LAWRENCE — Wearing a fitted green sweater dress with high black boots, Elizabeth Ruiz flashes a megawatt smile. Everybody's telling her she looks great.
But even better, "I feel awesome," said Ruiz, who dropped nearly a third of her weight as a "Biggest Loser" contestant.
Now armed with a lighter, fitter body and newfound healthy lifestyle, Ruiz is turning her focus to her hometown. While studying to become a certified personal trainer, her dual mission is to reduce sky-high obesity rates for Lawrence's men, women and children. It's something she talked about during the "Biggest Loser" competition and she wants to make good on the promise.
"Paying it forward. That's what I plan on doing," said Ruiz, who made a stop yesterday at Mayor William Lantigua's office at City Hall to discuss some of her healthy living ideas.
Ruiz, 31, wants to work with school and city leaders to promote the importance of healthy eating and exercise to children.
"We need to control obesity in our children now so they can have healthier, longer lives," she said. "Lawrence is still number one in Massachusetts in obesity rates for men, women and children. That's not something Lawrence should be proud of."
Through a new organization she's working with, Ruiz also wants to pinpoint a local family to send to the "Biggest Loser" training ranch in California. The group is BL360, (BL360.org) a nonprofit organization composed of Ruiz and others she competed against on season 10 of the "Biggest Loser."
With Ruiz's help, Lantigua hopes to host a citywide "Biggest Loser" weight loss competition sometime this year, he said yesterday.
"We are going to see what we can do to implement these ideas," said Lantigua, who met Ruiz for the first time late yesterday morning. A meeting with Ruiz, School Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron and school nutrition workers will be set up in the near future, he said.
At 5 feet 3 inches tall, Ruiz weighed 244 pounds when she was selected as a "Biggest Loser" contestant. Her weight was spiked by a steady diet of fried foods, burgers and fries, and very little exercise.
To qualify for the show, contestants must have at least 100 pounds they need to lose. Ruiz said she easily qualified.
She temporarily left her job as a medical assistant with the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center to compete on the program.
Some 71 pounds later she left the show in fourth place. Still, she considers herself a lifelong winner. She still is working out and eating healthy, dropping another 5 pounds since arriving home.
She recalls the days when she "had given up on herself" and "literally crawled out of bed every morning." Now, she starts each day with energy and confidence.
On the "Biggest Loser" ranch, Ruiz worked out daily for six to eight hour stretches, which propelled her dramatic weight loss. At home, Ruiz realizes that an exercise regimen is unrealistic as she works her full-time job.
"My workouts are less intensive as before because now I am living in the real world," she said.
With help from her friend Edmund Duah, of Sculptor at Strength in Chelmsford, Ruiz hopes to soon become a certified personal trainer. She looks forward to teaching and motivating others.
And Ruiz said she isn't dieting and won't ever. She has changed her eating for good, eating fish and vegetables predominantly.
"This is my new lifestyle," she said.