Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Health Blogosphere Blew Up…and I Kind of Just Don’t Care Anymore


So earlier this week, the health blogosphere, which I do spend a great deal of time in, sort of imploded.  The controversy started over an article that appeared in Marie Claire and addressed the issue of health blogs and disordered eating.  This is a topic that I have always been a bit interested in and so to see it finally addressed was, on one hand, a bit of a relief.  On the other hand, the article was really poorly written and spent more time attacking the 6 bloggers mentioned than it did actually addressing the issue at hand.  Maybe you’re not all aware, but the health blog world people are bat shit crazy a little wacky.  Readers and bloggers alike are very loyal to each other in a codependent, cliquey kind of way.  (Maybe it’s because most of them ARE bloggers themselves?)

Anyhow, the 6 bloggers featured all issued rebuttals of the article on their own blogs (all except one) and then encouraged their readers to send letters to the editor and blow up Marie Claire's facebook page.

What has occurred since is an insane backlash against Marie Claire and its editors from the healthy blog community.  I am totally irked by this response as it has almost completely overshadowed what could be a really productive dialogue about healthy living blogs and the role they play in the realm of disordered eating.  Anyhow, I’ve scoured the interwebs for the best commentary on the article and I found it HERE.

Rachel pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about the issue and provides a fair and honest assessment of the article and the issues at hand.  Additionally, there is some excellent dialogue happening in the comments section of the same post.  I strongly encourage you to read and participate in the conversation, especially if you are not particularly into healthy living blogs. (A range of outsider perspectives is seriously missing from this debate.)

So as this all was happening yesterday, I got to thinking about these blogs and how I myself read 4 them regularly.  I was trying to figure out WHY I read them, and more specifically,what keeps me coming back day after day.  And the long and short of it is that reading these blogs allows me to keep my eating disorder alive, without actually engaging in eating disordered practices.  (Note I say “practices” and not behaviors, because I think reading these blogs obsessively is a behavior.)  I don’t think I really noticed it until all of these discussions surfaced yesterday, but I am fairly certain now that these blogs are not doing me, personally, any favors.  I have gotten some great things from them, but the majority of these things are in the realm of cooking and recipes and creative ways to incorporate vegetables into meals.  But even then, as I prepare meals, I can’t help but compare them to the meals on the blogs I’ve seen.  Same with my exercise.

I suppose that after awhile, the reader feels that they know the blogger, and develops some sort of attachment to their life.  But that’s not me.  In fact, there is one health blog I read for the sole purpose of making fun of the blogger (since I’m being all honest here) because I find her lifestyle, meals, and worldview so far from reality that it is genuinely entertaining.   I mean, seriously. How relatable is someone who has no actual job, gets free stuff in the mail daily, makes a living cooking and working out and writing about it, and virtually never has issues with money?  Reading that shit just pisses me off.  It doesn’t make me want to do anything that she does, including watch endless episodes of Gossip Girl in the middle of the day.  But I digress…

As you may recall, I sprained both ankles back in April and had to abandon the race I was training all winter for.  Then, I blogged about how the injury had forced me to slow down, be mindful, and take it easy.  I took 12 weeks off running, which is probably the longest break I’ve taken in the past 10 years.  I truly believe that the break resulted in me being more relaxed, happy, calm and stress-free than I had been in years. If not ever.

So I’ve just been trying since then to chill out about working out.  I read an article in Wired (great bathroom reading, btw) recently about stress and all the lesser known factors that contribute to it, based on a study this guy did on baboons.  Anyhow, turns out one of those factors is “forcing yourself to go to the gym.”  I’ll take any excuse to not HAVE to work out, but basically what it says is that if you don’t WANT to go to the gym and you force yourself to suffer through an unbearable workout (how many times a week do we do this? seriously.) then we may not be doing our bodies any favors.  I am not a scientist or anything, but I know that when I am less stressed out, I just FEEL better.  I have more energy, I sleep better, I argue with my husband less, and I have been known to lose a couple pounds.  For me, the more I fight and train and obsess about losing pounds, the more my body wants to hang onto them. I don’t know if there’s any science behind it, but it is my empirical observation of myself.


The one thing that goes hand in hand with disordered eating (one the MC article barely touches on) is the idea of comparison.  And this is what I see is the problem with health blogs for me, and with the idea of health blogs in general: the constant comparisons of readers and bloggers alike to each other.  What they ate for breakfast, how fast they ran 4 miles, how many glasses of wine they (shouldn’t have) had to drink.  Its INSANE!! If you read through those blogs you will find a disturbingly common thread.  They all have an obsession with pumpkin, and oatmeal and chia seeds and nutritional yeast (wtf even IS that shit?).  They all eat the same thing.  They all do the same workouts.  Its an entire subculture of the blind leading the blind. 

I like to think I’m smarter than that.  I’ve been sucked in, admittedly, but I am stepping away now. I’ve spent WAY too much money on therapy to not know better at this point. Its not good for me, my health, my body image, or my marriage.  I don’t need to run a 5k in 22 minutes to count for something.  Just the fact that I like to run (only a couple times a week) and that I do my best should be is enough for me. 

I do not like chia seeds. Pumpkin is really only good in pies, beer and cookies. I will throw down a bottle of wine by myself occasionally.  Because I LIKE to.  My favorite foods will ALWAYS pizza and nachos.  My husband thinks I’m beautiful (although not so much in the mornings).  My family (and in-laws) are hilarious and wonderful. I will never run a marathon. I have the BEST friends in the entire universe.  And a few extra pounds.



Please feel free to weigh in here on those articles. I’m all about the freedom of expression. And honesty. And food. Obviously.


jilly said...

Yay lady! I'm so proud!

I think something that both the bloggers and the MC journalist should have kept in mind is the sensitivity of people (women in particular) and the topic of being "healthy." There's a sort of defensiveness when you choose to comment on what someone else chooses to do in order to consider themselves healthy; it's like criticizing one's religion. Add to that the idea that you have weigh 80lbs to qualify as having an eating disorder, and you get this mess that erupted.

We've both talked about this for so long, it's really disappointing that someone brought this issue to light in such a crappy way. Instead of lambasting a handful of these people, it should have focused on the larger issue as to how blogs like these are being used.

Leslie said...

Seriously, what ARE chia seeds? And nutritional yeast? I've always wondered. Also, I really want to know which blogger you read just to make fun of, cause I feel like it's probably the same one I read just to make fun of.

P.S. Pumpkin beer rules!

Jill said...

Well said, Becky, and good for you! Damn straight to all of the above.

I am finding this discussion really interesting. What grabs me is that these bloggers were once just normal chicks like us, and now because of the internet, they're celebrities of the health-blogging world. It makes me wonder why people take them so seriously.

And it also makes me really glad that these kinds of blogs didn't exist when I was in high school and struggling through my own eating disorder. Holy shit, these would have set me back. Even now I tend to avoid them. I just don't need to ogle food photos and compare my exercise habits to strangers'. It makes me feel squicky.

Sarah P said...

Becky, so well written and thoughtful.

I think your take on this is the most healthy. You've evaluated what these blogs mean to you in your life and taken a step you feel is the most healthy for you. Kudos.