O'Donnell, who once weighed 237 lbs., estimates she's lost 53 lbs. since having vertical gastric sleeve surgery in July 2013, following a heart attack that threatened her life a year earlier.
"I'm not used to it yet," she said of the weight loss. "I still buy the wrong-sized clothes."
O'Donnell recounted a recent night at the movies when she went unrecognized. After 10 minutes of chatting with fellow moviegoers, they said to her: "I hope this doesn’t insult you, honey, but you look a little like that Rosie O'Donnell."
She responded, "I am Rosie O'Donnell," stopping the women dead in their tracks.
O'Donnell continued: "There are many issues for why people gain weight. Some gain weight as a layer of protection. To keep people away from them. I never wanted someone to want to approach me in a sexual manner because of my physical body because of child abuse issues. So I think they are all interwoven and they don't exist separately so they come up, and I'm having to put out fires and talk to my therapist and get through it and find a different way to cope with my anxiety and my feelings of PTSD rather than eating over them."
Turns out, she's not the only one eating differently on the show: Her co-host Whoopi Goldberg also revealed a thinner figure.
"I've lost about 35 pounds," Goldberg said.
Her method? "I'm using Rocco DiSpirito's diet book The Pound a Day Diet," she said. "And I feel good."
Like O'Donnell, she is in no rush to lose any more. "If I think about [losing more weight], I would start freaking out," Goldberg said. "I'm just doing it."
In addition to their frankness about weight loss, the two veteran talk show stars, along with new co-hosts Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace, spoke candidly on air about domestic violence and the controversy surrounding Ray Rice, whom the NFL suspended for apparently punching his wife, Janay Palmer Rice.
"I question whether or not racism plays a part in this," O'Donnell said after the show. "I'd like to delve deeper. Can we please find some white corporate CEOs who have been charged with domestic abuse and have then been fired from their jobs and lost their jobs?"
"Domestic violence is a huge issue in the U.S. and it can't be truncated into one man, Ray Rice, who is vilified, and then the story is over," she continued. "That's not how it works. We're hoping to dig deep through the layers of that story and find the conflicts."
Goldberg agrees. "I don't want to just jump on the bandwagon," she said after the show. "I want to find out what happened. That's what the show is for – to inform people what is going on."
As for how it all went, O'Donnell was relieved. "I had tremendous nerves," she said. "We only had one day to rehearse, which was Thursday. And that was tremendously anxiety-producing. I haven't done it in a while, and there are new people and it's a new show. And that really kind of threw me. But I think I know, after I got through today, it would be okay, and that's what happened."
The View creator Barbara Walters also praised the new hosts. "They were terrific," Walters told PEOPLE afterward. "And I'm completely unbiased."