The (un) Reality of the Blog World

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These last few days I have vented some of the frustrations I had with the blog world that led me to take a two week hiatus (sounds like nothing now, but in my head it was significant) a few months back … but as I have done the posts I have realized through my writing and the great comments that it was all about much more. My thoughts on ‘blogs as inefficient’ in particular turned into something that gets at the difficulty of being ‘present’ in the face of technology. And the comments in my ‘Schadenfreude’ post pointed to something else … that sometimes the blog world isn’t exactly the most honest or healthy place.

Telling it Like It Isn’t

A couple of weeks ago Hollie had one of the best picture/comment combos I have seen recently – she was out and saw tiny utensils and asked “why are the mini blogger utensils more expensive then the normal sized ones?”

Some commenters were ‘correcting’ her that they were baby utensils, but she made it clear that she knew EXACTLY what she was saying:

I was referring to them as blogger utensils since a lot of healthy living bloggers like to use smaller utensils.

There were many possible ways of interpreting that … but I was reminded of something Arman pointed out a while back:

I was informed that there are bloggers out there whom, using various camera techniques and angles- are able to make a minisecule portion of food look greater than it is.

In video games this is called the ‘bullshot’. In that context it is a misrepresentation that is intended to pique interest.

In the HLB context it is more often than not a misrepresentation of what someone is ACTUALLY eating … and really, there are only THREE reasons I can think that someone would do that – because that was only made for thepicture, or to hide overeating, or to hide calorie restriction. Neither of the last two is healthy.

Also unhealthy? Discovering that someone has been using supplements to avoid eating actual meals. I’m not talking about an occasional protein shake to fuel workouts (those are insanely filling!), but actually using nutrient pills instead of eating … and flying into a rage when questioned about it. It is very sad, but we’re all adults here and have to make our own choices and deal with the consequences.

Along the same lines, I used to follow a blogger who got injured, then within a few months was suddenly doing post-injury activities again … it capped off an entire cycle of behavior that kept getting revealed after the fact as less-than-forthright (being generous) … and was an immediate unfollow for me. I don’t handle dishonest people well – especially ones who will not allow questioning or dissenting voices.

More Specifically

There are really three areas where I have seen unreality:

Thinspo / Fitspo: most of us have seen ‘pro-Ana’ sites, which actively encourage anorexia and other dirordered eating. And most people agree that these sites are incredibly unhealthy. But if you really pay attention to some fitness and ‘healthy living’ blogs, you will find that many are pushing and advocating tremendous amounts of exercise while still restricting caloric intake, choosing ‘zero point’ foods like carrots and plain mustard after a 10 mile run, or a recovery snack of a half an apple and teaspoon of nut butter or whatever.

Fueling is incredibly important, and young women in particular are very susceptible to body image issues and the whole food industry push of ‘fat is bad’. Sadly there are some widely read blogs where either the person has admitted past disorders or is apparently dealing with one now, yet pushes their approach very strongly. I have managed to get myself banned from commenting on at least one of those … without personal attacks, profanity, or anything but direct questions …

Bad Eating Advice: aside from the ‘relentless pursuit of size zero’, there are those who through reading articles and some self-success and positive feedback have gotten an inflated sense of expertise. Reading about how a certain supplement worked for someone and using it yourself … fine, like I said we are adults here.

But when these bits are posted with post titles like ‘Ultimate Guide’ or ‘Everything You Need to Know’, and backed up directly or indirectly with educational and/or race credentials … well, suddenly it takes on a whole new meaning. Again, I have seen young kids and new runners take stuff on some of these blogs very seriously, like direct medical advice … and once that starts happening I believe the blogger has a more direct standard of personal accountability, and needs to understand the impact of what they are doing.

Bad Fitness Advice: most of the blogs I read are very clear about not offering professional or expert advice, and personally I am specific about recommending you stay away from what I do as a generally ‘good idea’. But I have seen an interesting trend in blog ‘meta-discussions’ (these are forum talks about a cross section of running blogs) … they tend to weigh advice higher if the person giving it is faster.

