Blog It Off: Losing Weight With 1,000 of Your Virtual Friends
By Shaun Chavis
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A few weeks ago I had lunch with Stephen Vinson, who writes Who Ate My Blog? Stephen used to weigh 632 pounds. He's reached a 100-pound weight-loss mark, and his goal is to lose 200 more by April 2010. Though one of Stephen's friends has offered him a reward that he can't resist, it was clear to me during our conversation that his blogâ€”and the people he's met because of itâ€”has been a motivating force.
Extra weight can be socially isolating. Stephen explained that people who are severely obese often never leave their own homes, and he's determined not to cut himself off like that. Blogging has been one avenue for him to connect with others. But even for people who aren't carrying hundreds of extra pounds, extra weight limits social life. If you blog, new social interactions emerge.
Writing weight off isn't a new idea. Julia Cameron, who is best known for her book The Artist's Way, realized that journaling helped her students lose weight, so she put together The Writing Diet. One of my older favorites, Outwit Your Weight by registered dietitian Cathy Nonas, calls a pen the "ultimate weight loss weapon." And plenty of studies show that keeping a food diary helps dieters succeed.
But blogging is different: It's not just a list of calories in and calories out. And, unlike a pen and paper diary, people respond to what you write. Shannon Ray Lavery and Angie Barney Cox, who write the blog The Fabulous Fatties, told me they went through a string of "do-over Mondays" and decided to blog to make themselves accountable to others. Now, they say blogging and tweeting have opened all kinds of opportunities for themâ€”they're even hosting a health-focused cruise in January.
I wanted to learn a little more about how other bloggers benefit, so I wrote Stephen, along with Jennette Fulda, whose blog Pasta Queen started as a way to write through her goal of losing half her body weight. It morphed into a book called Half-Assed: A Weight Loss Memoir. I also wrote Tina Haupert, who is Health's Feel Great Weight blogger. She also has a personal blog, Carrots 'N' Cake, which she started when she had a goal of getting in shape for her wedding.
If you've ever thought about blogging your weight off, but have been a bit intimidated at the thought of telling the world how much you weigh or what size you wear (believe me, I understand!), read about these weight-loss blogging experiences.
If you start a blog, or already have a blog about your weight loss, leave a link in a comment (please, no spam about new miracle diet supplements). Do you use Twitter to lose weight? I'd love to hear how it works for you.
Why did you start blogging?
Stephen: I started weight-loss blogging primarily for accountability. Other reasons include my friends can keep track of my progress, and maybe I can help others in the same boat.
Tina: I had about six months until my wedding, so I wanted to keep myself on track with healthy eating and exercise. At that point, I only had a few pounds to lose, but I wanted to tone up!
Jennette: I'm a Web developer, so I wanted to fool around with blog software. I've also always loved writing, and my attempt to lose half my weight seemed like something worth writing about.
What do you get out of it? Does blogging help you stay on track?
Stephen: Before this blog, I was in the yo-yo cycle. I would diet off and on (more off than on).... My blog helps me stay on track because I know there are so many people cheering for me. Itâ€™s tough to cheat when you know that so many people know your goals. I am often overwhelmed that people will take time out of their day to post kind comments.
Jennette: Blogging kept me accountable. I weighed in on my blog every week and I hated to report a gain. Blogging allowed me to talk with other morbidly obese women, a group that was harder to find and connect with in my local community. It was like therapy, but Web hosting is cheaper than a psychologist. Blogging forced me to think about my obesity issues and work through them by writing about them.
Tina: Absolutely! Especially, when it comes to trying new things (yoga) and signing up for events, like road races. For instance, once you announce to the blog world that you are going to run a half-marathon, it makes you want to do it! On the days when I didn't want to train for my half-marathon, I thought about all of my readers who were keeping me accountable to that goal. I ran the half-marathon without stopping! I've also made some great friends through blogging. I even vacationed with a couple of women! The bloggers and readers are a wonderful support network. We all love helping one another and replying to questions and giving advice. It's a 24/7 virtual support network.
Were there times you didnâ€™t want to blog about what was going on with your progress?
Stephen: Absolutely. Always the times when Iâ€™m not doing well. Either Iâ€™ve eaten something that Iâ€™m not supposed to or Iâ€™ve gained weight.
Tina: Definitely! This past winter, I got into a serious funkâ€”it was a combo of cold weather and lack of motivation. I was down in the dumps for a couple of weeks, but reading other people's blogs and feeling accountable to my own readers got me off of my butt. I actually organized a "yoga challenge" to get me moving and improve my mood.
Jennette: On weeks when I gained a pound or two, I didn't particularly like reporting the gain. However, I didn't feel comfortable lying to people who found me to be a source of inspiration, so I told the truth. It was also frustrating to blog during long weight plateaus where I was working hard and getting no results.
What things have you noticed about how people who read your blog connect with you?
Stephen: I notice that a lot of regular commenters are just like me in that they are over 400 pounds.
Tina: I think people see me as a "real" person. I'm not perfect and don't try to portray myself that way. I overindulge on cake, skip workouts for sleep, and drink way too many glasses of wine in one evening. It happens, but I always make it a point to get back on track the next day. Sometimes those slip-ups aren't always a bad thing! People see that I am human just like them, so I think they can relate.
Jennette: Many people have told me my story is inspirational. After they've read about someone who has lost a lot of weight, it allows them to believe they can achieve something seemingly insurmountable too. People also say they like that I don't beat myself up. I keep a positive attitude, which helps others get through tough times.
Any advice for someone who wants to blog to lose?
Stephen: Donâ€™t put it off. Just start blogging, and start following and commenting on other weight-loss blogs. People will start following yours soon after.
Tina: Blog for yourself from the very beginning...and if you love it, keep doing it. I love helping people, and at the same time, my blog keeps me accountable to other people, gives me ideas (recipes, workouts, etc.), and has given me an amazing support network. I don't know where my life would be without it!
Jennette: WordPress is the best blogging software to use if you're starting a blog. [Note from Shaun: We use Wordpress here at Health.com.] It's free too. Become an active member of the weight-loss blogging community by reading other blogs and leaving thoughtful comments. There are a lot of fabulous men and women in the fit blogging community who can help you reach your goal.