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One Day at a Time

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Valerie Bertinelli and her favorite team, the Saints, prove that good things come to those who try and try again

valerieWhile thousands of crunked-up New Orleanians continue to celebrate the Saints’ glorious Super Bowl win against the Indianapolis Colts, Valerie Bertinelli is an ecstatic part of that number too! The adorable actress, whose role as the beloved Barbara Cooper on television’s One Day at a Time kicked off an illustrious career in Hollywood, has been a diehard fan of the New Orleans Saints since 1979, thanks to time spent with her family in Shreveport, and she’s indeed enjoying the victory with the rest of the Who Dat Nation! New Orleans Living talked about football with Bertinelli, and it’s easy to see that America’s sweetheart carries all the emotions, convictions and superstitions that come with bleeding black and gold!

The Golden Globe–winning actress also shared with us her recent accomplishments, including her stunning weight loss as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, which empowered her to take charge of her life and write two books, Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time (2008) and Losing It: And Satisfying My Hunger for Life Without Opening the Fridge (2009). In her inspiring memoirs, the upbeat and beautiful-asever best-selling author shares everything from her rock star life as guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen’s former wife and being mom to their rock star son, Wolfie, to her current love life with financial planner Tom Vitale and her continual exploration of her relationship with God and staying fit. Bertinelli also released a fitness DVD, titled Losing It and Keeping Fit, and will be running the Boston Marathon in April–a few days shy of her 50th birthday–to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And with all the great things going on in her life today, the future looks bright for Bertinelli, just like it does for our awesome New Orleans Saints!

Hey, Valerie, WHO DAT! Can you believe them Saints!

WHO DAT! My God! After 30 years of being a fan, you kind of get used to hearing “There’s always next year; we’ll get them next year.” So what am I going to say now?

It’s a fantastic reason to be speechless! Normally Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday at your home, so this must have been some party this year.

We’re on cloud nine! We had white and gold Christmas lights out in front for the party and had Mardi Gras beads all over the house. We had Moon Pies for everybody. I didn’t want to get that face they give you, like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about the Saints,” so I was preparing everybody and saying, “As a Saints fan, I know how to lose, so I’ll be okay. I just want to see a really good game.” It’s weird, the strangest calm took over me as I was watching the game.

In the first quarter, I was like “It’s okay, it’s only 10 points,” whereas all season I was nervous for the first half. And they always come back in the second half, unlike the Saints of yore who would always fall apart in the second half.

You’re obviously a long-time fan!

Put it this way: When Peyton’s daddy went 8 and 8 for the first time, we all had a celebration at our house! Yes, I’ve been a Saints fan since 1979. And I never wore a bag over my head, and I never called them “the Aints.” Let everyone know that, please! I would say to those fans: “You can’t be fairweather fans, you have to stick with them for everything!”

How did you become a Saints fan?

My dad moved to Shreveport to open up a General Motors plant, and my younger brother Patrick played football in high school there. I spent most of my time there because of an actors’ strike, and everywhere we’d go had Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia up, even a local McDonald’s. I would get so angry and say, “We’re not going to that McDonald’s anymore!” Friends would come over and root for Dallas on Sundays, and I’d be like, “Are you kidding me? You have an in-state team!” and they’d say, “But they don’t win!” and I would say, “You are not allowed to be a Dallas fan, you have to be a Saints fan!” You can thank the Dallas Cowboys for making me a Saints fan! [Laughs] Excuse me, who’s “America’s Team” now? We truly deserve to be America’s team! We know what it’s like to be an American, how you pull yourself up from your bootstraps and make the best of what you can. God, I love my Saints!

And it’s a real fairy tale, with Katrina and Drew Brees’ shoulder injury. It’s all making sense for New Orleans now.

