I was honored that Heather at Then Heather Said asked me to write a guest post for her More Than Series. She’s explaining through these guest posts what healthy living blogging is all about, even beyond what shows up in our Google Readers. (She can explain it a little more eloquently than I’m able to, so clicky the linky and read it in her words).
I’m copying and pasting her post here, so my post is bookended by Heather’s words.
Hi, THS readers! I’m Kat from Low-Fat Kat, and am honored to be doing a guest post for Heather! When I was working on my Master’s degree, I did my thesis on social networks and virtual communities and how they could benefit healthcare organizations and hospital systems. At the time, I was focusing mostly on what I knew from Facebook, MySpace, and the networks our professors used in college – WebCT and Blackboard. In my head, I was thinking of this ginormous network wherein patients could talk to each other, share information with their healthcare providers, schedule appointments, and retrieve information and resources.
A mouthful, yes? Well somewhere in my book (I’m calling a spade a spade here), I briefly touched on how virtual communities can improve the health of their members through social interaction – the topic I want to focus on for this post.
One of my attention-grabbing examples was that of a girl who turned to the PostSecret Community forums for help. She was in her early 20s and lived in a society where women had very few rights, especially those regarding sexuality. She discovered she was pregnant, and she risked exile or even death (at the hands of her own family, mind you) for seeking an abortion or having a child out of wedlock; she was a literal case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
She came to the PostSecret community looking for suggestions or any help that could be offered. People from all over the world were researching women’s shelters and doctors in her area that might be willing to help her; they were researching chemical abortifacients she might be able to find nearby, and they were researching halfway houses for her, if she had been willing to carry the child. Outside of helping her find physical resources, two of the biggest things the community offered her were “merely” a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. When she was contemplating aborting the child by her own hand, people talked her out of it. When she sought out an abortion from a reputable professional and took a few days off to recover, a virtual vigil was held on the forum – people praying for her, talking about her situation, offering nothing but well-wishes. Her situation really struck me as unique but yet universal – we turn to virtual communities to gain support and to find like-minded people who help us find and establish our places in life.
When I was writing my thesis, I understood and appreciated the points I was making about virtual communities, but I wasn’t a “capital-B” Blogger at that point. It wasn’t until a year or so ago when I started my blog and unknowingly created my own little social network (hi, guys!!) that I truly understood the impact virtual communities can have on their members. Unlike some of my in-real-life (IRL) community members, the people who make up my virtual community were handpicked by me. I follow people who struggle with the same things I struggle with (being a bit too addicted to chocolate and baked goods, for one), those who have succeeded where I intend to succeed (losing and keeping off large amounts of weight), and those who have stories different than my own but that intrigue me (being vegan, being gluten-intolerant, having kids, or recovering from bulimia to name a few). I’ve surrounded myself with various positive influences and have thus shaped my own reality.
I’ve done every diet under the sun and have struggled with my weight for over 20 years (a fact that royally sucks when you realize I’m writing this post a week shy of my 26th birthday). I’ve succeeded at many, but have always gained the weight back and then some. The problem each time was the same – my lifestyle never changed. A diet is like putting a Band-Aid over a severed artery. It might temporarily fix the problem (very temporarily – this metaphor isn’t my best), but that Band-Aid won’t hold for long. Each time, I’d lose 5, 20, 80 pounds, and go right back to the life I had previously been living. Quelle surprise – it ain’t gonna work that way.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s anyone’s fault but my own that I gained the weight back, but it’s pretty common knowledge that people with social support are the most likely to succeed at changing their behaviors – I could get all nerdy on you and find some resources to cite, but this post is long-winded enough already and still has a way to go. I’m also not saying that my IRL friends and family weren’t supportive; they just didn’t truly understand my plight and often didn’t know how to help me.
The #1 problem I had each time was failing to change my lifestyle – we’ve established that. The #2 problem I had was not surrounding myself with the right kind of support. I’ve never had a close IRL friend who has struggled with their weight like I have; my friends were always the type to eat whatever they wanted without gaining an ounce, and we never really engaged in physical activity when we hung out, so exercise was always a chore. I’d like to think that if my social norms had changed early on – i.e., “everyone works out regularly” or “no, Katherine, it’s not normal to eat dessert after each of your three daily meals” – making those lifestyle changes would’ve been a helluva lot easier then than they are now that they’re so deeply ingrained.
So how am I wrapping all this up? Through blogging and tweeting, my case is semi-parallel to that of the pregnant girl in Jordan – I had a problem, I knew I couldn’t face it alone, and I needed people who knew what they were talking about to help me. Even though I knew HOW to lose weight (calories in < calories out), it’s a very difficult thing to put into practice. Before I could succeed at it, I needed people who had lost weight to help me know how to change my lifestyle. I needed people who were in the process of losing weight to show me I wasn’t alone and to lean on when it got hard. I needed people who were losing weight in different ways so I could make informed decisions and figure out my best shot at success. I needed to tailor my own social network to suit my requirements, and blogging has allowed me to do that.
I have made friends from all over the world through blogging – people who are so like me, it’s scary (scarier for the audiences who read our Tweets and comments, I’m sure). I’ve “met” people who annoy the crap out of me, but I still read their content because their viewpoints, while opposing my own, make my experience more well-rounded and better-informed. I’ve created my own little virtual community because the one I physically inhabit was lacking something. That sounds like a blow to my IRL friends and family, but it’s not – I was missing something in my life, the absence of which caused me to be unhealthy and left me feeling lost, despite years of health and weight loss education. Through blogging and tweeting, conversing with people who truly understand me and have the same issues I do, I’m getting better at this healthy living thing day after day. When I falter, I turn to them for support. When I succeed, I turn to them for praise. This healthy living blogger community is my “something missing” – they let me know what it truly means to live a healthy lifestyle by comparison and are helping me make the lifelong changes I need in order to become the health nut I so desperately need and want to be.
Thanks, Heather, for letting me be a part of this series! I hope it sheds some light on how our little virtual community helps us take our healthy living efforts day by day.