To an extent that makes sense – I mean, they have demonstrated proficiency at a higher level, right? Yeah, but some of them are IDIOTS … with tons of raw talent. Some of the discussions point that out, but others will look at a PR time and just assume that whatever that person says is “THE TRUTH’. My worry is obvious – someone WILL get hurt.

Our Insular World

Running and healthy living bloggers all share an understanding of much of the terminology (dreadmill, fartlek, burpees, etc), physical conditions (chafing, zombie toes, etc) and the general feelings of a great workout. In regards of enjoying a workout, we are like everyone else who does exercise, but endurance runners and people who try to sustain healthy eating to fuel that type of workout regime take it all to the next level.

As such many people who are not doing this feel it can become obsessive, but the flip side of that is we live in a rather insular world – only people who have gone through running 6+ days a week for a sustained period, fueled heavily and still been ‘hangry’, lost toenails, bought a huge supply of band-aids, and so on will really connect with the things we take for granted.

Because of this we can lose objectivity – it is good to have a reality check in our life … and we don’t ever want to get to the point that ‘getting injured’ is our reality check. When I look around the running / HLB world I have seen new people immersing themselves fully, taking ALL of the advice, surrounding themselves with like-minded people … and getting hurt.

True … From a Certain Point of View

Look – NONE of us reveals everything that goes on in our lives. Look at it this way – some of us have children, more are married and pretty much every blog I followed has discussed dating at some point. So it is pretty safe to bet that at least the overwhelming majority of us have had sex at some point – hetero, homo, whatever … but none of us really needs to discuss it or know about each other’s sex life … and that is pretty much all I will ever say on that subject. πŸ™‚

My point – while we discuss many things on our blogs, and many of us actually reveal a great deal about ourselves (more than I would have ever guessed I would reveal) … there is always much we leave unsaid. Which isn’t a bad thing – certainly I view myself very much as an introvert and private person, and have no plan or desire to reveal everything about myself.

But aside from WHAT we say, there is also HOW we say it … in other words, we each represent a singular viewpoint. If we are talking about a relationship, we are telling (at most) 50% of the story. I love that my wife is open and free providing feedback and a reality check – while at the same time being incredibly supportive of my running and crazy eating!

But what happens when you don’t have an alternate view point is you can lose perspective. I laughed about how one morning I was running really well, felt great and was pushing the pace – which for me means I was in the 8+ minute range – and someone blew by me. Again, it really doesn’t matter, but it is also a reminder that everyone is in a different place, perhaps doing a different type of run or whatever. We have to avoid applying false context, but also remember that we can seldom see the entire picture.

And … so?

Here is the bottom line – there is no great ‘truth dispensor’ … and we need to be very careful about how much faith we put into the advice we read on blogs. But since most of the people reading this are at least a few years past high school, I feel that as adults we need to take some responsibility for the running / HLB community as a whole.

I have commented many times and found myself unwelcome because of questioning the blogger (when your supplement of choice has significant kidney & liver side effects and you don’t mention those … um, not cool) – but I won’t stop. I want every new runner to get a lifetime of joy and benefits from the sport just as I have.

And if there is a bit of advice I WOULD like people to take from me it is this … there is no supplement or diet or 2-minute workout that is going to transform you into Meb / Shalane … sorry, but for the vast and overwhelming majority of us even a lifetime of hard work and eating right will still leave us towards the middle of the pack … but hey, we will be the best possible versions of ourselves. And for me, that is what matters most.

Random Question … Anyone in the Houston Area?

OK, so next week (June 23rd – 25th) I will be in Houston courtesy of the HP Houston Labs, and while I am not sure I will have much of any availability or extra time … couldn’t hurt to check, right?!?

What Do You Think About ‘Warped Reality’ in the HLB Blog World?

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41 thoughts on “The (un) Reality of the Blog World

  1. My goodness, this was the first thing I saw/read when I woke up and I’m glad I did. This was a raw and amazing read. I’m still somewhat new to the community so I haven’t noticed too much but there has been a couple HLB that have disordered eating and are showcasing it as normal. Those blogs I skip. I don’t think people grasp that if that is a miracle pill or “2 minute workout” that can bring Meb level success, we’d all be at that level and it wouldn’t be so special anymore.

