Best of Back in Skinny Jeans: Originally posted October 13, 2008
Jezebel wrote an interesting post asking: Is it possible to write about your weight struggles for a living and emerge unscathed? Since I am one of the top bloggers in the diet/fit niche category going on 3 years now and making a living from this topic, I thought this an excellent question to answer especially for those of you who are thinking about starting to blog to track your weight loss efforts, and/or want to make money blogging about it. My answer:
"Using blogging as a tool to help you lose weight is very helpful when done within parameters."
By far, from my experience, the key difference between helpful diet blogging and hurtful diet blogging is parameters, boundaries. And I will scream it from the roof tops people, set boundaries!
One of the reasons Back in Skinny Jeans has climbed to the top of the heap in the diet/fit blog category is that I, Stephanie the blogger, have established boundaries for me and for this blog. So, to help you have a more helpful versus hurtful diet blogging experience, here are 5 pieces of advice that I give to all new diet/fit bloggers around creating boundaries:
- Boundaries are healthy
Establishing boundaries is a very healthy thing to do because it creates limits and respect. You are communicating to your audience what you are about and how sharing your experience will add value to their lives and yours. The boundaries you put in place will help set the tone for your blog and for the commenters, and this is important because it will help you create an environment based on mutual support, kindness, and regard for yourself and others.
Diet blogatherapy can be fabulous because it’s like getting free help and support from people who genuinely care, but on the flip side, without boundaries, your blog can start becoming a breeding ground for people drinking the beauty hatorade, obsession with numbers over health, and a drive to be perfect and successful by other people’s standards or media standards versus your own.
- Focus on wellness versus numbers
I focus on getting fit body, mind, and spirit holistically and naturally because I learned the hard way that this approach works best for long term wellness. From my own experience, when I focused too much on the numbers like counting every single calorie eaten and burned, creating rules based on restriction and deprivation, or striving for a specific dress size or weight number, it led me to yo-yo dieting and on the extreme end the eating disorder, bulimia.
My issues with bulimia started way before the internet was around, and in the early days of BISJ I did reveal this about my past so it was no secret, but this time last year (Fall 2007), I did I have a bulimia relapse during a 25lb weight loss diet blogging period which I came clean about in January as a 3-part New Year’s confession blog post.
The bulimia relapse didn’t come about because of the diet blogging, but the diet blogging was a real bad idea during my recovery from the relapse, so I stopped it, and I didn’t tell my readers the real reason for my stopping until 3 months later. I set this boundary because I was in no emotional state to talk about the relapse while I was in treatment, and I certainly did not feel comfortable or safe sharing my healing during that time. In fact, I was basking in waves of hypocrisy feeling like it was time for me to give up BISJ because I felt I had “no right” to be a health blogger since I couldn’t get my own health in order.
I chose to come out about the bulimia relapse because I wanted to see where I stood with my audience, to share my humanness, and again to emphasize that this is a health journey not a size journey. There is a tendency for diet/fit bloggers to want to be “perfect” all the time, but remember that perfection is not realistic and based on fear, and the only one who expects you to be perfect is yourself. We all know how hard it is to lose weight and most readers are just grateful that you are sharing so openly.
There will be times especially under great duress where you can fall and fail, but it’s okay because it’s the human experience and another reason why people like blogs over the traditional health sites. Bloggers share the “messy middle,” the times when yes you start getting anxious and fearful about regaining the lost weight, where you plateau and can’t seem to get out of it, where life threw you a curve ball like divorce, death, or unemployment, and you started using food to cope.
What matters is what you do to pick yourself up and go through the experience, which leads to something very important…
- Diet blog only in conjunction with trained “partners in prosperity”
I like to call trained professionals “partners in prosperity” because to me good health is wealth. I make it clear to my audience that I am not a trained medical, health, or fitness professional, and that all my advice and opinions are from personal “as the patient” experience.
I also make it clear that I do this blog with the support of a doctor and a therapist for my own well being, and because of the importance of trained medical guidance with anything related to your health. Because of this boundary, my audience knows that I am in good hands so therefore they feel like they are in good hands as well. I share much of what I have learned with my doctor and therapist but I also don’t go into every detail of what we discuss and at the moment we discuss it.
In fact, I have a lag time between what happens on the couch and what I share on the blog, and it’s anywhere from 2-8 weeks. The reason for this lag time is so I can process, and so I can figure out the upswing of the learning lesson because I want BISJ to be a source of inspiration, and that message can get convoluted when you share too much all the time which leads to another good point…
- Be conscious of “diarrhea of the keyboard”
Personality wise, in general, many bloggers are emotional expressive types, and over-expressing whether online or offline is a typical challenge because our natural instinct is to let it all hang out. We’re open books, so therefore it’s real easy to get diarrhea of the keyboard and write book long posts about endless detail.
As a professional blogger, my biggest learning curve has been to express more concisely, and let me tell you that has been a real challenge, but indeed has been most helpful professionally. Because I have learned to write more concisely, BISJ continues to grow traffic and garnish links from the bigger media sites like Reuters, iVillage, and USA Today.
I challenge you the diet/fit blogger and say, it’s wonderful to express and be your authentic self, but does everyone really need to know every single detail about what you are doing and feeling? Why do you want to share to the point where you disclose overly detailed things like that you’ve lost point tenths of a pound, every morsel you ate, and every feeling of every hour of the day? Isn’t it more interesting and less stressful to focus on highlights versus minutia?
And I emphasize the words “every single” because that starts moving you into the TMI territory (too much information.) Remember too, there is a big difference between being perceived as “evolving” versus appearing like a “Miss Perfect” or a “trainwreck.” Start learning your own boundaries between authentic sharing and TMI.
- Creating boundaries is a process
In 3 years, I have put stuff out there that sounded like a good idea at first but then ended up being not so good for all involved, but I learned quickly. Some things work and don’t work when you are diet blogging while getting paid for it versus doing it strictly for personal reasons. There is no book out there called, “How to Diet Blog: Professionally or Personally.” (Hello, opportunity bloggers!)
Establishing boundaries is a process, and you have to allow yourself to make mistakes and test the waters because this is the only way you will really know if something works for you or not, trial and error. Action is always a better teacher than theory, as what works for one diet/fit blogger may not work for another and vice versa.
Personally, after diet blogging that 25lb loss, I will never do it again, and I would especially not do it as a paid gig by a large media site because I don’t want that part of my life under a microscope like that again. And let’s be honest, when you blog about your body and weight loss, you are putting parts of yourself under a microscope for the world to see and participate.
In general, focus on progress over perfection, and don't let the scale steal your happiness. I do believe that diet blogging can be very helpful for many people, but again with the establishment of boundaries so you can have a much more helpful experience than hurtful one on your way to achieving your goals for overall wellness.
I’m happy to share my ongoing experience in maintenance mode, and share what others are doing to lose weight, but you will never see me personally again doing things like, “Watch Steph get rid of the muffin top.” It’s safe to say, been there done that, and although I did not come out unscathed from the diet blogging last year, I did come out far wiser about my own health, and far more in tuned as a health blogger.
For those of you diet/fit bloggers, what is the biggest thing you have found most helpful in your blogging efforts?