This guest post is by Shawn Tyler Weeks of 344 Pounds.
In January of 2009, I weighed 344.2 pounds. In July of 2009, I weighed 244 pounds. I eventually reached my lowest recorded weight in my adult life in early 2010 when I weighed in under 200 pounds. Today, I weigh a little bit more than 200, but also carry a lot more muscle on my frame.
In just about six months I changed my life forever. But my body wasn’t the only thing that underwent a transformation.
When I started my journey to lose weight by counting calories, I also started my very first blog: 344 Pounds. It was a way to keep me accountable for my weight to friends and family members, even though I didn’t tell them about it. In fact, nobody read the blog for months. I didn’t advertise it, didn’t know how to, and honestly expected myself to fail with the weight loss attempt (for the 1,353th time) and the blog would just die. But for once, I didn’t fail. I lost weight.
And the blog didn’t die.
On the blog I put videos of me, shirtless, at 300+ pounds, every Wednesday, plus a picture of my scale and called it “Wednesday Weigh-in Results.” It was and is a way to hold myself accountable—almost like scaring myself to lose weight. And while it’s not scary any more, I still hold myself accountable for my progress when I post my weight, plus pictures, every single Wednesday on the blog as I continue to try to transform my body (more muscles, less fat!). I haven’t missed a Wednesday weigh-in result, not even when my dad died about six months ago.
As my weight loss progressed and I kept doing my weekly weigh-in results, I also started added other posts during the week. The time involved was absolutely ridiculous and wasn’t being read by anybody and I’m still not quite sure why I posted so much as nobody was trying to read it, but I kept posting regardless day in, day out. I’d share tips on losing weight, workout routine, the foods I was eating that week (counting calories on the blog, basically), and so on, two or thee days a week.
Eventually, somebody showed up to read what I was writing and watch me shrink! While I had to blog in darkness for a couple of months, that all changed in March. I was featured on a consumer blog called Consumerist, after I wrote to its editor expressing my views on counting calories after I’d read a piece on the site that infuriated me by promoting some weight-loss gimmick. That email led to a plug for my blog on Consumerist, plus numerous follow-ups after that as they began to follow my journey.
Being featured on Consumerist was the start of a lot of exposure in “new” and traditional media.
After Consumerist, I was in Newsweek.
I was contacted by Kate Dailey, a reporter for Newsweek, who wanted to set up a phone interview to ask me a variety of questions about my plans on keeping the weight off down the road. I had (and still have!) a full-time job, and I wasn’t prepared to ask her to work late just to interview me, so I did the interview on my lunch break one Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t tell her I was in my car at the time of the interview, but I was literally sitting outside of a barbeque restaurant in Columbia, SC, in my old jeep, being interviewed by Newsweek. After the interview, I ate lunch and went back to work.
Consumerist and Newsweek gave me a strong following. I can’t recall exact figures, but I was soon up to several hundred “fans” (I call them friends) on Facebook, and traffic was at several hundred visitors a day.
An interesting thing about the media coverage I’ve gained, since the start of the blog until today, is that while a spike of traffic will occur, it will never subside near its previous levels. It’s a simple concept, really: 10,000 people can visit your site in a day, and 9,700 of those will visit it once or a few times, and never return. You’ll be left with a few dedicated new readers, as I was, depending on the quality and relevancy of the traffic your site was exposed to.
My media exposure really started to accelerate after Newsweek. While I’m not sure how the local media heard about me, I was invited be part of a live interview by the local CBS news affiliate for the morning show.
I don’t think I was as nervous on my wedding day as I was the day I walked into the state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar satellite CBS studio one very early Tuesday morning. I was incredibly scared about being on television and it showed. Remember, I was nearly 350 pounds just a year ago, so I wasn’t exactly overflowing with self-confidence. But I was invited back several times to share tips about losing weight, andaAs I got more and more television experience, I became relaxed. The last time I was on television, it was laid back, casual, and I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. I walked in, made myself comfortable in the studio, and waited for my turn to step onto the live set.
The morning show, while a wonderful experience and something I’ll hopefully do again soon, didn’t bring much in terms of traffic. While I was able to plug my blog on the air and appeal to many listeners, there just aren’t a whole lot of people watching the morning news at 6 a.m.
What did bring a surge in traffic, however, was a taped segment I did with a reporter from the same CBS station. This segment also focused on weight loss, but specifically on my realistic approach to weight loss. The reporter, Michael Benning, followed me to my gym and a local burger shop. He filmed me working out and then shortly afterward eating a big, juicy, greasy cheeseburger. This segment, unlike my live interviews, was broadcast at 11 p.m. (with 20,000 people watching, he estimated).
In addition, my segment was plugged on the CBS station throughout the night during the regular CBS primetime television lineup, enticing people to tune in and hear my story.
