Blogging for balance: A Q&A with Heather Demetra
Ask your average American woman how she procrastinates away an hour at work, and you’re apt to get a few standard responses: email, Facebook, Twitter – and food blogs. Since 2007, the boom in women’s personal food-and-fitness blogs has been astronomical. Hundreds, if not thousands of women across the country are taking to the web to document their daily meals, workouts and fitness philosophies.
And their websites aren’t for friends and family alone: the most popular blogs have well over 50,000 monthly visitors, along with ongoing comments and conversations on topics as basic as “oatmeal for breakfast” or “what I love about walking.” The daily goings on of these bloggers aren’t exactly extreme, but I think the trend is. Why are so many women so fixated on food and fitness, to the point of carrying a camera on their dinner dates?
A digital manifestation of a larger cultural obsession, most definitely. But are women’s food blogs part of the problem, or part of the solution? For more insight, I spoke with Heather Demetra, a food blogger since November 2008. Demetra’s website, Heather Eats Almond Butter, generates nearly 100,000 monthly visitors. And although she documents her own daily doings, Demetra, 33, is also a unique voice in the community. She lost over 100 pounds 10 years ago, but Demetra skips brutal gym workouts in favor of walks and yoga. She also opts out of the ever-changing trends that circulate the blogging universe (breakfast cookies! 30 Day Shred!). The fads might be harmless, but Heather does her own thing – and she advocates that her readers do the same. It’s that kind of philosophy towards wellness that might do more of us good.
Your own blog is so different from many of the popular websites who fall under the same umbrella. What prompted you to give blogging a try?
I’ll be honest, I first looked at these food blogs last summer, and I thought they were so weird. I said to my husband: these girls take photos of their food, every day? That is so odd. But somehow I kept reading. And I noticed that there weren’t any blogs talking about the kind of extreme weight loss I’ve experienced. I’d never shared much about what I went through, but I wanted people to know it was possible, I wanted to put it out there. Especially now, when weight is such a huge problem for so many people, it was important for women to realize that they could make changes.
You said yourself that your first reaction to these sites was surprise and some confusion. So what kind of reaction did you get from friends and family when you launched HEAB?
Oh sure, there were some questions from my closest friends. Even my husband just said to me, “Do you really want to put all that out there?” But maybe hiding behind a computer helps me share the story. It’s totally therapeutic, in so many ways – that’s a good way to look at it. I started with a few hundred readers, and now I have thousands. So obviously what I do strikes people as worthwhile.
And the concept – photographing food, talking about food, analyzing workouts – is quite unconventional. Do you think these blogs are perpetuating a disordered perspective toward eating and exercise?
I know for some girls it can be problematic. You’re looking at food all day, photographing it, planning your meals, comparing how you eat and exercise to other women. I think it’s so important for people to use these blogs for what they’re good for: ideas, recipes, inspiration. Beyond that, you have to do your own thing and find what works for your own health.
I’ve tried everything: I lost most of my weight on a vegetarian diet, then I tried low-carb, Paleo eating, raw foods. But I kept coming back to vegetarianism. It’s just what I feel best doing. Other people shouldn’t be comparing themselves to me.
Your own perspective differs quite a bit from most of the food blogs I’ve seen, where a lot of the women are big gym-goers, and a lot of the comments reflect a serious struggle with diet and exercise. Tell me more about how you’ve maintained that unique outlook.
Honestly, and I hate to say it, but these blogs in general are an outcome of this big cultural, social obsession. We’re all obsessed with the latest diet book, or fitness trend. Myself included. We’re obsessed with everything we put in our mouths, and everything we’re doing to exercise.
But maybe it’s my age, I’ve just had more experience at dealing with this stuff. When I was in my 20s, all I did was run. I thought it was what I had to do to be healthy. So I hope people realize they don’t have to torture themselves, maybe I can show women how that can work. Your body was made to balance itself out, if you give it a chance.
There are some downsides to this community – the fixation on food and fitness stands out in my mind. But maybe the pros outweigh the cons. Where do you see the potential for these websites to help rather than hinder our standard approach to eating and exercise?
Number one is encouragement. As I said, people who blog, and people who don’t, are all struggling with body image and diets. It’s this vicious cycle: people keep gaining weight, so they exercise more, and then eat poorly, and then gain weight, and do it all again. I think that’s why a lot of women find food blogs in the first place: they want that new, latest solution.
So, if the blogs are following that same unhealthy path, then it’s a definite danger. But if they’re supporting the right philosophy towards health, that could make a big difference for people. Some women will realize they don’t have to torture their bodies, and maybe others will decide to run their first mile. And I hope I can be a good influence in whatever changes people decide to make.