From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
No, she hasn't had sex yet, okay? When Kirstie Alley spoke on Aug. 18 before 400 Jenny Craig clients gathered in a ballroom at New York's Pierre Hotel, she gamely answered their questions, including this rather direct one: "When you were on Oprah [last fall], you said you hadn't had sex in a long time. I was just wondering if that had changed."

"Okay, here's the deal," Alley said through a giggle. "I'm not going to look for a man until after September." What's the holdup? She has dropped 50 lbs.—only about 30 lbs. from her goal—and "I'm feeling very confident," says the twice-divorced actress. "But I've had enough relationships I didn't understand. I've decided to work on that. By September I'll be ready. And," she adds with a sly smile, "some guys are interested."

That means you can expect her to have the whole Relationship Thing ticked off her self-improvement to-do list by the time the leaves are turning at her Maine vacation home. Kirstie Alley is a get-it-done gal. She kicked a three-year cocaine habit (before becoming a star in the '80s) and gave up smoking cold turkey last November after appearing on Oprah. ("She said, 'You have to stop that,' and I took her literally.") Then, nine months ago, she decided to vanquish the poor eating habits—she could polish off a platoon of ginger-bread men at one standing—that had packed on the pounds.

"When I got fat, I was being stupid. It was a little bit like when I used to do drugs, " says Alley, 54 and long sober. "Before I stopped doing drugs, I had to spiritually get a grip and go, 'What do you want your life to be like?' I want to be healthy and lean and have fun."

Three months after she started sending up her girth on her semi-reality series Fat Actress, Alley committed to paring it down by signing a paid endorsement deal with Jenny Craig. Four dress sizes later, "I am," declares Alley, "the Jenny Craig evangelist!"

She began her presentation at the Pierre by karate-kicking a life-size cutout of herself at over 200 lbs. "I'm never going to go there ever again," she says resolutely.

How did she get there in the first place? Alley herself is a little mystified. Through a deep-fried-and-gravied girlhood in Wichita, Kans., she rarely carried an extra pound on her 5'8" frame. "I ate a lot" she recalls. "But I was swimming all day long." After becoming an actress, she stayed svelte. "Let's face it," she says with a laugh. "I had a free ride for a long time on the ol' weight train."

Then something changed. "Around age 45, I couldn't eat huge quantities of food without gaining weight," she says.

By then Alley had become a mother to Lillie, now 11, and William, 12. "I wanted to be the ideal mom. I'd be cooking and had to taste everything 50 times." That habit took its toll after her second series, Veronica's Closet, went off the air in 2000. But Alley dismissed each 10-lb. gain, thinking, "Who wants to be Paris Hilton anyway?" She still ate as if she possessed a teenager's metabolism. "I'd hit Chili's and have that Awesome Blossom—that giant fried onion—then chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes and chicken wings; like 7,000 calories at one meal!"

She knew the resulting look was not flattering. "Covering myself up, I looked like an Amish girl," she says. "I did a movie [1997's For Richer or Poorer] about the Amish, and they look sexier than I did." But past 50 and single—her 14-year second marriage, to the father of her kids, actor Parker Stevenson, ended in 1998, and she broke up with actor James Wilder in 2000—Alley came to justify her size as essential to weeding out potential dates. "I said to myself, 'If some man really loves me, it will never again be for my very hot body. He who can see me through the layers of flab will be the real man for the real me.'" She scoffs at that now. "It was like a stupid, female version of Cyrano de Bergerac."

Still, her true revelation didn't come until she witnessed early footage of Fat Actress. "I didn't realize I was that fat," she says. "Seriously." Still, she had enough of a hint to include a joke in the first episode about her agent calling with an offer to promote Jenny Craig. Her hysterical reaction—"You're killing me!"—wasn't a big stretch.

Jenny Craig members usually go to program centers for their weekly weigh-ins, but Alley had hers at home to avoid paparazzi. ("I would do mine wearing nothing," she says. "I was nervous because...any woman knows how that feels!" Aside from the weigh-ins, she says she follows the program, which normally costs between $12 and $17 a day, as anyone would. (The company also provides the plan free to 10 of her friends and relatives; her sister has lost 60 lbs. so far.) She eats portion-controlled packaged food and supplements it with fruit and vegetables, totaling between 1,200 and 1,500 calories daily (see box, p. 72). It wasn't easy at first. "It took me four months to really know that I didn't have to eat huge amounts." At restaurants, "even half of what I ate before was 10 times too much."

Like other Jenny Craig clients, Alley regularly meets with a consultant, whose guidance is "very practical, not some head trip," says the actress, a long-time follower of Scientology. "On the Fourth of July, I had this huge feast with lobsters and clams and corn on the cob and potatoes and pies and cakes and cupcakes. We figured out how much I was going to eat: two corns on the cob and two cookies, because I can't resist those." (For more tips, see box on p. 73.) Friends help her out too. "I'm there as a sounding board," says best pal Kelly Preston. "It's been challenging for her, but she made it into a big game and kept it fun. I go to her house and eat Jenny Craig too."

She also got active again, but didn't go the personal-trainer route. "I'd have a friend over and we'd just blare music and dance," says Alley, who also took long walks. She also turned her L.A. living room into a gym, filling it with several resistance-training machines.

Before, when she weighed 200 lbs. plus, she couldn't easily play with her kids. "It took me 10 minutes to stand up," she says. Now it's different. "This summer, with my kids, it was me leading them: 'Let's swim! Let's jump on the trampoline!' " Though they like and eat some Jenny Craig food, she says, they are not on the diet with her. "My daughter is thin. I don't want her to have the message that you have to weigh 105 lbs.," says Alley. "But I don't want her to have the message that you should weigh 300 lbs. We've talked about it."

Though Alley is blunt about the pressure to be thin in Hollywood—"If you're not thin, you're not going to work very much," she tells a woman at the Pierre—being overweight actually jump-started her career with Fat Actress. The series drew some positive reaction, but she doesn't expect it will be renewed by Showtime next season. "I think [the network execs] have great concerns with me not being fat," says Alley. Others guess they are less concerned with the drop in pounds than in viewers—Fat Actress lost 68 percent of its audience after the first two episodes. But giving up the show is small sacrifice, she says, for gaining "a nice appreciation of my body again."

Alley would like to do another sitcom, but first she plans to celebrate her weight loss with a trip to Italy at the end of the year. "I want to splurge on clothes, be with my children and have an amazing time. I want to go looking my best." Also on the wish list: "I would like to get married again someday, absolutely," she says. "Who knows? Maybe I'll come back with an Italian husband!"

Allison Adato. Natasha Stoynoff in New York City.

  • Contributors:
  • Natasha Stoynoff.