May 13, 2009— -- Valerie Bertinelli and Marie Osmond have lived amazingly parallel lives. They both catapulted to stardom on hit TV shows in the 1970s, and 30 years later, they're both are back in the spotlight. Vegas, Oprah, book deals -- but the secret to their recent success, ironically, is usually a career killer in Hollywood -- they both put on lots of weight.
Now their careers have come back along with their figures, and the actresses who went head to head in primetime in the 70's are now going face to face in an epic diet battle.
Osmond dropped her 46 pounds on Nutri-System, and Bertinelli lost 49 pounds on Jenny Craig.
As far as Bertinelli's concerned, there's no competition when it comes to taste.
"Well, please. I mean, have you tried their food?" she said jokingly. "Can I get in trouble for that? But look, seriously, it's known that Jenny Craig has the best tasting food. That's just a fact."
Osmond said Nutri-System was the best program for her. "I didn't want to have to measure everything; I didn't want to go someplace and be weighed in," she said, adding that the plan "was heart healthy, meaning it was low in sodium, and all the things that I had studied and knew nutritionally. And, it worked."
For her part, Osmond said she wouldn't follow in Bertinelli's footsteps and pose in a bikini on the cover of People magazine.
"Good for her, if that makes her happy. That would not make me happy," Osmond said, laughing. "And I am not doing it, you know, I am not. I don't want to see a 49-year-old woman in a bikini. No."
Bertinelli, also 49, said the photo shoot was a motivational tool.
"I need goals," she said. "I need specific goals to keep me going. ... So that's when we started talking and going well, maybe I would put a bikini on because I would like to look good in a bikini, I'm going to be 50, going to be, one day, soon, so I thought, why not? Why the hell not?"
The teasing may be good-natured, but Bertinelli and Osmond are at the center of a high-stakes, hyper-competitive battle, because weight loss is a $40 billion industry in the U.S.
Both Jenny Craig and Nutri-System sell prepackaged, low-calorie frozen meals. Jenny Craig also offers center-based, one-on-one consulting. But to sell their products, it seems to have come down to which celebrity is getting skinny on which diet.
Valerie Bertinelli: 'Food Is My Love'
Diet companies are searching for the right formula. An overweight stars that women can relate to, not just because of their celebrity, but their real-life heartaches and struggles.
"I look like your next-door neighbor," Bertinelli said. "I mean, half of this country is divorced. Half of this country has been married. So I've been through everything that everyone else has been through."
Jenny Craig client Cynthia Sparagna, from southern Calif., said she was inspired to join the program by Bertinelli.
"I think because she's my age group, I grew up with her ... also she's very warm and down to earth," Sparagna said. "I just like her energy… I relate to her on many levels."
In her book, Bertinelli wrote openly about all aspects of her life. She even included an experience in her 20s when she shared a kiss with another woman, which we asked her about.
"It was not a lesbian fling," she said. "It was a kiss."
"I don't ever feel like I've been particularly wholesome, just relatable. You know, and no one really is wholesome," she said. "I'm a bit of a prude. ... I think it's probably because of all of the stuff I did in my 20s. Now I'm, you know, rebelling against my 20s. "
Bertinelli talked openly about her cocaine abuse, her infidelity, and the messy break-up of her marriage to rock star Eddie Van Halen. She said her tailspin of depression was intertwined with her lifelong addiction to food.
"That's my drug," she said. "That's why I'm still not using coke. I mean I could still be on coke right now but that wasn't my love. Food is my love. I was getting bigger and bigger the tougher it got. That's how I was feeding my fears and calming my emotions, was through food. And it showed."
As for Osmond, food was also an issue at an early age.
She said she remembers producers on the "Donny and Marie Show" "taking me out in parking lots and saying if you don't lose 10 pounds, you are going to be an embarrassment to this family, we are going to cancel the [show]. I mean I was 15 years old, 110 pounds. ... I was thin, and I went down to 93 pounds, which was stupid."