    • Thanks Carmy – sadly there is a reason diet books sell so well, and books on good healthy eating (like Paleo or Gluten free) don’t sell unless they promise weight loss … people really ARE looking for a magic cure. And it is sad that eating disorders are not just still around but are thriving in spite of our knowledge of dangerous they are!

  2. I’m REALLY glad you highlighted this on the blog. I agree that there is a lot of misrepresentation that occurs on HLBs. I have actually unfollowed quite a few HLBs in the past few months after hearing ridiculous information doled out by people who just aren’t certified to give out advice and it actually makes me scared for people who think that what works for someone else is going to have the same results for them. I also stopped following quite a few people who would boast that they don’t eat before going out on a long run (I don’t care what the reasoning is behind it) to finish their double digit runs and only eat a yogurt or grab a coffee drink afterwards and think that is sufficient and healthy. Sorry, but this is unhealthy, no matter how you try to dress it up!

    I really love all the great and healthy people I have met through blogging (like YOU) but I have met just as many that take it to the other extreme, which is scary, but I guess that is what the blog community really is…a mix of lots and lots of people who can reveal what they wish in whatever manner they wish to do so (regardless if its truthful or not) and as readers, we can decide who we want to follow or not.

    I really liked your comments about perspective too. I think you are absolutely right that while we are doing things, we can sometimes lose perspective, so its important to have those around us who care to call us out on our actions. I know it’s helped me a lot in the past (and present!!)

    • Thanks Sara! I appreciate and agree wiht all of your thoughts, and am so happy with the people I find myself sharing with in the blog world. It is a great community we have built – and I have accepted that if keeping it full of positivity means it doesn’t grow much more, then fine.

  3. This is one of my favorite of your posts ever, which is really saying a lot. It’s something I think about often, because while I do want to be an inspiration where possible, I certainly don’t even come close to photographing or sharing my entire life (I laughed on the sex talk). So, if I photograph a small lunch one day because it looks pretty, I would hate for someone to think I’m supporting restricting calories, or if I show one night where I have 3 drinks and a big dessert because I’m celebrating, I would hate for someone to think it’s “right” to do that every single night. Like almost anything, it comes down to knowing YOUR body. I get so much inspiration from so many in the “HLB” world, but at the end of the day, I do what works for ME, not what works for someone else. I aspire to help my clients do the exact same thing.

    The bottom right stats about children in your info graphic are absolutely terrifying. One of the main reasons I support programs like Girls on the Run to instill a healthy body image in girls (and, of course, I also support programs like that for boys, I just choose to coach GOTR because I love it and relate to girls more than boys personally).

    THANK YOU for a great post!!

    • Thanks Megan, that comment gave me ‘the feels’ as the kids say πŸ™‚ And as you laugh about my sex talk, I laughed when you talked about overdoing it a bit on your anniversary but dragging yourself to the farmer’s market … wild party animals, that is us! πŸ™‚

      And I know you are awesome at what you do because that passion infuses everything you do – it isn’t hiding anything, or pushing something else away … it is a love of health and a desire for everyone to feel that joy! And for kids to grow up with positive images of feed and activity. Which is awesome!

  4. EXACTLY. This is part of what led me to my hiatus as well. I don’t fancy myself a fitness guru, or someone to be able to tell anyone how to lose weight or get faster. So much of what we blog is just that-a LOG of what we ate, what we exercised, the net results. It’s our formula to success, and nobody could be blamed for trying to put that formula into place on their own lives. I’ve a close family member now trying to mimic my workout plan to lose weight, and it’s not someone I can point this out to, so it just feels awkward. Comparison breeds competition, and I’m so susceptible to it that I’ve had to stop reading most blogs I used to follow to stop myself from falling into the comparison trap.

