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Fitness blogs becoming a popular motivational tool

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Tammy Ducharme shares her weight-loss trials and triumphs via her blog, One Fit City

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Tammy Ducharme shares her weight-loss trials and triumphs via her blog, One Fit City Photo Store

During every pound lost, every pound gained and every forbidden thought about devouring her favourite junk food, Winnipegger Tammy Ducharme knows people are watching.

And that's how she likes it.

That's what keeps the 30-year-old blogger -- who has shed 130 pounds and counting -- motivated.

 

For nearly two years, Ducharme has blogged about her weight loss on the website One Fit City. She admits the idea of airing her private battle with the scale was embarrassing at first, but it didn't take her long to find her groove and learn she was even inspiring others to stay on track of their fitness goals. She's garnered as many as 300 views for a post, but says she averages about 40 "on a good day."

"It helped me open up a lot. I had a lot of good feedback from it. Because I would have people at the gym say, 'I read your blog. I like that you connect. I can relate to you. Don't stop,' says the St. Vital resident, who took up blogging 70 pounds into her weight loss at the urging of her trainer, Jordan Cieciwa, who operates onefitcity.com.

Ducharme, an account co-ordinator at a plumbing and heating company, has even worked up the courage to blog about the end of a relationship -- what she calls "her first dumping." For such highly personal entries, the Glenlawn Collegiate graduate prefers to bypass the video blogs she has posted since January and opt for the conventional written post. That way she can be "more emotional" without revealing too much.

Blogs are one of the newest trends in weight loss.

Proving their popularity, a Google search of "weight loss blogs" yields 344 million results.

Why so many?

In the fitness blogosphere, everyday people have the chance to share their workout routines, weight-loss setbacks, and whatever else they feel like revealing, with perfect strangers. In the process, they get feedback, along with support.

And, like a rock star, they get an audience.

For the past few years, University of Massachusetts clinical psychologist Sherry Pagoto has researched the effects of social media on weight loss.

"There is this trend where people are not just going to the Internet for health information, but they are going there to connect with other people who have the same condition," says the associate professor.

Pagoto is in the midst of analyzing data she collected from weight loss bloggers and the people who read them to figure out their role in helping them get fit.

Her previous research, comparing the role Facebook and Twitter play in weight loss, came up with some surprising results: People trying to lose weight get the most motivation from their Twitter followers -- most of whom tend to be strangers.

Facebook followers tend to be family and friends, says Pagoto.

"(Twitter is) the loosest tie socially, but it seems to be the one that's most supportive around their weight loss efforts," says Pagoto, noting that her patients often tell her they aren't getting the support they need from friends and family, whether that's on purpose or inadvertently.

"I agree with that," says Ducharme, whose family and friends are proud of her progress, but still make the odd, accidental verbal "jab" -- perhaps questioning her about what she's eating in a way she perceives as negative.

"Even family, they think they are supportive, but there is that sense of negativity. They are still completely on a different wavelength."

University of Connecticut graduate student Martinus Evans, 27, started his blog last year after an orthopedist called him "fat" and challenged him to buy a pair of running shoes and start walking.

A feisty Evans, who weighed 340 pounds at the time, had an off-the-cuff reply: "'Forget walking. I'll run a marathon and I'll blog about it.' (The doctor) said, 'Maybe you should do that.'

"From there, it just went downhill," says Evans who is 60 pounds lighter. Meanwhile, he's gained 11,500 followers from around the world who relish the posts on his blog, 300poundsandrunning.com.

"When I started, I was just a no-name guy just trying to lose weight. This thing has definitely taken on a (life) of its own," says Evans, who works with Pagoto, helping with her research.

What makes the type of blogging he does different from the fitness blogs of five years ago?

"I'm a morbidly obese man. I'm not talking about (getting) buff or getting muscles. I'm talking about getting healthy and losing weight for life," says Evans, who has shared everything from his diet regimen to his sadness over his relationship with his ill father. ("It hurt to write that. I was crying when I wrote that," he says.)

Winnipegger Aaron Epp, who has lost more than 100 pounds since 2011, started his weight-loss blog, Aaron At Large, only a couple of months ago.

"The biggest thing that stopped me was (blogging about yourself) sounds a little bit, maybe, self-indulgent," says Epp, a communications specialist at Canadian Mennonite University. "I thought, 'Who would really care?'"

Epp, who lives downtown, admits he has a small community of blog followers -- all people he knows.

But the size of his following doesn't matter. In June, he lost 24 pounds -- more weight than he's ever lost in one month. He credits the new record to his blog and the accountability it provided.

He even mustered up the courage to post some personal tidbits, such as the fact that he sees a counsellor. "And that this whole process has kind of given me the confidence to start dating again," says Epp, 29, who wouldn't change anything he's blogged about. "I may be a little bit uncomfortable about some of the things I've posted, but at the same time, I don't know if I regret them."

While blogging seems to be mostly beneficial to bloggers and followers, those planning on going public with their weight-loss journey need to consider all the consequences, Pagoto says.

One possibility is receiving negative comments from judgmental "trolls" that can make bloggers "self-conscious about putting it all out there."

Another risk, says Pagoto: potential employers "might have certain biases around online content."

And bloggers need to be careful not to make fitness promises they can't keep -- doing so can discourage not only followers, but the bloggers themselves.

Pagoto says the notion of helping others is the leading force driving successful weight-loss bloggers.

"That can be very powerful. When you know this isn't just for you anymore. You're kind of changing and inspiring other people," says the psychologist. "I think that makes your weight-loss journey more meaningful."

 

Have an interesting story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2013 D1

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