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Hepker Challenge: Overcoming the Emotional Roadblocks

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- WHO-TV's Digital Director, Aaron Hepker, started a weight loss journey about two months ago.  He committed to losing hundreds of pounds.

With the help of his personal trainer, Terri Good, Hepker has learned how to read food labels, prepare healthier meals and burn fat at the gym.  He lost seven inches in a matter of weeks.  But about a month ago, Hepker hit a road block.  He got sick, which zapped his energy and his motivation.

"I've felt like I haven’t really made any improvement and that’s really been frustrating for me and that’s kind of set the tone for my mood in the past couple of weeks and that’s been really hard to overcome," says Hepker, who is struggling with his weight loss goals and his emotions.

"It’s become much more evident to me that it’s all intertwined," says Hepker of the connection between his physical and mental health.  He admits he feels depressed and says it correlates to the frustration and disappointment he's experiencing.

That's why Hepker has started seeing Mary Riche, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist.

"Any kind of behavioral change is a process," says Riche.  "When you’re accustomed to having change happen perhaps at a quicker pace it can become frustrating.  It can be a letdown.  It can result in some bad decisions that can feel like it’s a setback."

Hepker is now questioning whether he can meet his goal.  He's also expressed feelings of self-loathing.  Riche understands why.  She says Hepker has shared some "heart breaking" experiences with her.

"When you are someone who has experienced people being unkind, it will erode, it will eat away at your ability to be confident and have a sense of self in a way that says, 'I have value and I am a value.'"

Most health professionals now consider obesity a disease, caused by physiological, psychological and environmental factors.  But weight discrimination and bias remain rampant in our society.

Riche says Hepker has a difficult hill to climb, but it's doable with resolve and resilience.

"Even as someone who grasps the challenges ahead of him, he’s also discovering his humanity," says Riche.

In other words, he's realizing he will make mistakes on this journey, but nothing he can't overcome.

"The resilience to come back is where I've been able to see a bit more of that in him than he's seen in himself so far.  So, I'm very hopeful."