OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: Fitness Blogging - Motivate Yourself and Your Readers

OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: Fitness Blogging - Motivate Yourself and Your Readers

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer '10 panel: Passions: Fitness Blogging - Motivate Yourself and Your Readers Click here for more info.

We’ve explored body image at many past BlogHer conferences, but we’ve never focused the spotlight on bloggers who are specifically and unapologetically getting in shape. How do you motivate, engage, get people excited, stay positive, and walk that line between loving the body you have now for what it can accomplish and seeking to help it do even more? Join the discussion with moderator Roni Noone, who blogs at Roni's Weigh about losing weight and keeping it off; Debra Roby, who blogs at Weight for Deb about healthy living post-menopause; and Sahar Aker, a veteran news health reporter who vlogs and blogs on FatFighterTV.com.

Roni: We thought since we are the fitness blogging panel, we would start with a fabulous fitness activity, just to get you going after lunch.

Deb: Because of working on the computer all the time, we tend to have our shoulders rounds forward. This is an exercise you can do anytime. Put your arms up to make a "Y," out to your sides to make a "T," and down to make and "A."

Now repeat after me: YOU'RE TOTALLY AWESOME.

My blog started to keep myself accountable on Weight Watchers 5 years ago. Now I try to document the trials and tribulations of maintaining a 70-pound weight loss. The approach that I take is a modeling approach on my everyday life is to motivate and inspire others.

Sahar: I'm a journalist, and I do a lot of success stories on how people have lost weight. It's one of the most popular sections on my Web site and it's very motivating. Because I come from a news background, I try to keep a lot of information on there about what's new in fitness and nutrition. It's totally different than what Roni is doing, but it is there to motivate people, too.

Deb: Similar to Roni, I started blogging about fitness when I wanted to lose 50 pounds. She did it with Weight Watchers, I joined a gym and did it on my own. I was so motivated about it that last year I became a certified fitness instructor, and I try to share that lifestyle.

Roni: So now we're going to talk about how much of our lives we share online. I am one extreme of that. I talk about binging on cookies and celebrating when I did a pull-up. How do you two share your personal life?

Sahar: I prefer to interview people. I recently interviewed Daphne Oz about her book, The Dorm Room Diet. If I feel like I have something related to that, I would say, "I can relate to this because...," but I don't go much deeper than that. I write about how I relate to what I'm talking about, but I don't go much deeper.

Deb: I am about 70 percent transparent. If you go into my archives, you will see that I posted my weigh-ins and all those specifics. But now I don't talk every day about what I eat and what I do.

Roni: The three of us have a nice variety of different styles. I'm curious about what you out there do and how you're trying to turn your blog to be more focused on fitness.

Question from the audience: I talk about my health and weight loss. I try to balance everything and keep it all -- it all kind of ties together to weight loss. But how do you keep a balance with transparency? I have a habit of not being focused. How do you keep a focus?

Roni: I have multiple blogs, and I tend to have a lot of crossover. I think, where should I blog about this? I try to keep the focus on Ronnie's weigh on weight loss specifically. I try to always think about it from the perspective of, "How can this help someone else?"

Same audience member: I blog about my mental health, too, but I think ultimately it all ties together.

Roni: I think sometimes going off-topic shows that I am living life. These are things that before, when I was struggling with my weight, I didn't really live. It could be that some things that seem off-topic are really related. Especially with weight loss.

Deb: I am working on a post right now, and it's hard because I have made some choices that aren't necessarily the best. I have gained some of the weight back. It's one of the hardest posts I've ever written, and that's why it isn't published yet.

Sahar: I wrote one that was not quite as deep as these two, but I did write about all the temptations in my neighborhood - an ice cream shop, a bakery. It's stuff that you deal with every day, and sometimes I wish they weren't there.

Question from the audience: Is there any time that you feel overwhelmed because people have posted comments on your blog and they are having a problem, or they get too personal with you? Have you ever felt that you just aren't the right person to answer their question or help them?

Roni: I can very much remember the way I felt when I was dealing with some of these issues. I get overwhelmed. The approach that I take is relate it back to how I have handled something and let the reader digest that and make it their own. Instead of saying, "I think you should keep a food journal...", I say, "I kept a food journal and it helped me." I want to share my experience and motivate, but at the same time, I reiterate that I am not an expert.

Sahar: When I get questions, I take a different approach. I try to find a reputable source and connect them with someone who can helpt them.

Deb: I really only get people who ask me questions about how to do certain exercises, and that's easy.

Questions from the audience: We talk a lot about weight loss, but there are a lot of people out there who just want to be healthy. There are a lot of thin women who want to get healthy, too. I am a runner, and I get a lot of questions about running. I am totally not qualified to advise them. Should I get certified to answer their questions? Is it a slippery slope to answer their questions? I always say that I am not qualified to give advice.

Deb: Personally, I didn't answer those questions until I was certified.

