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Obsession masquerading as health? My thoughts on the Marie Claire article

Posted Oct 04 2010 7:29pm
So a little article in Marie Claire magazine called The Hunger Diaries about online food and health bloggers has raised quite a stir.  The premise of the article is whether these health bloggers might be promoting an unhealthy and obsessive lifestyle.  The health bloggers say that their quotes were taken out of context and the dangers of such health blogs were horrifically overblown.

Generally, I don't read these blogs and really am not interested in these types of blogs, where food and exercise routines are documented in almost pornographic detail.  I think about food and weight quite enough, thank you.  Unless it's specifically helping me with my recovery, I'll pass, thank you very much.  Also, these blogs tend to make my competitive and judgemental side get twitchy.  She exercised more than me, I will think, which then takes me down the path of "She's stronger/better than me" => "I must exercise more and eat less." => RELAPSE.  So yeah--for any number of reasons, these blogs aren't for me.

So I can't really say anything about the accuracy of the article and whether some health bloggers might have disordered eating or an actual eating disorder.  That's not my place, I don't know, so I'm not going there.  But I do have several points to make that have gotten lost in the dust of the kerfuffle.

1) Don't believe everything you read on the internet.  Maybe I've watched a few too many House reruns, but the fact is: everybody lies.  And it's very easy to do so online.  Just because someone says they ran X miles doesn't mean they actually did.  Maybe they ran less.  Or more.  Who knows.  I'm not anti-blogger; after all, I am a blogger.  Yet the fact remains, people are complicated.  Things might get left out inadvertently.  You might have misinterpreted.  And just because someone calls themselves a "health blogger" doesn't mean that they are healthy or that doing what they are doing will automatically make YOU healthy.

2) "Health" is not an extreme.  In a lot of the comments on the Marie Claire website, people talked about these bloggers as being something the rest of us Big Mac chowing Americans would do well to emulate.  Um, hello.  Did you not realize there is a ginormous freaking gap between a steady diet of french fries and marathons fueled by kale brownies?  To me, health is not health without joy, and joy comes from real brownies, not kale ones.  I exercise regularly, eat a very healthful diet most of the time, and I humor my sweet tooth when I can.  You can take steps to improve your life without following the dictates of a health blogger.  Are they healthy?  I don't know- that's between the bloggers and their doctors.  Which leads me to my next point
3) "Health" is an individual definition.  People have tried to define health for centuries and have really come up with vague descriptions.  What someone else defines as health (such as kale brownies and marathons) might not be healthy for someone like me in recovery from an eating disorder.  I have to take steps to moderate my impulses to exercise.  Ultimately, you have to define health in your life.  That definition needn't be static--it can change with age, circumstance, you name it.

4) Bloggers have an obligation to their readers.  These obligations will be different based on different types of blogs, but, like it or not, bloggers have an obligation to their readers.  I see my obligations as being honest about my own recovery (the struggles and the victories), and not passing along information I believe to be unhealthy or uninformed.  I can't vouch that everything I write about is 100% accurate--no one can.  But I can (and do) refuse to write on subjects that will be obviously misconstrued, not in line with my own authenticity, and not anything I wouldn't tell someone to do.  I try to be careful and say how something (such as a meal plan) has been helpful to me, but a meal plan isn't universally helpful.

5) Your readers are listening.  This goes along with the point above.  If people are reading your blog, then they are listening to what you have to say.  They are absorbing this information.  Remember this.  Unless your blog is completely private, you are writing to an audience.  When you talk about how great your workout routine is (and then describe it in detail), people are going to copy you.  No, you aren't responsible for the fact that they do copy you and that people can be idiots (sorry, too many House reruns again), but you are responsible for being cognizant of what you say.

6) Obsession can masquerade as health.  I'm not saying anything about these bloggers in particular.  Like I said, I don't really read them and so I'm making no judgements.  But I do have to applaud the writer for bringing up the thorny cultural issue of health being used as a smokescreen for any number of obsessive behaviors.  Part of the problem is that most of the obsessed really think they're just being healthy.  They see nothing wrong, and the unending kudos from adoring blog readers probably doesn't make it any more likely that people will see the light.  Many eating disorders have started by a simple effort to be more healthy.  Soon, it becomes a life-threatening obsession, but how can you be sick if you're just trying really hard to be healthy?  It's a fine line and it's hard to find out where to draw it.

So those are my thoughts.  What do you think of health blogs?  Do you read them?  Why or why not?  Share in the comments.
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