I don’t know the exact number of people that watched my television segment, but the increase in traffic was considerable, and I know of at least one person that saw it: Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford. As I live in the capital city of my state, the governor (Mark Sanford) actually watched the interview from the Governor’s mansion and personally wrote and mailed me a letter congratulating me.
Also, that same CBS interview (and a corresponding transcript) was put on their website, which was then syndicated to other affiliates and cities. My mother actually called me in Charleston (about 120 miles away) when she saw my story come up on her local CBS station. Apparently, my story spread up and down the east coast at various CBS stations.
That was a good week in terms of gathering more exposure for me, the blog, and my effort to spread the word about counting calories. I was an instant celebrity around Columbia after this exposure and that opened the door to many opportunities. For instance, I now have a great relationship with Anne, the owner of a local athletic club. One of her friends told her about me and Anne invited me to come in and talk to members about my journey. Today, I have a few free memberships at her luxury athletic club for myself and family members. We’re also discussing the potential for me to become trainer in her club starting in 2011.
Later, well into 2010, I would do another interview with CBS and Michael Benning.
The media coverage up to this point, the beginning of 2010, was modest. It grew my site, got me some advertising requests (which I turned down, as most went against my core beliefs of counting calories), and gained me some true, real friends, plus thousands of followers. I was impressed, happy, and content with blogging away in my little corner with a few thousand followers.
The media explosion
Then, I was featured on the homepage of CNN, and on air on CNN as they plugged their website. The CNN anchor mentioned “an incredible weight loss story” was on their homepage and recommended that viewers log on to CNN.com to check it out.
I was standing in line at the bank with about half a dozen other people when I saw their homepage and my face come on the plasma television hanging from the ceiling. Nobody noticed it was me until I blurted out, “Oh wow, that’s me.” Indeed, it was. Albeit, a much smaller me.
I received 100+ emails within minutes of that promotion. Traffic was coming in, according to Google Analytics, at a rate of a thousand visitors every 30 minutes or so. It was intense. I remember constantly refreshing my Facebook page, and looking at all the new fans showing up. The count was increasing by a hundred new fans every hour or so, which was impressive considering they had to first go to 344 Pounds, then like me enough to want to become a fan on Facebook.
CNN, much like the other media mentions, brought me hundreds of encouraging emails (by far the most of any plug I’ve done), and I’m still determined to respond to every single one. I receive a lot of emails through my blog: mostly positive, and mostly people opening up their hearts with me. I read about people who have been 50, 150, 300 pounds overweight their entire lives and how they’re depressed and sick of being so obese, and how my story gave/gives them hope for the future.
These emails deserve to be responded to. I have 218 still needing a reply.
The road ahead
If Newsweek, CBS, and Consumerist didn’t solidify the longevity of my blog, CNN did. All told, a few days after the initial plug and the link on the homepage of CNN disappeared, my blog had received well over 50,000 visitors and countless links, new fans, subscribers, advertising requests, and so on. I made some money from it by plugging a couple of companies I truly believed in (and which didn’t conflict with counting calories), but I declined most offers as they focused on losing weight with fads, gimmicks, and diets.
Short-term money isn’t a good thing if you sell out your core beliefs to get it. After about 22 months of blogging, I’ve recently secured a very well known, big sponsor: MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is free calorie-counting website where you can track your calories on the web, as well as your iPhone or Android phone. It is, without a doubt, something I support 100% and could recommend (and have!) to my mother.
Since CNN in early 2010, I’ve done the occasional television interview and various interviews for large fitness-related websites. I’ve also done some interviews on different blogs. Another notable media gig I did this year as for the powerhouse Clear Channel on a top-40 station in Columbia, SC, during rush hour. It lasted about three months and involved me driving down to the radio station one night a week and pre-recording several “Tyler’s weight loss tips” sessions.
These sessions involved me and the DJ in a little skit, where the DJ set me up with a question. He’d ask, “So Tyler, I’ve heard that counting calories is the best way to lose weight. Is that true, and if so, why?” and I’d give a short, quick, helpful reply. These clips last about 30 seconds and a different one was played every weekday during rush hour.
Heading into 2011, I have follow up interviews lined up with various publications, and I’ve already been in touch with the morning show anchor for the local CBS station that I had my original interviews with. We should be setting up something soon for another interview around the start of the New Year.
I’m flattered by all the attention I’ve received over the last couple of years. And while you may think that my ego has become inflated or that I think too highly of myself, think again. As my wife says, I still have to take out the trash and change my daughter’s diaper regardless how “famous” I am. I had to take out the trash when I had 100 Facebook fans, and I’ll have to do it when I have 100,000.
Of course, there’s no guarantee I ever will. It’ll be a fun journey though, regardless.
Shawn Tyler Weeks lost nearly 150 pounds by counting calories in a little over a year. He blogged his entire journey on 344 Pounds and continues to do so as he hopes to transform his body again in 2011.