Ruby Gettinger, a 30-something Sunday school teacher in Savannah, Georgia, who has battled obesity since childhood, received a death sentence from her doctor when she reached 700 pounds. But now she is determined to lose weight and live — and to do it on a reality TV show.

Years ago, Gettinger saw an episode of Oprah that showcased the dilemmas of overweight women who had stopped going out in public because people stared and ridiculed them. She realized she was part of America's obesity epidemic, but after eight and a half years of trying to lose weight — when over-the-counter diets, discrimination, Oprah, and romance failed as motivations — her doctor's dire prediction got through to her.

Ruby, a reality show airing Sunday nights on the Style Network, is about one woman's life-and-death battle against obesity. The show premiered Sunday, November 9, and will run for nine weeks.

I interviewed Gettinger by phone shortly before the show premiered.

Why did you permit the cameras into your life in such an intimate way?

Because I wanted to be the guinea pig and find out the truth about this disease, this obesity — the physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological aspects, all of it. I wanted to make a documentary at first that explored the missing link between the diet industry and the obesity epidemic. But I met some television people in Los Angeles who had the passion to tell my truth with my faith. At first, it was difficult being vulnerable and exposing my private feelings and emotions in front of these strangers, but it didn't take long to know I was blessed to have a crew who believed in me and saw myvision.

Many people think reality TV is phony and constructed. What's most real about this show?

I thought this, too. But these people came into my life to follow everything I was doing. I had to believe they were sincere and not judgmental. They were so quiet sometimes I didn't even know they were there. As long as they were telling my truth, it was okay.

When you started researching obesity, what did you find out?

There are so many prejudices against obesity. When I went to restaurants I had to find armless chairs. Even in the ER at the hospital, I had to find a seat to sit on. The world wasn't made for big people, but we need to realize there are 96 million people in the U.S. suffering from obesity. This is an epidemic. The market is selling every diet product possible, but we are not winning this battle. What is going on? What's the missing link?

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Although it took eight years, that Oprah episode was a turning point for me. I wanted to find out the truth about myself and this condition. Then my boyfriend left me, so I had another reason to find out the truth about why I couldn't lose weight. And then the doctors told me I was going to die.

In the show your doctor says you're a metabolic time bomb, threatened with diabetes, kidney failure, sleep apnea, and premature death because you may stop breathing while asleep.

When he said this, the first thing I told myself was, "Maybe I am meant to die." I have been happy. I haven't really suffered, because I have been loved. I thought, I cannot beat this. It took me two or three weeks to tell myself, "I am not going to give up. God has a bigger purpose for you than death. You can do this; you can conquer this." I still believe this, that I will conquer this condition once and for all, for me and for everyone else.

What is the link between God and your journey to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle?

At first I felt defeated. And then my faith said, "no." I felt God telling me that this change is possible, but that I [was] going to have to go down the hardest road of my life. Before it was quick fixes: now I need to find out why. What got me here and why? What strengthens me is that God sees our addictions and does not judge.

What specific aspects of your life do you want to change to reach your goal?

I am going to have to change the way I eat, I am going to have to exercise more, and even change the way I think!I am really still learning all of this.But this time, I am going to the experts and letting them tell me how to do all of this so I can learn and everyone else can learn along with me.

How is your diet and new lifestyle a spiritual journey?

Because I could never do this without God and the prayers of my family and friends.I have to get control spiritually of what has taken control of me.Only God truly knows my heart, soul, and mind.He is the only one who truly can direct me on my journey.

How have you experienced God in your life?

I am still alive. That I have not died [shows] the power of God.

How do you get your body to go with your spirit?

My spirit wants this change so much; it is about discipline. I am finding out for the first time how to make the body and spirit meet — the hardest thing to do. Like Paul says in Romans 7:25b: "Christ acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different" (The Message). The very thing I want in life is the very thing I stop myself from having because I can't get control of it; I have to find a way for the spirit to lead the body. This is the why of the television show.

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What's your end goal for this journey?

This life that I have is not the dream I had for my life. I love being outside, I want to ride a bike, to sit on the ground, to take a bubble bath. So my end goal is to beat the beast once and for all! And to be able to look someone else in the eye and say, "You can do it!"

How do you see yourself a year from now?

Stronger and healthier and doing things I never ever have before.And my biggest dream is helping many others cross over to a healthy lifestyle.We will all be on this journey and we will be winners.

What would you share with fellow believers who are challenged with weight problems?

Do not give up no matter what.Trust God and believe again in the impossible. And no matter how many times you have failed, start over and try again.Live your life! Go out and enjoy times with your family and friends.Have people pray with you. Do not stay alone and do not keep your addiction to yourself, because that is when it becomes bigger and controls you.No matter what, there are people out there who care.

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, is the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies.

Related Elsewhere:

If you missed the premiere episode of Ruby, you can watch it online at Follow Gettinger's journey at and