Healthy disdain: the blogs you weren’t looking for

A rather intense and irascible runner I know recently introduced me to a loose, unofficial network of blogs that, at least in theory, address running and exercise but focus more than anything else on “healthy living.” I have begun to understand why this runner spends a lot of time being rather intense and irascible. Picture a gay vegan atheist pro-choice fitness buff deciding to test his mettle by eating lunch for two weeks straight at a McDonald’s in rural Alabama in the company of vocally bigoted pot-bellied godbotherers, and imagine how he would feel at the end of those two weeks.

I’ll say up front that I have nothing against people who blog about what they eat and why they think it’s the solution to everything, or people who blog about running no matter how little of it they actually do, or people who blog in a way intended to describe positive changes of any sort that they have made and wish to share with others. Even if the primary goal is attention-whoring and not making the world a better place. I certainly don’t claim to blog to improve anyone’s life, and by definition blogging is generally a “you’re entitled to my opinion” endeavor if not an outright solipsistic one.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I can always appreciate other people’s motivation. Sometimes, the results are just strange.

Having been sent a link to a “healthy living” running blog, I decided to Google the term “healthy living running blog.” I then checked out a number of the top 20 or 50 or 100 results. I quickly determined that these blogs share a number of commonalities other than their subject matter, which alternates between discussions of “great” foods (the bulk of the posts) and token chatter about running (the minority of the posts). These include:

  • A gross excess of pictures — of the bloggers (all of them female), the bloggers’ boyfriends and family members, and plates of food
  • Evidence of extreme undertraining
  • Equating talking about food all the time with healthy living
  • Overestimating the role of blogging, especially their own
  • TMI about significant others
  • A startling number of regular commenters
  • A startlingly low  awareness level and attention span among these regular commenters
  • A history of being overweight and seeming to think losing weight entitles people to mass recognition
  • Horribly mundane personal histories, given in exhaustive detail
  • An obvious craving for attention, as evidenced by “CONTACT ME!” buttons scattered all over the site

Again, no breaches of Netiquette (not that I care), nothing nasty, nothing worth mocking in a purposeful and methodical way, a la Gribbit and his angry low-wattage ilk. Just weirdness. For example, on most running blogs I’ve read, if someone stated six months in advance that she was training to qualify for a certain marathon in a part of the country where people talk in a strange and grating accents devoid of the letter “r,” then decided to jog the qualifying race with a friend an hour slower than her stated goal time, there would ensue a flood of comments about this decision. They might be carefully couched, but people would at least acknowledge the inexplicable abandonment of an ostensibly important goal. But on these “healthy living” blogs? Nope. No one says a word when someone’s training for a multi-hour race fails to exceed an average of 12 to 15 miles per week. No one interjects when a planned 20-miler morphs into a day spent preparing organic canapes and hanging out with the BF’s parents. It’s not so much a Pollyanna-choked environment as a Panglossian one: at any given time, no matter what, it’s all good, even when it clearly sucks. There’s always something to smile about.

The only thing I can think of to explain why posts on these blogs routinely attract 50 to 100 comments is that there are a lot more frightened people than I ever realized. People who are genuinely afraid to test themselves in any way and make heroes of those with the courage to post before-and-after pictures of themselves (even when it’s not always clear which is which). Obviously this stuff keeps a great many people going, but I’ll take my thirst for controversy and high-octane shit-stirring over lowest-common-denominator feel-good stuff. I guess some people overestimate how compelling their lives are. Until you’ve gotten a homeless person drunk and accidentally helped him land in jail in the process, you’re probably not that interesting. (That’s a story for another day, or year.)

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  1. #1 by shelby on July 6, 2011 - 9:13 pm

    OMG…yes to this post.

    But I think you miss one thing: people do sometimes care to disagree, but by and large it’s accepted to delete any “negative” comments in this particular blog community. So what’s left is an illusion of unanimous support and encouragement for…well, everything.

    And by and large people comment on the “big” blogs to try and direct traffic back to their own blog. A big ole circle-jerk of puppies and rainbows! Yay!

  2. #2 by summerslowrunner on July 6, 2011 - 10:05 pm

    Shelby described it perfectly as a circle-jerk of commentary. Let’s all boost one another’s egos and hopefully get a few traffic hits in the process, whee!

    I truly fail to understand how someone consistently nets 20+ comments on each new entry when the person does little more than post six different photos of herself each day (usually taken in the mirror to showcase the day’s various outfits or accessories), recaps training efforts without enough detail to warrant any particular interest, snaps photos of the same sandwich/bowl of oatmeal/plate of pasta we saw the week before, etc. I’ve noticed this especially tends to happens on blogs that are extremely positive and prefer to gloss over life’s complications. Okay, so you have a good attitude…congratulations?

    Avoiding reality and recycling content each week is way better than posting something that might upset delicate viewer eyes, oh n0es!

