Valerie Bertinelli was 'the poster child for Jenny Craig.' Amid ups and downs, she knows her worth is no longer defined by her size.

"I'm kind and I'm thoughtful. I love fully and wholly. That has nothing to do with what the scale says and nothing to do with what size I wear," she says.

Valerie Bertinelli  holding a plate of pasta with one hand and a forkful of it in the other.
Valerie Bertinelli has released a new cookbook, Indulge, a project she says has helped her learn to enjoy food in a new way. (Courtesy of Valerie Bertinelli)

Valerie Bertinelli no longer views food as “the enemy.”

The veteran actress and TV foodie opens up to Yahoo Entertainment about her new cookbook, Indulge. It’s a word shen has come to embrace after years of using food — as well as alcohol — to numb her feelings.

“Women mainly, but men as well, are bombarded our whole lives with messages about what we need to make ourselves smaller — make our feelings smaller, our bodies smaller, everything about us smaller,” says Bertinelli, who became a working actor at age 14. “I'm tired of being taught those horrible messages. We should take those messages and throw them out because we are enough. We don't need to restrict ourselves. We don't need to restrain ourselves. We need to retrain ourselves to appreciate what we have and indulge in the joy of our lives.”

The shift for Bertinelli began after the 2020 death of her former husband Eddie Van Halen and 2021 split from second husband Tom Vitale. She was feeling “really f***ed up” and like she was “drowning.” Emotionally depleted, Bertinelli committed to addressing feelings instead of masking them.

“Food is not the enemy,” she says. “I don't care how anybody wants to lose weight,” amid the weight loss medication boom. “I'm not judging. But until I decided to actually feel my feelings — not numb them or try to bury them — I wasn't going to change my life at all no matter what I did. And I didn't. I was the poster child for Jenny Craig, and all of a sudden I'm lovable because I lost weight and I got in a bikini. That’s not what makes me lovable. I'm a good person. I have a really strong character. I'm kind and I'm thoughtful. I love fully and wholly. That has nothing to do with what the scale says and nothing to do with what size I wear.”

Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of her new cookbook,
Indulge is Bertinelli's third cookbook. (Harper Collins)

Bertinelli decided to tune out “the negative crap” and love herself for all that she is. The shift involved therapy, journaling and realizing that food is “there to nourish your body,” not fill an emotional void. Similarly, last year she cut back on alcohol, realizing she was using it to soothe her anxiety and pain. (She hasn’t had a drink since Jan. 1, but won’t say she’ll never drink again “because I don't want to set myself up for failure.”)

Now it’s about “feeling the feelings — as painful and challenging as they can be. I tend to build shit up and make myself feel like: ‘Oh, this is gonna be impossible,’” she says. “But no one’s ever cried themselves to death. You can cry a lot — and I have. I've cried buckets. I'm surprised I have any fluid left in my body. But you get to the other side. And you don't need food or alcohol — or sex or gambling or whatever someone's tool in their toolbox is — because you felt the emotion. You're finally listening to the child inside you who wants to be heard.”

Admittedly, “I don't do this perfectly every day,” she says. “Some days I wake up and I go, ‘I can't do this.’ Other days I say, ‘I don't feel like I can do this, but what can I find to be grateful for today?’ I finally found a way to fall in love with myself.”

Bertinelli’s cookbook features mouth-watering recipes, many with sentimental touches like a sandwich her mom made for her during her pregnancy with son Wolfgang Van Halen, now 33 and a musician. There are also personal essays about life — like moving on after a bitter divorce.

“Enjoy the damn sandwich just the way it is,” she says. “Don't feel guilty about it. Don't beat yourself up. When you're eating for the pure enjoyment and nourishing your body, there should be no guilt involved. Have fun.”

Bertinelli has most definitely entered a fun era of her life. Despite swearing off relationships after her second marriage ended, she has found love again, dating an East Coast writer since the start of the year after meeting online.

She won’t give up his name just yet but says, “I'm absolutely crazy about [him].”

As she shares in Indulge, Bertinelli doesn’t mind cooking for one, eating alone or going to parties solo. Though she had two great dates to the Academy Awards last month, attending with Wolfie and his wife, Andraia, whom he married in October after eight years of dating.

“They're just my favorite people in the world,” she says. “Wolfie is just my favorite human. He's the love of my life. And I love that the love of my life is married to the love of his life. Can any parent be happier when their child finds their forever person? I'm overjoyed.”

From left, Andraia Allsop, Wolfgang Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli at the Academy Awards on March 10.
Bertinelli with her son, Wolfgang Van Halen, and daughter-in-law, Andraia, at the Academy Awards on March 10. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

Bertinelli — who rocked a Richard Tyler tuxedo she wore back in 2003 — says she and her daughter-in-law were the first audience members on their feet when Ryan Gosling performed “I’m Just Ken” with surprise cameos from Wolfgang, Slash and Mark Ronson.

“He has been working so hard for so long, and all of these sweet treats that are coming his way he so deserves,” says Bertinelli, who travels the globe to be in the audience when her son performs.

Perhaps some sweet treats will come her way too after recently severing ties with Food Network. Valerie's Home Cooking ended in summer 2023, and she was cut from Kids Baking Championship in January — which she calls “very sad.”

“I knew they canceled Valerie's Home Cooking” amid changes at the network “and that's business. I get it,” she says. “When they didn't ask me back for Kids Baking … it [stung]. I was really emotionally involved with everybody that works there and all the kids that I would get to meet, so it hurt.”

But new beginnings are a theme with her these days — and maybe this cookbook, her third, is the start of something new.

“I think Indulge is a perfect name for a cooking show,” Bertinelli says with a wink. “I'm just gonna put that out there to Netflix, Hulu or whoever wants to hear it.”

Cover thumbnail photo: Dia Dipasupil/WireImage via Getty Images