It is. And what Drew Brees did and continues to do is pretty spectacular too. For both him and the city to heal at the same time, I just so admire that man. And Sean Payton! Oh, Henderson had a great game, too! And Pierre Thomas has been remarkable for us! I was of the opinion that Marques Colston should have won Rookie of the Year had he not gotten hurt midseason about three years ago. I mean, we really have such a deep team. I’m just still not used to that feeling!

The whole team is one big class act! And it’s a great message for everyone with adversity in their lives: If the Saints can do what they’ve done, so can you. You’ve done that a lot lately in your own life. You’ve had some fantastic accomplishments in recent years.

Yeah, I guess maybe that’s why I’ve had a real big soft spot in my heart for the Saints. I’ve had a very good couple of years. God has been good to me.

So true. It was wonderful to see you on the cover of People magazine in the bikini!

Oh, my goodness! That was a big ol’ step for me. I wouldn’t have done that in my 20s! I wouldn’t have felt safe enough. Now, what do I have to lose? Seriously! If I just work hard enough and put my mind to something, like the Saints did, I can accomplish what I want to.

Between you being in that bikini and in the Who Dat Nation, all the guys are in love with you more than ever. Like my husband!

Ha ha! Bless his heart! A lot of people didn’t know I’m a big Saints fan. I did the cover of a TV Guide back in the ’90s, and it was a January Super Bowl issue and all I talked about were my Saints! If someone comes up to me and says, “Oh, you’re just a Saints fan this year,” I’m like, “Oh, don’t you even go there with me! Thirty years!” In the early ’80s, I went to my first game in the Superdome with my girlfriend Faith Ford, who is another Louisianian, and she and I had the best time! I’ve been to three or four games in the Dome, but I’ve never been there when they won a game. I’m still hoping to one day watch the Saints win in the Dome, but I’m afraid to come back. We all have our superstitions. I wore the same shirt every Sunday this year!

I hear you! And I’ve heard you say there is nowhere sexier than being in the Louisiana Superdome. It must have something to do with

the tight pants!

Oh, my God! I must say, I love it when they wear the black and black. Although now I’m loving the gold pants and the white shirt ’cause that’s how they won the Super Bowl. I was actually in the Dome after Katrina. I interviewed Reggie Bush when I was a correspondent on The Rachael Ray Show. That was my first job. I was like, “You gotta get me to the Superdome, I want to interview the Saints!” Reggie had a good game that day, but they lost, probably because I was there! [Laughs]

You need to wear a different shirt next time! What do you love about New Orleans?

Oh, what’s not to love! I like the atmosphere and the people and the smiles on their faces. They’re just really good people. I like staying downtown at the Ritz-Carlton and being able to just walk out of the hotel and walk to any restaurant I want to. It is the best place ever to eat! We traditionally had gumbo on Sundays. Faith [Ford] gave me a great red beans recipe and a great black-eyed-peas recipe. I love all that food; I just have to watch my portion sizes. I can have a cup of gumbo; I can’t eat three bowls of gumbo!

Your recent weight loss has enabled you to get happy about life again.

It’s pretty remarkable how weight in this country is a great leveler. We all worry about health and weight, and it’s really been easy to talk to people about that. I go on speaking tours and discuss being your very best self and taking back your life and everybody can relate to that. Look at the Saints, taking back the NFL!

Everything comes back to the Saints, doesn’t it!

[Laughs]

WHO DAT! [Laughs] And it’s very exciting that you’ve become the face–and the body–for Jenny Craig!

It’s exciting for me. I love this company! I hear many stories from people who love the program. It works for them. But you have to work at it too, you can’t expect miracles. You must take care of yourself and eat the proper foods. I have never eaten so many vegetables and fruits before, so this diet teaches you how to be a better eater.

It’s really easy to use food basically as a drug to numb your feelings. You can do that for a while, but then you have to climb out of it somehow.

I still have bad days when I want to use food to numb stress, and I know I can’t do that or it’ll hurt me in the long run. I tried Jenny’s food and I loved it. And I asked, “Please don’t make me talk to a consultant!” but I tell you, that is the key. That’s why it’s been successful for me, because someone was there to keep me honest.