Roni: I publish my training, but I don't think I would feel comfortable helping people adapt it for them. "Here's what I'm doing, you need to go talk to your trainer or your doctor about what you should be doing."

Sahar: I'm not comfortable with answering those questions unless you are qualified.

Deb: If you want to get certified and you like it, I would definitely doing it. I would say "here's what I do" but I would not offer to alter that plan for them. I would send them somewhere where we can get help altering it.

Questions from the audience: I have a question about weight loss and motivation. Every Monday, I run a segment with the girls who are losing weight along with me. What happens when you hit a plateau? How do you keep the motivation up when a plateau can last for weeks or months?

Roni: A lot of people hit plateaus and they just give up. But one of the benefits of blogging is that because you are in that platform, you are going to work through the plateau. Everyone is going to hit points where they aren't using, use the blog to explore ways to break through that plateau.

Deb: I hit plateau every six weeks. I learned that even if the scale wasn't moving, my body was changing. My body was getting used to my new weight.

Roni: There are so many ways to celebrate success and sometimes I think especially weight loss bloggers tend to focus just on that number on the sale as our only means of success. For someone who has been maintaining a weight loss for four years, it's hard to adjust away from the mentality that the scale should go down every time you step on it.

Question from the audience: Do you find there is an issue with people wanting you to promote their products? How do you handle it?

Roni: My favorite one is the diet ice cubes. They're supposed to help you lose weight. I get the pitches all the time. My approach is to write to back to every pitch and say no thanks but thank you for thinking of me. I do reviews of products that I think my audience would use. I write healthy finds about products that I have found. Being proactive like that lets you have more control of the content on your site.

Sahar: I get a lot of pitches and a lot of products. If it's something that I know I wouldn't try, I won't do anything with it. I like to know about new products, so I basically, if it's a product that I like I will feature it as a giveaway.

Roni: You shouldn't feel obligated to write about a product if you didn't like it. Sometimes you don't want to post a negative review because you still give that product attention.

Deb: I'll admit that I never get pitched, but because I'm a post-menopausal woman and I don't fit anyone's demographic.

Question from the audience: Can you share the apps that you use to track your diet and exercise?

Sahar: I don't use any. I don't know why. I still track with paper and pencil.

Deb: I use Calorie Counter on my phone. As far as the blog goes, I don't use any apps to let people know what I'm doing.

Roni: I'm a geek and I use a ton. I just discovered Daily Mile, and I love it. I take a low-key approach to my blog, so I use Facebook to track my fitness. I am a huge fan of Nike Plus. I take screen shots of my run, and I share it on my Facebook page. I don't like my blog to be bogged down with these widget-y things in my sidebar. I just got the Droid X, and I am doing some research on some apps.

Deb: Calorie Counter - you can scan the UPC code and get all the nutritional information. I would do more apps if there were more for weight training, but most of them for running.

Comment from the audience: iFitness is for weight training, and I use the Hundred Pushups app.

Question from the audience: I manage an account for Bumblebee foods. How is the best way to pitch you?

Sahar: I like to know about new products, but I have changed the way I eat. Lately I've been trying to stay away from a lot of products that have any preservatives or artificial flavorings. I am trying to find a balance between what I'm doing and what they want, because I know anytime I do something that is packaged, I get a great response to it.

Roni: First of all, the e-mail has to be addressed to me. I like to get the information first, so that I can evaluate whether or not I want to request the product. I don't like it when products are sent out blindly. I prefer if you inquire about whether I'm interested in receiving your products.

Question from the audience: Have you done challenges with other bloggers and with your audience?

Roni: I am a huge challenge person. I was doing weekly challenges for awhile. One week of snackless nights. Last year, I tried to do the hundred push-ups challenge and I fell on my face. Anything you can do as a blogger to motivate yourself and others is a great strategy. When you have those challenges, you are building such a strong community.

Sahar: I do agree with Roni, and I think it's even stronger when you get the conversation going on Twitter.

Deb: Things like the Hundred Push-ups challenge scare me, because that's just a lot of motion. I do think that short challenges are motivating.

Question from the audience: How do you handle when you have a challenge for yourself and you are not successful? What if everyone disappears and the challenge falls flat?

Roni: That is a really good question. I'm learning that the shorter the challenge, the better. I'm very much of the school of thought that goal achieving is contagious. If you set a 6-month challenge, you're going to lose people. But if you do a 1-day challenge, it builds confidence, then maybe go to weeks. But I am totally transparent. I fail all the time. I think that you can show that if you fail at one goal, you don't give up all the goals you have.

Question from the audience: I am trying to find a balance between a food blog and fitness blog. How did you build readership? And how do you decide rather to stay with one blog or move to different platforms?

Sahar: As far as building readership, I use social media. I also use an e-mail newsletter. It's a weekly one, and I use it as a recap. It has links to some posts, a tip and information on the giveaway. I also wrote guest posts and tried to draw an audience that way. Try to get in on other sites that draw a different audience than the one you have.

