A mum-of-three has had 80 per cent of her stomach surgically removed through a hole in her belly button after she was asked to get off a ride at Alton Towers because she was too big.
At her heaviest Ruth Hayzen-Smith weighed more than 23 stone but was always a happy and confident person.
However, she was left feeling embarrassed after being asked to get off a rollercoaster because the barriers and seatbelt would not fit around her, Staffordshire Live reported.
The experience left her determined to do something about her weight, which she has now got down to 11.5 stone.
She said: “I’ve always tried to come across as happy and confident and always thought I needed to make my personality amazing to make up for my size.
“But during a trip with work to Alton Towers, we went on Nemesis and I sat down on the seat.
“The poor guy running the ride couldn’t get the barrier down on me. He pushed really hard but the seatbelt wouldn’t click into place.
“He said ‘I’m really sorry, but you’ll have to get off.
“I could feel my face burning. I prised myself out of the seat and stood to the side, trying to laugh and smile, even though I could feel tears pricking my eyes.
“I kept the smile plastered on my face and waved until the ride finally pulled away. Only then I let it slip.
“When my friends all leapt off after enjoying the rollercoaster, how we laughed and joked and blamed my big boobs. But we all avoided the truth – I was literally the elephant in the room.”
Having tried and failed to lose weight over years of diets, Ruth made the drastic decision to have 80 per cent of her stomach surgically removed.
In the last year Ruth, who lives in Swadlincote, South Derbyshire, has lost around half her body weight thanks to the procedure.
Now she can only eat tiny portions at mealtimes and has to order children’s meals in restaurants.
Ruth’s Christmas dinner last year was “a bit of turkey and some gravy on a side-plate”.
Some foods are completely off limits because they make her physically sick, including carbs like potatoes, pasta and rice, and she can never enjoy fizzy drinks again.
As well as feeling shame at Alton Towers, there were other reasons Ruth asked for help with her weight.
Her late dad, Dave, was overweight, a drinker and a smoker and has had several heart attacks.
The first happened when he was just 40 and Ruth was 12.
“I turned 40 myself in December,” said Ruth.
“I always said to myself ‘I don’t want to put my kids through what I went through with dad.
“I wanted to be able to chase after my boys without having a heart attack. I needed to be there for them.
“At the doctor’s surgery, I said ‘I’ve done my research and I want bariatric surgery’, but from that point it took another five years before it happened.
“Royal Derby Hospital assessed me and accepted me onto the list, but then I had appointments with nutritionists and psychologists to make sure I was aware of the scale of the operation and to work on my relationship with food.”
After recovering from the procedure in 2019, Ruth felt able to start exercising – although she admits she was “wheezing like a pug” after 30 seconds of her first run.
Now physically fit, she has set her sights on reaching a healthy BMI, which, according to NHS guidelines means 5ft 2in Ruth needs to get down to about 9.5 stone.
“I always joke about how it’s all because I was born too short; if I was 8ft tall I’d have no problem whatsoever,” says Ruth – mum to Reuben, nine, Joseph, six, and Isaac, three.
“Some people thought I was making a crazy decision by having the surgery, but I don’t think everyone realises how hard being big really is.
“Being the fat friend is so tough – not being able to go in a hot tub on holiday or go on a plane because you know you’ll need to ask for extra room.
“I wouldn’t want to go to barbecues in case I sat down on a chair and it broke. People don’t realise how it was stopping me enjoying my life.”
Since her transformation, Ruth has been left with a significant amount of loose skin that droops from her body.
She is currently raising money to pay for surgery to have it removed in Lithuania and is aiming to hit a £12,000 target.
Ruth is taking on a series of intense physical challenges to raise the cash including a 30-mile walk, as well as a skydive with her Army major brother, Steve, when Covid regulations allow.
Most likely her toughest challenge of all will be a half-marathon in Windsor in September.
“Inevitably dramatic weight loss like mine has left scars from my old life,” she said.
“I have skin hanging from my thighs, stomach and arms. And the big boobs that we laughed about at Alton Towers – empty bags.
“Not only does it make me look remarkably like ET when I am naked, the loose skin also causes real discomfort.
“I have to tuck the skin into clothing and when exercising or running, have to wear compression clothing to stop it from rubbing, chafing and ultimately tearing and bleeding.
“I have literally ended up in blood, sweat and tears.”