You’ve been so inspired by becoming physically and emotionally healthy that you’ve written two great books. And I gotta tell you, my 80-something-year-old grandmother just lost those stubborn 10 pounds she wanted to lose on Jenny Craig!

Oh, bless her heart! Oh, please tell her congratulations for me! Look, I always believed that you’re only as sick as your secrets, so with the first book, I thought I’ll just get it all out there instead of holding it in anymore. I’m an emotional eater. I numb my feelings with food; that’s how I’ve coped my whole life. I thought if I can just talk about what’s going on in my life, I won’t have anything to numb, so food will just be nutrition to feed my body, not my emotions. Then I got to maintenance, and I did the bikini thing, and I felt this wall in front of me, and I was like, now what? I’ve lost the weight a ton of times before and always gained it back, but this was the first time I’ve kept it off for as long as I have. We know how to lose weight, but we don’t know how to keep it off because we don’t know how to deal with the emotions, the stressors or deal with why we got fat in the first place. Being fat was just a symptom of how disruptive my life was. And I just woke up this morning and I said, “God, thank you for this blessed life and all its struggles and challenges that you’ve given me,” because I’d forgotten to thank him in a few days. In the second book, it’s also about trying to find that peace and “Can he hear me?” and “Is he really listening?” and just learning how to have faith.

Also in Finding It, you discuss your relationship with your love, Tom Vitale, and being Wolfie’s mom. I mean, you have another rock star in your life! He’s already gone on tour at age 16, playing bass in Van Halen with his dad.

I know! He’s a good boy who’s almost 20 in the next year. It’s kind of sad making sure the umbilical cord is cut and that he’s his own young man and a good citizen of the world and making sure you did your job right. But, yeah, I miss him. I miss that little boy. Gosh, when Wolfie was a little baby, he would get so mad at me during football season when the game was on because I would scream so loud. Wolfie hated loud noise; of course, look what he does for a living! [Laughs] I got him adjusted to loud noise.

You’ve always been known as America’s sweetheart and the squeaky-clean girl next door. When you revealed uncomfortable details about your marriage and stuff, were people supportive of your honesty?

It seemed that way. But a few people were disgusted with what I talked about. I wrote the book because I didn’t want people having a false idea of who they think I am. I thought I’d be completely honest, and if they still like me, great, and if not, at least I won’t be carrying the baggage around anymore, and I don’t have to eat to feel safe. I’ve learned that you can’t make everybody like you. You have to like yourself first, and I’m still working on that. I try to live by the golden rule: Do onto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s amazing what a smile will do. Just being nice goes a long way.

You were motivated enough to put out a fitness DVD as a result of your weight loss.

It came to life because many people were asking me how I lost weight. I lost 40 pounds and hired my trainer, Christopher Ross Lane, to help me get toned because I knew being in a bikini on camera would add 10 pounds. But I wanted people to know it wasn’t anything they couldn’t do! I don’t have a home gym or lots of expensive equipment. I use my coffee table; I do sit-ups, push-ups, all old-school stuff. I wanted to show people that at any age, when we put our mind to something, we can accomplish it.

You are everywhere these days! You just shot a television pilot too.

Yes, I just did Hot in Cleveland, with Betty White, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, and I’m extremely excited about it. I’m hoping it gets picked up. Tom, my “spousal equivalent” was born and raised in Ohio, and he’s a huge Cleveland Browns fan who gets so discouraged with the Browns, but I say, “Honey, you’ve seen me go through this with the Saints and look what happened!” I’m a little upset with the NFL, because I wanted to wear a Browns jersey in one of the scenes. That’s good advertising for them! And after everything they did to the Who Dat Nation and they wanted to own it all, are you kidding me? But really, I’m thinking the Saints are going to be the football team to beat in this decade. That’s what I’m in saying!

WHO DAT!

-CHRISTINE FONTANA