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During the three long years it took me to lose 100 pounds, one of the most helpful things I did was talk about my struggle with anyone who'd listen. I'm certain I tortured everyone I knew with never-ending tales from the scale. But I did what I had to do. It was a whole lot easier to stay on track, counting calories and fat grams, when I knew there were other people keeping an eye on my waistline as well. And the strategy worked: I kept those 100 pounds at bay for more than five years. And then I fell in love. Shortly after I got married in 2004, I started regaining. At first, it was a few pounds here, a few there, and I didn't really care. Neither did my husband. Within a year, though, I was devastated to learn that I'd packed on 25 pounds. Losing them has been much harder than I expected. To help me focus, I started a blog.Blogs: A Dieter's Ultimate Tool
I'm not alone. An astonishing 1 out of every 20 adult Americans has created a Web log (the technical term for blog), according to the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project. As that number grows, so does the number of weight-loss related sites; one list of links, called fitnessblogs.org, includes nearly 500 sites. Most of these consist of daily essays concerning everything from unsupportive family members to getting over a plateau, but others offer reader surveys and hyperlinks to calorie-counting sites. Mine (wordstoeatby.blogspot.com) features essays, recipes, and general insights about losing weight while loving food.
Weight-loss blogs can be an alternative tool for dieters who feel that keeping a pen-and-paper food journal is either inconvenient or boring (or both). But they're also a place to connect with other people who are experiencing similar emotional ups and downs. Reading about another person's struggle can give you the confidence you need to make -- and maintain -- the tough lifestyle choices that long-term weight loss demands. It can also give you comfort to know that other people find dieting just as difficult as you do. Whether you want to start your own blog or just read someone else's, here's how you can benefit.
For many bloggers, myself included, the anonymity of keeping an online journal encourages a frankness and sense of accountability that may be difficult to develop in real life. For instance, bloggers often publish their starting, current, and goal weights and post before, during, and after photos of themselves. "Knowing that I have to post my stats every Wednesday motivates me to eat better throughout the week," says Shauna Marsh, the Australian creator of "The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl!" (dietgirl.org), who's lost a whopping 161 pounds. Blogging may also help dieters cultivate healthier eating habits by helping them develop what experts call "focused awareness" -- the ability to home in on what's driving your behavior, whether it's positive (swapping yogurt for milkshakes) or negative (diving into a bag of Cheetos whenever you feel mad at the world). "Reading your own essays can help you recognize when and why you make unhealthy food choices," explains Patricia Saunders, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. "Down the road, they can also help you prevent destructive patterns, like emotional eating."Quick Support, Instant Feedback
Writing a blog also gives you access to an instant support network, which experts believe is key to losing weight and keeping it off. Most bloggers chronicle their lives for an audience of dozens, but some high-visibility sites can have thousands of daily readers; that's a lot of people tracking your progress. On my blog, I offer a comments section where readers post reactions, suggestions or even just a thank-you; their feedback is an enormous source of strength. Denise Elliott of San Diego, who lost almost 40 pounds while writing "Do You Have That in My Size???" (lottalatte.blogspot.com), agrees: "When I write a particularly painful entry, I might receive dozens of comments that help bolster my confidence."
Readers also benefit. "Blogs can teach you how others deal with setbacks and relapses," says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Some sites even offer bulletin boards where you can post questions to other dieters; you'd be surprised how many solutions to common calorie conundrums you'll turn up.
As useful as blogging can be, there are downsides. The commitment to write regularly -- at least once a week, if not every day -- takes more effort than some novices realize. I try to post daily, but sometimes, life (an ailing relative, a sick cat) gets in the way. If I skip too many days, I feel guilty, which often makes me hungry. Worse, readers will occasionally leave negative feedback. "It isn't fun to be lectured by people who have a different take on the weight-loss experience than you do," says San Francisco-based Monique van den Berg, who publishes a weight-loss blog called "Mr. Ointy" (mopie.com/ blog/ointy.html).
Perhaps the biggest drawback is having unrealistic expectations. Maintaining a blog is not going to miraculously slim you down. You still have to do the hard work of cutting calories and exercising. If you're just reading, keep in mind that blogs reflect only a single person's experience. Just because some new diet fad works for one person doesn't mean you should rejigger your weight-loss plans to incorporate it.
Blogging has given me the confidence to stick with my diet goals and pursue other challenges, like magazine writing. Plus, I think it's made me a better companion. I work through my frustrations at the computer, not the dinner table, which I'm sure my husband appreciates. Most important, I've learned a lot about myself, like why I crave chocolate (stress) or how exercise makes me feel (great). Blogging's not for everyone, but for me, it was just the thing to get the scale moving again.
Starting your own blog doesn't take a lot of money or computer know-how. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like America Online, offer step-by-step tutorials on starting your own Web site or blog at the click of a mouse. All you need to do is choose a template, decide on a name, and start posting. Most ISPs will even maintain it -- keep out computer worms and viruses, for instance -- for free. Other sites like blogger.com will also get you up and running for no charge. If you want more bells and whistles than a standard template, consider a more sophisticated Web site-hosting service, like myblog-online.com, which charges a flat fee of $5.95 per month.Visit the Blogs we featured in this story: