blue bikini.

It’s this scene from the famous 2007 Jenny Craig commercial that introduced the world to Bertinelli’s 40-pound weight-loss success. If you ask the TV star, however, her true transformation occurred months before the ad was shot—before she dropped a single pound. Bertinelli says a switch flipped in her life when she changed her harmful relationship with food to a healthy one.

The 52-year-old Hot in Cleveland actress recounts her journey in her new cookbook, One Dish at a Time—a play on the title of the soap opera that made her a household name, One Day at a Time. “Now when I think about food, I think about family and about how it nourishes the soul, not just the body,” explains Bertinelli. “For a long time, when I had gained too much weight, I forgot about that.”

During much of her adolescence and adulthood, Bertinelli struggled with both restrictive diets that made her painfully thin and emotional eating that caused  her to pack on unnecessary pounds. Although she was a healthy eater as a child, Bertinelli says she lost control over her diet as a young adult living alone. She began to rely on food for comfort—a practice that led to years of out yoyo dieting.

By her late 40s, the actress tipped the scales at over 172 pounds. That all changed when she started Jenny Craig, the brand for which she now serves as spokeswoman. “I had to realize that no food is bad, that moderation is good and that the fresher the food is, the better,” Bertinelli says.

In the months that followed, Bertinelli evaluated her beliefs about eating, discarding the ones that were toxic to both her mind and body. Her change of attitude soon spelled a change in diet. “I ate more fruits and vegetables in six months on Jenny Craig than I’d eaten in the 10 years before that,” she says. As she shed pounds, she started incorporated running into her regimen.

In 2009, the fit 49-year-old ran the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, her first, in 2:12. She joked afterward, “My trainer thinks I’m going to do a full marathon before I’m 50.” It was around that time that the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute contacted Bertinelli and asked if she would raise funds for and awareness of the organization by running the 2010 Boston Marathon on its behalf. She finished the race, held just a few days before her 50th birthday, and raised more than $17,000 for Dana-Farber.

Bertinelli says she still runs about 15 miles per week. Now that she’s gone the distance, her goal is speed. She currently has her sights set on breaking 30 minutes in the 5k.

“That’s what’s great about running— you can always improve,” she says. “You have control over it. You don’t have control over many things in life. Running and food, you do.”

Check out Valerie’s latest book, One Dish At A Time ($30, amazon.com), for more recipes!

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