  3. #3 by kemibe on July 6, 2011 - 10:16 pm

    The weirdest was a post about a “bad” bicycle crash requiring four stitches. It supposedly kept the blogger from running a few days later, but she was still able to have her cycling partner take a number of pictures of her sitting on the ground and mugging for the camera, which accompanied her to the hospital for more happy photos. What?

    And the same person’s pics of her (apparently newly ring-free) belly button, up close…did not need that. Not even once, much less several times.

    I’m half-convinced that 90 percent of the comments are posted by a script/bot that would have been considered sophisticated ten years ago. They are that detached from anything resembling engaged thought.

  4. #4 by Marie on July 7, 2011 - 6:32 am

    I AM AN INSPIRATION TO ALL SKINNY WHITE GIRLS WHO EVER TRIED TO LOSE 5 LBS.

  5. #5 by geekgirl on July 8, 2011 - 6:53 am

    My issue is that many of these bloggers are somehow seen as being experts on “healthy living”. Just because they discovered Whole Foods and the gym? I don’t get it.

    The scary thing is that these women are getting book deals, shows, etc.

  6. #6 by jim on July 11, 2011 - 10:22 pm

    This whole thing is bizarre to me, including these comments.

    My “running blog” consists of a series of spiral bound notebooks with details on workouts, races, and other related statistics. (Want to know my resting heart rate on the morning of May 12, 2005? I can tell you).

    It is perhaps shocking in its combination of consistency, detail, and tedium to the average reader. It has an avid readership of precisely one and that’s the way I like it.

  7. #7 by kemibe on July 13, 2011 - 8:10 am

    And lest you think my co-blogger is a Luddite, he has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and teaches same.

  8. #8 by jim on July 13, 2011 - 1:31 pm

    One of my sayings is “Use appropriate technology”. I’ve never had a spiral bound notebook crash on me, take forever to open because of new system updates, get a virus and rewrite itself, or any of a thousand other weird things that happen to computing devices. It costs a couple of bucks and is easy to transport. It won’t automatically track my shoe mileage but being a person who rather likes math, I don’t have a problem doing that in my head. Oh, and I can’t email it to someone else. But then, who would I email it to and who would want to see it?

    Small nit: my Masters is in Comp Sci and my Bachelors is in Electrical. Perhaps because I work so closely with electrical/computing technology I am more inclined to see its limits and flaws and not fall in love with it. Maybe, maybe not.

  9. #9 by runharrietrun on July 14, 2011 - 3:17 am

    Ha! I managed to make it 34.75 years without reading any of these blogs, but having read this post at work (…) I of course had to google the same thing you did and check it out for myself.

    Now I’m just kind of confused: these blogs are mostly just so boring! Endless food photos and not especially entertaining writing. They rarely seem to mention any specific workouts. And when I have the impression that someone rarely actually trains, and then see that their 5k PR is 23-something (which is fine, obvs, but suggests that they could do a lot better if they spent more time running) then I hesitate to adopt them as a running or fitness idol. Yet some of them actually get speaking opportunities and write books? (Yeah, I might be jealous, but an objective observer would surely agree that this is weird.)

    Thank you for this opportunity to let out my daily quota of snark.

  10. #10 by kemibe on July 15, 2011 - 6:52 pm

    Harriet: When someone’s times (whatever they are) are stagnating at 40 miles a week or some similar number, it’s perhaps a mystery. When someone running 10 miles a week is not improving, they don’t just need to run more, they need a course in basic logic. Maybe a sound diet is useful, but in the absence of training adequately it doesn’t mean shit-all.

    I wouldn’t say I’m jealous of these people on account of their successful self-promotion, but I am somewhat confounded. Then again, look at the average American hominid. Those of us who put in 50+ miles a week may not recognize it thanks to a warped frame of reference, but most self-professed runners are basically lackadaisical. They lack the drive to train more and this is rarely something that can be modified by a “go get ’em! Can do!” attitude. If you don’t want it you won’t do it and hence slackers become your heroes.

  11. #11 by runharrietrun on July 17, 2011 - 3:42 am

    Yes, I see what you mean. Reminds me a little of the creative writing classes I’ve taken, full of people who yearn to think of themselves (and be thought of) as writers, but are not willing to put in the work – or simply clueless as to what it actually takes – to get there. So they don’t accept criticism, rarely make suggested edits/changes, keep making the same mistakes every time…sort of like someone who keeps running 23 minute 5k’s on 10 miles a week and thinks maybe more almond butter will do the trick? And in those classes you generally have one bloviating bore (who belongs to the above category) who’s “finished” his “novel” and goes on and on about it, and a mini-clique who hang on his every word, convinced that’s the writer they supposedly want to be.

    In other words, we’re talking about the running version of some basic facet of human nature that expresses itself in a variety of venues :)

    Ok that may have made no sense, but again, the snark will out.

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