    • So true – Michele (http://www.paleorunningmomma.com/) wrote about body image last week and talked about checking out the calves of women at races and making assessments based on that. A number of commenters had the same thoughts – and to an extent I think it is a natural thing: if someone has more degrees than us, some will take their opinionas more valuable, and so on. We just have to carve out our happy space, whatever that might look like.

      Oh – and I was so glad that you returned πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much Rach! I am glad when what I am worried about even publishing actually makes sense … and even more so when people find meaning. And yes, I am saying I was worried this was meaningless blather before publishing πŸ™‚

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  6. A risk of sounding like a fangirl, I love this post and reblogged it.

    You’re right about there being blogs that even I look at their times and give them more credibility that probably isn’t warranted. A few running blogs I enjoy do take on this faux expert tone in some posts about workouts, yet don’t site sources for their info, which leads me to believe they are just making it up and calling their few years of running with successful times as their sole credentials. I worry about the people who read these blogs as gospel because often the blogger contradicts information from the real experts, yet camouflages the info enough to sound like a real thing. And I know I’m guilty of being susceptible to body loathing, and some of those HLB blogs sing that siren song of eating disorders, and I’m aware of my tendencies — what about those people who see this stuff as normal dieting?

    Anyway, thank you for this thoughtful post. I hope a lot of people who need to read it do find their way here.

    • Thanks so much for the reblog! I’m honored by your fangirl-ism (apparently a lot of kids, boys and girls, use the term generically now – fanboy is a rabid troll, fangirl is someone who gets very enthusiastic … it was an interesting chat with my kids).

      I have made a lifelong pursuit of body-loathing (ok, trying to STOP it, more like), so this line “what about those people who see this stuff as normal dieting?” is what really bugs me … Thanks again!

  7. I’ve been trying to think of a comment to leave for the last 20 minutes (which is good, trust me….it means you really made me think in a good way). I know I’ve chosen to take a major step back from the blogging world for a number of reasons, but one of them is that I didn’t (and still don’t) like to see a lot of the stuff that people post as “healthy” and “awesome” when I really don’t think it is, and I get tired of hearing how sugar is bad for you, certain fats are ok, coconut oil is the best thing ever created, watch the carbs, and I drink a protein smoothie for lunch every day. I don’t want to offend anyone by saying that, but there’s a lot of repetition and people swearing by certain stuff, which is fine; I’m happy that blogging has opened both my eyes and others to stuff I know I would never have tried otherwise, and I’ve met some of the best people I know through it. But I’ve also unfollowed a ton of people over the past few months because I don’t like what I’m seeing. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to do you and let the rest go. If that means doing crossfit for your workout and then following that with a green protein smoothie, that’s great! That’s not me, but I think it’s awesome that you’ve found something that works. I always try (if I’m sharing anything running related) to make sure I state this is what works for me, and I don’t believe anyone else should do it because I am, and I think there needs to be more of that on fitness/eating related posts.

    • haha – I love the comment, and glad I made you think! I totally agree … with pretty much everything. I have been on a smoothie kick since I got a nutribullet for my birthday a couple of months ago, but have had others say they are not into them. From some places you might get the impression that smoothies are an essential part of health – they are not. Same thing – you should never be embarrassed for eating cake, pie, cookies, ice cream, pasta, bread, steak, nachos, or whatever else you choose. It is generally good to have balance and make the best overall choices that work with your body … but there is only one person who can figure THAT stuff out .. you! Thanks again for the great comment …

  8. I feel the same way, very often, and alluded to it briefly in one of my recent posts. It’s really easy for a blogger to misrepresent him/herself and/or only show the best parts. Popular HLBs carry a tremendous amount of weight with people who are looking for help, and very often the bloggers themselves are struggling or are advocating an extreme lifestyle. Thanks for the food for thought!

    • Thanks Rae! Ooh – could you let me know which of your posts you are referring to? (I started looking but didn’t get past the Cape vacation one πŸ™‚ )

      “Popular HLBs carry a tremendous amount of weight with people who are looking for help”

      THIS x 1 billion.

      I remember when I started running, a friend suggested a blog for food and running … and then I found other blogs through comments there, and so on and so on and so on. (70s commercial alert). But along the way you would hear ‘you have to check out X’ … and I did, and sometimes I was rather creeped out by the rampant disorder – and the crowds of cheering commenters. Scary.

      • It was a very brief mention in my post on May 22–“A follow up to yesterday’s post”. I just mentioned how easy it is to pretend on your blog like everything is fine and you’re doing awesome all the time, but that’s not my reality, and I strive to be honest on my blog so I don’t give off some unrealistic “I’m awesome and running and eating healthy are my favorite things all the time and I’m super fit and you should like me!” vibe.

      • That is why I think your blog is cool πŸ™‚ It is real and reflects the ups and downs of a normal person. Because sometimes life is awesome … and sometimes, not so much.

  9. I definitely think the blog world is a pretty good representation of our “public” world in general. Everyone is supposed to be nice and positive and remain in denial or avoid the topic of how we are hurting ourselves, especially if the person hurting themselves is accomplished or thin or attractive. In those instances we turn to gossip.

    I guess the added problem with the blog world is that other people take the unhealthy behavior patterns of bloggers as advice for how to train, eat, live, etc. I don’t think bloggers can or should be expected to identify their unhealthy patterns and warn people directly in their blogs (most people can’t recognize it as it’s happening) so the take home message has to be to carve your own path, take a step back for perspective and don’t read blogs for advice. Easier said than done.

    It’s a good think I wasn’t blogging a year ago. I thought I was the sh*t and I was really a trainwreck in progress with my too-drastic transition to barefoot running, poorly planned fueling and lack of recovery time. I say right in my blog that I welcome people calling me out and I mean that, because sometimes I lose perspective and do stupid things. We are human and all have problems, and I just hope the people who are doing unhealthy things can eventually turn things around for themselves. I mean carrots with mustard after a run? Supplements instead of food? Our society is in trouble.

    • Thanks for the incredible comment, Michele! Every little bit, and thanks for THIS insight:

      “I don’t think bloggers can or should be expected to identify their unhealthy patterns and warn people directly in their blogs”

      I agree … but I have seen MANY people who have battled ED note it in their ‘About’ and I think it always helps open a conversation. But I also think that you are totally right that it is unreasonable to expect some type of warning or something like that. As I say, we all decide what to share and what not to …

  10. I almost choked (combination of water mixed with laughter over a work computer and keyboard, leading to attempting to keep my mouth closed) when I read the part about someone eating carrots and mustard after a run. Hahaha. Sadly, I know you’re not joking — but on the upside, glad I don’t read any of those blogs. I’m pretty selective (and I’ve found great ones through you). I think it’s inherent lawyer-questioning nature and the fact that I’ve been certified as a running coach for several years, I tend to look at many blogs very skeptically, and it makes me perhaps less … impressionable?… than many readers. I like getting the perspective of what works for others, but you’re right that each is just a single voice sharing what they wish. For your laughter, here’s my one sex post — totally safe for work: http://carinaruns.blogspot.com/2013/06/superwoman.html

    The numbers about the children in the first graphic are a mix of alarming and, is it wrong to say, in some ways positive, particularly given how many children have weight issues before they even start first grade. While 42% of 1st to 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, I’d be curious as to how that stacked up against actual weight — not saying that overweight kids necessarily should want to be thinner, but if they do, is that bad or healthy (assuming not inspired solely by the top graphic of supermodel proportions)?

    Definitely an interesting post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thanks for the link – OMG, hehe. Love the post – I think we all have those rare days where we say ‘how did I manage all of THAT’ … and others where we think ‘is THAT all I did today …’ πŸ™‚

      I also agree with the ‘skeptical read’ thing – as I mentioned before, I’ve been doing this ‘internet thing’ longer than the majority of running/HLBs have been alive … so I have seen it all (well, not really, actually not even remotely, and I don’t go looking for the rest). I apparently have this ‘social justice’ thing about me, where I get all morally indignant where I see wrongs … so I try to helpout people I see struggling, and be encouraging wherever possible. And from my scientist side I don’t have much tolerance for bad data or misinformation.

