Ricki Lake: From Size 24 to Skinny

Former obese actress/TV host dishes about going from fat to fit in Hollywood.

December 23, 2010, 2:42 PM

Jan. 5, 2011 — -- Ricki Lake weighed 200 pounds when, at age 19, she was cast as the happily heavyset Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 John Waters movie, Hairspray. The now-svelte Lake recalls how, at the time, she was proud of her size.

"Being fat worked, and I think that was what was confusing for me for a long time in my career," Lake, 42, said.

Today, Lake says she looks and feels better than ever -- she's lost more than 130 pounds from her peak weight and has kept it off for 15 years.

"To have almost 130 pounds on top, I mean, almost twice what I weigh, I can't fathom what that feels like today," she said. "Being a size 6 feels better than being a size 24."

But getting there was far from easy, and to understand her journey means going back to her childhood.

At age 6, Lake saw the musical "Annie," and it was "life changing." It was then she said she knew "I wanted to be on stage."

But it was also at that age that Lake suffered abuse, which she believes was at the root of her intial weight gain.

"I was sexually abused as a child, as a young child. And I think that is what contributed to my being overweight ... and obese, in the later years," Lake said. "I, even subconsciously, did not want to be attractive to men. And it was my way of, you know, protecting myself, I think ... and maybe stuffing my feelings with food."

She said her weight started to "creep up" at about age 9 or 10.

"I was still kind of cute, so I could pull it off, you know," she said. "Through my adolescence and, you know, later teenage years, I got bigger and bigger and bigger."

The way she was taught to eat, Lake said, also contributed to her weight gain.

"I had the worst, the worst eating habits," she said.

Lake said that she didn't want to blame her parents but added that "we did not sit down as a family."

"We ate out a lot and then when ... we didn't eat out, I would eat alone," she said. "And I would sneak food. Hungry Man dinners were a staple, sometimes I'd eat two. You know, I mean it was sort of pathetic."

Talking about this issue on "Good Morning America," Ricki Lake mistakenly used the term "juvenile diabetes" when she meant "type 2 diabetes in children." Click here to read Lake's statement to "GMA":

Lake: I Was 'Stuffing Candy in My Pajamas'

Lake said she became obsessed with food.

"I was a secret eater," she said. "I remember like, stuffing candy in my pajamas and saying good night and running to my room and wrappers would be under my mattress."

Meanwhile, her mother, Lake said, was on a diet for most of her childhood -- and even while she was pregnant with Lake.

"She was on a cantaloupe diet. She gained 11 pounds," Lake said. "I was a full-term baby, and I was 5 pounds."

"That's what people did then," she said. "Doctors put people on diets, so I don't blame her."

By the time Lake was in college, she had ballooned to her Tracy Turnblad weight.

"I wasn't really conscious of how out of control I had gotten," she said.

Lake remembers living in Los Angeles, having lunch with her actress friends, including Jennifer Aniston.

"All of them are having salads with the dressing on the side and, you know, a Diet Coke, and I'm, you know, the one with the cheeseburger and the shake, and the extra fries with gravy on it," she said.

After "Hairspray" the roles kept rolling in. She was on the television series "China Beach" and played Johnny Depp's sister in the movie "Cry-Baby."

It seemed like an "endless flow" of opportunities, Lake said, until it all came crashing to a halt. The excess weight that had served her so well suddenly turned into a burden. Her role on "China Beach" was not renewed, her agent stopped returning her calls and, for a brief time, Lake was homeless.

At 5 feet, 3 inches and a whopping 260 pounds, Lake had hit bottom. She decided then, she said, that it was time to lose the weight, but she did it in a way she would never recommend to others.

"I was starving myself. I mean, it was really not the way to do it, which is why I continue to say I'm not an expert on weight," she said.

Eating little and exercising daily allowed Lake to shrink from a size 24 to a size 12, and lose more than 100 pounds in a little more than six months, but her extreme dieting came at a price.

"I was fainting on, like, the spot. I'd be standing up and then, black out, and not remember anything," she said.

Nonetheless, losing the weight, Lake said, brought her career back from the brink. She landed a daytime talk show that ran for 11 years.

She also got married, had two children and got divorced.

Lake made headlines three years ago when she put out a documentary called "The Business of Being Born," showcasing the home birth of her second son.

After that pregnancy, Lake shed the baby weight and then some. She became about 30 pounds lighter than her prepregnancy weight. When the documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Lake appeared on the red carpet in a size 4 dress.

Lake said that second weight loss generated even more attention than her initial 100-pound drop.

"That was like me turning into like, the bombshell," she said. "People magazine, Us Weekly, Ok! Magazine and Playboy were all wanting me on the cover. So, I mean, they didn't want me when I was a size 8 on the cover of these magazines, you know? ... It was shocking to me."

Lake ended up showing off her slim figure in a bathing suit on the cover of Us Weekly in 2007.

It was one of Us Weekly's most popular issues, Lake said, because "it taps into what we all are completely obsessed with, even though we know we shouldn't be. We all want to know: What did she do to change her body in that way?"

Keeping her body that way, she admits, takes work.

"My body holds on to every part of every, you know, calorie that there is out there," Lake said.

For Lake, staying slim means eating smaller portions and taking responsibility for her diet.

"If I pig out and eat a big meal, then the next day I'm gonna be a little bit more careful," she said.

"It's really, really challenging for people in this day and age to put healthy food in, reasonable portions on their plates," Lake said, "when we're, we're taught, you know, Super Size me, and Big Gulp everything. ... It's a constant battle."

A former "overeater," Lake said she now feels better when she deprives herself of food.

It's "a sick, crazy thing," she said. "Like, when I go to bed hungry, I feel like I'm accomplishing something."

But has Lake's strict relationship with food gone too far? Lake says no.

"I'm obsessed with weight (and) that's probably unhealthy," she said. "but , no, I do not think I have an eating disorder."

Adamant that she's no expert, and even worried that talking about the subject of weight contributes to an unhealthy national obsession with it, Lake is using her celebrity and her personal experience to try to make a dent in childhood obesity through her new program called All Stride, which offers customized meal plans, fitness advice and an online support network.

"It's a basically a lifestyle program for children," Lake said. "I want to empower them to get the information themselves."

Lake said you can't tell children what to do or they'll rebel. Instead, she said, "it's about getting them to want to do it."

Though losing weight and keeping it off takes commitment and determination, Lake herself is an example of how possible the seemingly impossible is.

"It's not easy but I'm telling you, I am not superwoman -- if I can do it, anyone can do it," she said. "And you don't have to do something extreme. You don't have to have surgery, you don't have to, you know, be in a gym all day long."

"You just have to be consistent," she said. "And, you know, be a friend to yourself, not be an enemy."

Talking about this issue on "Good Morning America," Ricki Lake mistakenly used the term "juvenile diabetes" when she meant "type 2 diabetes in children." Click here to read Lake's statement to "GMA":