Washington, D.C., lobbyist and public health advocate Heidi Ecker ’94 launched the popular site www.heidihype.com to give overweight Americans a forum for “laughing together and losing weight together.”
Her site offers humorous commentary along with hard facts about fitness and nutrition. “You have to be able to laugh,” says Ecker. “Losing weight is tough enough as it is.”
Ecker should know. The Chicopee, Mass., native had battled obesity since childhood. By age 31, Ecker weighed 270 pounds.
“People gravitate to what they are good at, and I was never good at losing weight. I was good at lobbying,” says Ecker. A political science major, Ecker found professional success easily. She interned with Senator Ted Kennedy just after graduating from UMass Amherst, then quickly rose through the ranks to hold senior positions at a number of health organizations and, now, at the grassroots advocacy fi rm Winning Connections. When it came to losing weight, however, she failed again and again.
In October 2004, she made a lifechanging decision—to dedicate herself to losing weight with the same fervor and focus that she had always given to her career. “I realized for the fi rst time that I needed to make losing weight my second job,” she says.
To get started, Ecker says she made herself an “educated consumer,” ordering fitness magazines and books, consulting with nutritionists and trainers, and scouring the Web for insights. Then Ecker got to work. She went to the gym every weekday at 6 A.M., and she put herself on a common-sense diet of healthful, high-protein foods.
It paid off. After a year, she had lost 100 pounds. This has added years to her life, she says, and has given her an unparalleled sense of personal success. “When you beat the one thing you never thought you could beat, every other challenge seems like a cakewalk,” she says.
After dropping from a size 24 to the single digits, Ecker felt better than ever. But extra skin hung in rolls from her physique. On a whim, she applied to the ABC series “Extreme Makeover” and, to her surprise, the show’s producers selected her to receive treatment to have the excess skin removed. Recovering from major surgery in a Beverly Hills mansion, cameras whirring, was a surreal experience, she says, “but an incredible opportunity to start educating people about my journey.”
Since then, Ecker has continued to educate others, sharing her story through her Web site and public talks. She has made headlines in newspapers and TV stations across the country. She also calls on business and community leaders to help spread her message. Town Sports International recently began offering Heidi Ecker Scholarships to 200 overweight children in the Washington, D.C., area.
Ecker says she has only begun her newest advocacy campaign. “A lot of people who’ve failed at losing weight give up because they think they just can’t do it,” she says. “I’m here to remind them that they can.”