In later years Osmond struggled with severe post-partum depression, a troubled marriage that also ended in divorce. One of her sons entered rehab. She said it was only after her mother died of heart disease that she decided to do something about her weight.
"On her death bed she said, 'Don't do what I did. Don't do it," she remembered her mother telling her. "Don't put the weight on; don't not take care of your health. Don't put yourself last."
Stars Find Spotlight Endorsing Diet Products
Around the same time, Bertinelli got a phone call from Jenny Craig.
Bertinelli cringed at the memory. She said her first thought was, "Oh God, they know I'm fat too! How do they know?"
"My life felt out of control. ... At that point you are just looking for a life raft, a life preserver, somebody help me, and they were there," she said.
"She had been on the radar for a while," Jenny Craig CEO Patti Larchet said. "I think everybody knows who Valerie is. She's the kind of woman, she's very genuine. You think, 'I could be her friend.' I think that's why she's resonating."
Jenny Craig, headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif., has cracked the code on how to find the ultimate weight loss star.
"I think one of the reasons we've been using celebrities for so many years is celebrities create an interest," Larchet said. "So I think the magic kind of, if you will, of rotating in celebrities telling their story is people like reality television."
According to the company, 150,000 people sign up each week, inspired, over the years, by the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Regis Philbin -- and now Bertinelli.
"We have over 84 different foods at any one given time," said Larchet, who climbed the ranks in the company partly on her ability to recruit the right stars. "Our revenues have been going up year after year. Last year was our best year in our 25-year history, but as important -- our clients are losing more weight and staying longer with the program."
Celebrity endorsers can get paid up to an estimated $1 million to lose the weight -- a small price for all the publicity generated for the company. But Larchet said the relationship between celebrities and the diet business is mutually beneficial.
Osmond is working on an "inspirational album;" Bertinelli has plans for an exercise DVD. Both say they're considering doing talk shows.
But isn't it easier to lose weight when you're being paid to do it? Bertinelli said no.
"I'm paid to be a spokesperson and do commercials," she said. "And my job is to lose the weight for me, because you can't do it for anybody else. And nobody can do it for you."
The fear of public humiliation may also have something to do with it. People magazine "Body Watch" editor Galina Espinoza said the celeb diet wars have never been more heated.
"I think it's really interesting that something that wasn't quite possible 10 years ago -- a celebrity endorsing a diet product? That would have been career suicide I think a decade or two ago -- today it is considered a way to catapult your way back into the spotlight," Espinoza said.
Valerie Bertinelli on Kirstie Alley's Weight Gain
Espinoza said a fundamental part of her job is keeping track of the ups and downs of celebrity weight.
"Just think about flipping through a magazine with your friends, and you say, 'Oh, what did Kate Hudson do to her hair,' or, 'Oh, Scarlett Johansson looks like she may be putting on a few pounds.' This is what we talk about," she said. "This is part of the public conversation. "
But the intense media scrutiny can trip up some weight loss success stories.
Former Cheers star Kirstie Alley lost 75 pounds on Jenny Craig, but has gained it all back, plus 10 extra pounds. Bertinelli said Alley was her weight-loss mentor and denied that there was ever a rivalry between the two.
"There never was," she said. "Not at all. Ever. She opened her arms and let me in and gave me all of the greatest advice. And I miss her, I miss her.
"She is a very big part of why I am here. She said this is going to be a lot more about losing weight, this is about finding out who you are and what you're made of, and I was like, no, I just want to get into a smaller size. And she was right."
Alley, who left Jenny Craig in Dec. 2007 shortly after debuting her bikini-ready body on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," recently confessed her weight gain sins to Winfrey. She now plans to open her own weight loss program, but Bertinelli is hoping she'll come back to Jenny Craig.
"Let me mentor you this time," she said. "I'll hold her hand. Oh, I would just, I'm telling you, I think it would be the greatest thing. There's so many people that come up to me wherever I am and they say I was on the program a couple of years ago and then I stopped and then I see that you've had success so I'm coming back. It's not a bad thing to stop something and come back to it. You're not a failure. You're never a failure. As long as you keep getting back up."