  11. No but I wish I was in Houston! I want to meet you!
    Honestly maybe I’m just SUPER naive (yep…that’s probably it), but I have only been recently realizing that the warped perception on HLB’s is an actual thing. I’ve posted workouts that I do a few times, but I’ve always been pretty careful to mention that I’m not a doctor or a trainer so please take whatever I say with a grain of salt (ha) and I guess I always wanted to give others the benefit of the doubt that they would present their info like that as well.

    The whole bullshot thing really freaks me right out because I had no idea that was a thing. And I’m really glad you have used your blog as a platform today to discuss this because I think it’s an important thing for people to recognize.

    • Thanks Lauren (and yes I ‘lol’d at the grain of salt joke I have to confess) … and it really is sad. When I first started seeing some of this stuff nearly two years ago at first I dismissed it as misinterpretation, or whatever … but no, sadly not.

      And I know already as you’ve posted that you get unfairly judged based on being thin, and so it makes sense that you would give others slack – I know that as someone on a lifelong ‘food journey’ I tend to be the same way … so it took some real convincing, but when it became undeniable, well, I was thrown.

      Thanks again!

  12. Another great post, and one on which you already know I agree. But I really really do.

    I think blogging has an incredible power for good, but that being said, I think it also has an incredible power for bad too (especially in Pro-Ana blogs). One of the things that I worry about in terms of my training is that it might make someone think they should train as I do, which honestly, I do not recommend. I eat a lot and spend a lot of time with my legs propped up, not to mention the time spent on recovery. That is all really beside the point, and I think I just took a tangent, but I guess my bottom line is: be a power for good, be authentic, and positive!

    • Actually I thought your comment was perfect (as usual πŸ™‚ ) … you are explicit in what you are doing, how it is working, why you are doing it, how you got there, what DOESN’T work and so on. And also that you are not laying out a general training plan for others to follow … though as you know from the comments the fact that you can live-blog a 20+ and 31 mile run pretty well thins out the ‘do it like me’ crowd! πŸ™‚ haha

  13. There’s a huge difference between sites positioning themselves as expert advice, versus those that are fansites of HLB (is that a thing? I saw you use the acronym, I’m blindly copying without verifying). I really only take “expert” advice sites seriously if they’re accompanied by published books. Does not mean they’re right, does not mean they should be blindly followed (unlike my following of your use of HLB acronym), does not mean you should read without a skeptical eye or skip verifying facts that might impact your health. But if a publisher put substantial money behind it, whether right or wrong, it jumps leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the “expert” sites and enters the short list that I’ll evaluate for further consideration. Free blogs are like opinions are like a-holes, everybody’s got one and they’re all full of sht, my own included.

    Blogs that explore one fan’s experience are fun to read, and are actually the bulk of what I read. The ones I stick with (A) are clear about the fact that they are not experts, (B) do not promise results or guarantee anything, and (C) balance out the successes with what risks they knowingly took or the “cons” that came along with the amazing PR they just delivered or pound they lost.

    On a separate note, glad you brought up sex. I was thinking the other day, with the recent 10-day thing on this site and a handful of others, nobody lists sex as a like/love, and was chuckling to myself that it is probably appropriate to omit even though it is probably on the list, at least mentally if not in print.

    • Yeah – HLB = Healthy Living Blogs. πŸ™‚

      And you are right on the ‘smell quality’ of blogs – which is one reason I always advise not to take advice from me πŸ™‚

      As for sex, that is funny … but to be honest for me that is not a ‘stand-alone’ item in terms of hitting my top 10. Having nearly lost my wife after our younger son was born and having her take months to really come back to ‘herself’ … puts things into perspective. Not saying that sex isn’t important … although my kids would tell you that it is bad enough knowing we had to have done it at least twice … πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks Hollie – and your picture from the post was awesome enough contribution. It is funny – my wife is very often underestimated due to her sense of humor and bubbly personality, and something tells me you are often underestimated as well.

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