Roni: For me, for getting readers, when we started there was no social media. I was just super active in the community. I was a member of message boards and I had my url in the signature file. I got more traffic from just engaging with people, because you're not only speaking to that person, but other people would read that correspondence.

Sahar: I also always reply to anyone who comments.

Roni: As for separating the topics, I looked at it as keeping them separate gave me two channels. Some of the audience may be interested in healthy eating, but they have never needed to lose weight.

Deb: The best way to build a readership: Comment. Participate in a community. And write well.

Question from the audience: How do you keep up?

Roni: It's time consuming and it's hard to keep up. I feel like I need to be more in the community, and I'm not, just purely for lack of time. I choose my battles. I take 15 minutes to get into conversations on Twitter or 10 minutes to comment on blogs.

Sahar: Set aside a certain amount of time to work on it.

Deb: I started on the Internet back in 1992, on a Freenet site where you could only be on for an hour and then you got bumped off. I learned early on that it feels right to be on the Internet for one hour, so I get on for one hour at breakfast, and one hour at lunch.

Roni: Don't do what I do, which is surf at work.

Deb: I do a lot of mine at night while I'm watching TV. I am so glad there's Tivo because I get distracted and miss the show.

Question from the audience: Do you ask for guest posters? Do you guest post? How do you choose the topic you're going to guest post on?

Roni: It is something that I struggle with. I don't do guest posts on my blogs. In my opinion, my blogs are my world, so I'm a little bit of an egocentric blogger. I have done some collaborations with other bloggers, but ultimately, every post starts with my voice and ends with my voice. I don't think that people come to my blog to read someone else's words. I do guest post on other blogs, and I prefer to be given a topic.

Sahar: I don't do that much guest posting, but I have done some. I don't take that many guest bloggers. My posts are really short, and I have a style. Sometimes I do take them, but it has to fit with what I am doing. I have taken a couple of guest videos, too. They are few and far between.

Deb: I have not taken guest posts on my blog, but I have guest posted a couple of times. I will do it if I have something to say that fits with their voice. I used to be one of the editors for BlogHer, but not about fitness. But every year, they would ask me to write a couple of posts about fitness, and if it works with their voice, I will do it.

Roni: You set the tone of your blog, so if your blog is going to work with the guest posts, do it. If it's something you want to try, just do it and see how it's received by your audience.

Question from the audience: I want to do some fitness vlogging, and I wondered if you have any tips?

Sahar: My background is in TV news health reporting, so it was hard going online because I was used to the broadcast TV quality. Now I've found a happy medium that is good quality but I don't have to pay a photograper and editor. I want to see something. Show me something, teach me something, but that's just me.

Roni: I am the opposite of her. I ramble. I have a problem. The first one I did was someone asked me how to cut a butternut squash, and I thought, I can't tell them with words, I have to show them. I am very low tech. I just use my Web cam on my laptop. The great thing about doing that is that you have instant feedback because you can see yourself. I have been doing them for three years, and I have found that you are your worst critic. I do "Ask Ronnie" videos and I found that talking the answers is faster. I don't do editing; I just cut off the beginning and the end. It's a different medium than doing published video.

Sahar: For me, I just have to have a purpose, I have to be showing you something. What I meant by quality is the video quality.

Roni: Having a purpose is vital. I have questions that I am answering. It's almost like a radio show. I also strip out the audio and make a podcast. It's great to do it on multiple platforms.

Deb: I do a lot of how-to fitness videos.

Question from the audience: What about when you put weight back on?

Roni: I am 10 pounds up from my goal weight right now. I do find that blogging through it shows that it is a continual journey. We are human, and you progress and that's what people are interested in - watching you grow and change.

Question from the audience: Just being women, some of us go into weight-loss blogging because we've had success. As women, we have to feel like we are perfect, but people do want to know that they're normal. And with the video? I do a lot of video. I know that if they are more than 2 minutes, people won't watch it. Most of mine are 20 or 30 seconds, and I get a lot of response.

Roni: Mine are like 30 minutes, and people actually watch them. But that is what my audience wants. I used to apologize at the beginning for the length of them, and people said "Stop apologizing" in the comments. I'm sure if I produced 30-second videos they would dive bomb. It's just not what my audience would be looking for.

Comment from the audience: I wanted to comment about whter you admit that you gain weight back? I started my blog when I wanted to lose weight to chronicle the journey. I made a lot of friendships for the first time because there was people who understood it. I think being transparent about admitting that you have gained weight back makes it more real. I think that transparency is important.

Roni: It is an eye-opening experience to know that other people have body-image issues or gain weight back. It's very empowering to find that out through weight-loss blogging.

Deb: Speaking your goals is very empowering to you, and to other women. You can show people, if I did this, so can you.

Roni: We're out of time. Thanks everyone.