How does one begin — and overcome — a weight battle of 700 pounds? Ruby Gettinger, star of The Style Network’s reality show “Ruby,” reveals her amazing journey in her new memoir “Ruby’s Diary: Reflections on All I’ve Lost and Gained.” She shares the heartwarming and inspiring story of how she beat her food addiction and dealt with the psychological causes behind her eating habits. An excerpt:
Chapter 1: Getting Started
You Never Know What God’s Gonna Do
I was on the treadmill today thinking about how far I’ve come. And I don’t just mean how many miles I’ve totaled on that pedometer thingy. I mean over the last few years of my life, I have come leaps and bounds from where I was. I don’t think it’s all been my doing, although I have worked really, really hard to get here. I feel like God totally orchestrated this whole thing to happen. He triggered something in me so I would put myself out there and tell everyone who would listen all about myself. People always ask me, “How did you come to do this?” They just can’t understand how a real person could get herself to where I was before or where I am now. The truth is, I not only owe a big thank-you to God, but I owe one to Helen Keller and Oprah Winfrey, too. I mean it.
One day, I was in my bedroom in the apartment I was renting on Fifty-second Street in Savannah, and I was flipping through the channels when I saw that the movie The Miracle Worker was on. As I watched it for the first time, it took my breath away! Here was a woman, Helen Keller, who could not see, hear, or speak. People had written her off; they called her dumb and treated her as if she was worthless.
Then along came one person, a teacher named Annie Sullivan, who saw something more in Helen. She saw a person inside that shell, and she had faith in that person. I cried as I watched that movie. I really did. And then this unbelievable faith just came over me. This movie made me realize that the impossible really is possible. It made me see that the only limits we have in this life are the ones we set upon ourselves, and that one person’s faith is enough to change the whole world. I thought, if someone with all of Helen Keller’s problems, with all those things holding her back, could overcome her obstacles, then why can’t I? I don’t know why I happened upon this movie when I did, but it lit a fire in me — a big old barn fire that’s still smokin’ now. I really think God was trying to get my attention, and He did.
Not more than two days later, I was sitting at home, and this Oprah show came on about several severely obese women and their struggles. They were afraid to leave their homes because of the way society judged them. I have heard people call them shut-ins, but I could never use that word. It just makes me want to cry. I watched in complete pain. That show really broke my heart, because no matter what size I am now or ever was, I could never allow people to stop me from living and enjoying my life. Well, that was it! I knew I had to do something. So I called up my friends Jeff and Georgia and I said, “You need to get me a video camera. We need to document all of what I’m going through.” Right then and there I had decided that I was gonna let people follow me around, step-by-step, so we could learn a thing or two together. Sometimes it just takes people seeing something with their own eyes to believe it. And that means me, too.
You know, in all my time at high school I barely cracked open a book. And when I went to college at Armstrong for two years, I was the biggest social butterfly. I never studied as much as I should have. Everything I ever learned, I learned by watching other people. You could call me a student of human nature. Somehow I thought that if we could videotape everything I did as I tried to lose weight, the world would get to see exactly what obese people struggle with every day. They could see us as human beings, not freaks or gluttons. They could see that something truly has a hold on us. And I could get to see what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. While I was busy watching everyone else all those years, I’m not sure how closely I ever looked at myself. This was the perfect solution for everyone!
Georgia and Jeff were very excited. They knew that when I feel strong about something, there is no stopping me! And I was sure about this. In fact, I was never surer of anything in my whole life. Something had clicked inside me. I got the message loud and clear — and really that is how I got to be living this message now. It all started with some powerful TV shows and I guess it continues with my own show.
Here She Goes Again ...
I used the word helicopter around someone today who didn’t know I prefer saying that whenever I mean the place that’s hotter than spicy southern barbecue. Another word I don’t particularly like — though it’s not a cuss, so I don’t have a good substitute for it — is doubt. I think that word bugs me because I know it’s what a lot of people had when I told them I was going to try to lose the weight again. It means a lack of faith or belief. I understood that it would be hard for some of my friends and family to take this whole thing seriously or to believe in me when they’ve seen me attempt to shed the pounds a thousand times before. It was hard for me to believe in myself then, too, because I had failed so much already. But I pray this time is different. I feel like I have a mission. And to keep that mission, there is no room for doubt.
I remember when me and my friends started recording my journey, we filmed my whole body, from head to toe, to show how big I was. I borrowed a friend’s camera and we taped me walking, sitting, eating, and traveling. We caught people’s reactions. I even let them film my workouts. I had Georgia, Jeff, Denny, and some other friends follow me with that camera at all times of the day and night. Sometimes we filmed four to five times a week. It was hard getting used to the camera being there at first. I felt all “neckid”! But I knew there was a greater purpose. I was trying so hard not to be self-conscious. I really made myself act naturally. This wasn’t a movie or a TV show; this was and still is a real person’s life.
When I sat down for the first time to watch the footage we shot, I was in shock! I could not believe how fat I was! It was so hard for me to even look at the screen. I was thinking, “Ruby girl, you don’t walk, you wobble!” The truth is, I never felt like I was that huge before. I just didn’t see it when I looked in my mirror. I think maybe you become numb to it because it’s all a part of you. At that moment I could have given up; that would have been easy. I had lots of practice in that department. But I’m really glad I didn’t. The camera didn’t lie to me, so I couldn’t lie to me either. It was an important thing to learn.
The End... Almost
I had to weigh in yesterday. I swear I still get “nerdous” every time (“nerdous” is so nervous that I actually act nerdy for y’all who haven’t caught onto my personal language yet!).
Well, I hadn’t lost a pound, not even when I was so goodthis whole week. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t writeabout it at all last night. I don’t understand it. I really don’t,but I’m trying hard not to focus on it or let it beat me. I have to remember that I have had worse trips to the scale before. For the longest time, I had no idea how much I weighed. Not even a good guess. No normal scale could handle me.
Then one day I was at Memorial Hospital for a checkup with my mother, Chris, and Georgia and I said, “I need to know.” So we went down to the basement of the hospital and they put me on a scale they use to weigh big crates and boxes on. A freight scale! There were all these men working down there with the forklift, and I’m thinking, “I am going to get on that scale?” I took a deep breath. The pointer went around and around and then it landed on 716 pounds. I just shook my head in disbelief. How did I ever let myself get to this point?
Most of the time, back then, I wore huge jumpers. They were more like tents than clothes, so I didn’t have any idea. I was shocked; my mother was there, and she looked terrified, too. She said, “Ruby, you gotta do something.” Well, I have always been big, and I have always tried to lose weight, but this was different. I started becoming a little overweight as a child — maybe about thirty pounds overweight. I was probably eight years old when it started. By the time I was thirteen, I was at least a hundred and fifty pounds overweight — losing fifty pounds here, a hundred there, but always falling between a hundred and a hundred and fifty pounds over the norm for girls my age and height. The older you get, the harder it is, so I never got ahead of this thing. And truth be told, I wasn’t miserable like those ladies on Oprah. I was totally a hacky camper — someone who is “happy wacky,” you know. I just loved my life. I was very social; I went out with my family and friends; I enjoyed going to the movies and dancing. But I was kind of living with blinders on. I never knew how much more to life there was ... until I started to lose weight. I had just accepted my limitations in the world without ever thinking more about it. Without ever thinking, “What else exists out there for me?” I didn’t ever let myself imagine other possibilities.
My mom was pretty determined to get me help once she saw that number on the freight scale. She realized, even before I did, how my health was deteriorating. She begged me to go to a doctor, but I was scared. I knew I was dying. I felt my body shutting down. I was so tired all the time. My blood sugar was up to five hundred. I could have gone into a diabetic coma. The very first time I went to the doctor, he said, “You are in skyrockets. All your numbers are outrageous.” So I went on all this medication, and forty days later there wasn’t much improvement, even with all those pills I was swallowing. When I went back to see him again, the doctor said he was gonna put me on insulin shots, too. I was like, “No, no, I’ll be fine. I’m not sticking myself with needles.” So he looked me straight in the eye and he said, “Ruby, you are a walking time bomb. It could be today; it could be tomorrow. I can’t do anything else to help you. You have to do something to help yourself.”
Well, I walked out of that doctor’s office shaking. That was some wake-up call! I remember thinking, “I’m supposed to die. This is it. I can’t beat this. I have tried. I have lived my whole life trying to beat this, and I just can’t do it. I’m supposed to die young ...” But then a part of me started arguing with myself, saying, “Ruby, you know that’s not true. You’re not gonna die and you’re not gonna let all the other people like you die either. You have to beat this. You are not giving up.” It’s amazing sometimes what finally gets through to you. Fear is a good kick in the butt. And I was scared to death ... literally!
I think the reason I didn’t succeed before was that I was always trying to lose the weight for somebody else. I was doing it because of this guy who wanted to marry me, or for my friends or family who were begging me to because they love me and care about me. But this time, for the first time ever, I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it for Ruby. I’m doing it to get better. To get healthier. To live. I’m doing it because I feel like there’s so much more I want to do in my life. I have this passion now that comes from deep down in my soul. I really want to help me, and in doing so, I want to help other people like me. It really is bigger than me now. Way bigger.
It was hot as helicopter and sticky out today in Savannah, the kind of day where I just don’t love walking outside, even though I know I have to get in my exercise. On days like this I really miss L.A. I lived there for eight years, and I could have stayed out there for the weather alone. I went because it’s home to Hollywood, and the fitness capital of the world. I guess I knew if I was going to do my whole documentary thing right, L.A. was the place to be.
Jeff moved there first. Then a year later Denny and I followed. Everyone watched us filming at the gym, at restaurants, and at functions, too. Soon people started to recognize me. They figured out what I was doing and cheered me on. People were all curious about me; some people in “the business” even talked to me about how great the idea of a show around my mission was. A lot of people gave me advice on how to shoot and what film to use.
I documented my life for several years before the show came out and in that time I lost two hundred pounds! But then I got off track. I didn’t mean to and I’m not exactly sure how it happened. It’s just like, everything — the camera and all — got pushed to the back of the closet. I focused more and more on Denny and forgot about me. It was stupid to abandon myself like that; but I couldn’t see that that was what I was doing.
When Denny came into my life, it all became about him. He was the center of my world. After I realized what happened, it took time — a really long time — for me to pick up again where I left off. Then my friend Brittany Daniel told her friend Tim Puntillo, who is a reality-TV producer, about what I had been doing, and The Style Network talked to me. They really believed in me. In a way, it was just like when Annie Sullivan believed in Helen Keller. They helped me pick up where my mission left off. They promised to let me show the world my passion.
Now, every time I get an e-mail that says, “Ruby, if you can do it, I can do it ... ” I promise, my heart just fills up. I feel so grateful for the way things turned out, for the chances I’ve been given. For the people who helped make it all happen. Folks I meet all the time tell me that I keep them going. Well, they keep me goin’, too! It has been a very long road for me. And there is still so much further I have to go. But I know I’m not alone. And that really helps me. There are so many people on this journey with me, and even though we all haven’t met face-to-face, I know we’re holding hands in spirit and giving each other the strength to fight this thing once and for all! I’m confident that together we’ll do it.
So that’s the back story. That’s how I got to where I am now. And there is no place I’d rather be.
Reprinted with permission from “Ruby's Diary: Reflections on All I've Lost and Gained” (HarperCollins) by Ruby Gettinger.