From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
WHEN KIRSTIE ALLEY PACKED HER SIX MATCHING SUITCASES FOR A RETREAT OUTSIDE FLORENCE ON SEPT. 16, THERE WERE A FEW ITEMS CONSPICUOUSLY absent from her checklist. Her once-trusty "fat uniform"-a formless empire-waist cotton dress she owns in multiple colors-was left in the back of her closet in her Los Angeles home. Instead the bags brimmed with a sexy selection of designer dresses, care of Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen. But even more fabulous? The number emblazoned on all the labels. "I can wear a size 6!" says the newly trim actress, who hit her 100-lb. weight-loss mark this summer. "It feels very good. I feel back to normal."

It's a surprising-and slimmer!-new chapter in the life of the 60-year-old star, whose figure has fluctuated in the public eye for the better part of the past decade. Now in her best shape ever, "I have more energy than I've ever had in my whole life," says Alley, whose weight hovered around 230 lbs. two years ago. But after her impressive turn on Dancing with the Stars earlier this year, Alley finished the show more than 70 lbs. lighter and continued to dance up to two hours, six days a week, all while raising her kids (Lillie, 17, and True, 18), juggling multiple projects (her upcoming ABC pilot, The Manzanis, a new book and a possible role on Broadway are all in the works) and running Organic Liaison, her own weight-loss program she credits for her new rocking body. "I like my back, waist, shoulders and arms," says Alley, who even walked the runway for Zang Toi at New York Fashion Week. Fans like her new look as well. When news spread that Alley had lost 100 lbs., one devotee posted online, "Way to go girl!" while another chimed in, "She looks really hot!"

But haven't we heard all this before? When Alley stepped down as a Jenny Craig spokeswoman in December 2007, she was a svelte 145 lbs., having famously lost 75 lbs. during her three-year stint with the company. But without regular weigh-ins and prepackaged meals, Alley gradually ballooned back up to her starting weight-and then some. "I was at maximum eating load," Alley recalls. "I didn't like the way I looked. I might have had fun times getting there, but there was nothing positive about being fat. My body had gotten really weak. I felt like I couldn't move."

When the opportunity came along to get her rumba on on Dancing with the Stars, "every single person including my agent, manager and friends said don't do it. They all thought that I'm a hotshot actress who should only act, but I was bored out of my mind," says Alley, who also solicited advice from DWTS alums Jennifer Grey and Marlee Matlin, who called the experience "excruciating" and "a killer." Alley's response? "Good, I need something killer."

As she racked up perfect 10's with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Alley found herself dropping sizes and gaining confidence. "With DWTS, I did something that was so physically challenging for me. It changed my life," she says. "I like the way my body looks. I look younger." Her new effervescent glow didn't go unnoticed. After Alley performed in the season finale (she ultimately placed second), judge Carrie Ann Inaba declared: "You have become the new poster child for life as it should be lived at 60 years old!"

Still, few milestones topped the feeling of clearing the 100-lb. weight-loss hurdle. "When I hit that mark, I went, 'That's it.' I weighed myself every day until I lost 100 lbs. Now I have my tightest dress-a Roland Mouret, size 6-and I put it on twice a week and use it as a barometer to truly know what size I am," she says, adding, "It's made of asphalt. It doesn't move!"

And to all the naysayers: This time Alley vows her weight won't budge either. "Look, I have a lot of willpower, and once I make a decision I'm committed," she says. "I want to keep improving my body, firming up and getting stronger. If I want to eat more food one day, then I dance longer," says Alley, who travels with a professional dancer ("It's my luxury!") to help maintain her svelte figure. And what about going under the knife for excess skin surgery? "I'm not against plastic surgery," she says, but "I'm not considering it. I didn't weigh 500 lbs.!"

The one thing Alley is considering seriously? Finding love. Before, "I didn't like the way I looked, and I didn't want to have fat sex. Even when I'm thin, I'm not sure I feel sexy," says Alley. Still, "what I'm looking for is to be madly, deeply in love. For the first time in my life, I know exactly what I want in a man. I want someone who has my back, who is courageous and brave."

But looking out over the Tuscany countryside drenched in sunshine, it's clear Alley is doing just fine on her own. After eating a croissant and a bowl of organic fruit, the actress takes stock of all that she's lost-and gained-in the past year. "I was thinking about what's changed for me," she says. "What I realized is that I have art back in my life: I have acting, dancing and la dolce vita!"

KIRSTIE'S BIG CHANGES

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