Friday, February 14, 2014

The Art of Recruiting for a World of Warcraft Raiding Guild

Back in the earlier days of World of Warcraft, recruitment was hardest for individuals looking for guilds. You needed hard-to-acquire attunements to even step foot inside the raiding instances, first of all. Gear was harder to come by, as your only way of getting geared enough to see the current content was to get geared by farming the prior raiding tier. There was no such thing as battle tags or running instances cross-server. Only top level guilds recorded combat parses (if they did at all) and nobody really streamed the game. Most importantly: with 40 and then 25-man raids being the primary raiding size, there were more raiders than there were raiding spots and guilds. If you weren't already geared and experienced, and ready to raid with the top of the top, it was difficult to stand out when there were so many more players for them to choose from. 

But the game has changed, and with these changes has come an influx of raiders armed with the same gear and similar experience as everyone else, because raiding is more accessible than ever. And because 10-man guilds are so much easier to organize, everyone wants to run their own guild! As a result, it's harder than ever to stand out and attract players to join your guild. Why would they want to join your start-up 10-man guild when they have the gear to join a heroic 25-man guild? Why would they bother joining your guild that is struggling to fill raid spots on a dying server when they can join a thriving guild on a high-pop server? What makes you special? How do you stand out to this huge pool of players?

Branding Your Guild

Like the real world, it's all about about branding and selling yourself. It's not as simple as making a post in the recruitment forums and expecting people to magically fly to your forums in a rush to apply. Everything you and your guildies do and say is a direct reflection of your guild: your recruitment posts, your responses to individual guild-seeking posts, your guild website, and even how you respond to applicants on your forums. These things are their first impressions of your guild, and if none of these things stand out initially, you've lost your chance. 

Who Are You?

People typically want to see two things when they're looking for a guild: that you're organized and get things done, and that you're a culture fit for them.

If you're just starting your guild out, take a minute to figure out what kind of guild you are. How seriously do you plan on raiding? What sort of people does your guild appeal to? What's your catch? What's your culture? Are you more hardcore and chasing competitive ranks? Are you a semi-serious raiding guild who appeals to working professionals who can no longer raid competitively? Are you a bunch of goofballs who want to just want to drunkenly slay internet dragons while singing Build Me Up, Buttercup on Vent? 

Even if you think there's nothing special about your guild, there is! Think of all the laughter and inside jokes your guild has had, and the colorful personalities in it. Think of your goals for the guild and how far everyone is willing to go to achieve them. Think of your history together and your future. If you've been together for a year or more, mention that! If most of your guild is extremely close and on a first-name basis, people want to hear that. If you've had any guild meet-ups, that sounds exciting. All of these things can be used to define and sell your guild, so use them!

Show, Don't Tell

Much like applying for jobs, guild recruitment follows the same philosophy: if you can show rather than tell, always show examples. Saying you're a funny, close-knit group of friends is great, but take it one step further and let them see it for themselves. Make a soundboard that shows how hilarious your guild is during raids, or if someone in your guild is skilled enough, make a YouTube video that leaves them laughing and wanting more of your guild. When you post your progression kill screenshots on your guild front page, post little funny screenshots of things your guildmates have said. Not only is it great for recruitment, but people in your guild begin looking forward to see if their hilarious comments will be featured on the front page, and it ends up becoming great for guild morale.

If you brand yourself as a more serious raiding guild, you should be able to showcase this as well. Make sure your front page and website progression reflect your most recent kills. In your recruitment information, don't just say you want to be competitive. If you've been around for a while, prove it with combat parse and kill ranks. If you haven't, catch their interest by telling them how you plan on achieving your raiding goals as a new guild. People don't always need a track history of success to entice them; if you sell yourself well enough and make them believe in your ability to successfully lead them, they'll give you a chance.

Guild Websites

People don't realize how often guild websites can make or break a potential applicant's decision to apply to your guild. How's your guild website? You do have one, right? If you don't, even if you're just a 10-man guild, get one right now! It's easier than ever to have a nice, flashy, personalized guild website, thanks to hosts like Enjin. You have no excuse. Find someone with graphic skills to make you a nice banner with your guild name and customize your layout. Add the guild logo from your banner on all of your kill screenshots featured on the front page. 

Do you have any stickied posts or menu links that explain your guild's history, goals, raid times, and culture? What about how to apply? If you don't have them, these are necessary! They don't know anything about your guild. They can't read your mind. If they have to log onto the game and add you on battlenet to ask you these questions, then you might lose their interest. Make sure you have information about your guild in an easy-to-find location and make sure it explains all of the basic things they'd want to know about your guild.

Nurture your forum community. Give your guild incentive to post and lead by example by posting as well. A thriving forum community is great for guild-bonding, but it's also great for two other reasons: it's a good example of the guild community and culture from an outsider's perspective and it's a good way to get them more involved in the guild. If you have a guild that actively posts on the forums, that means you can spend less time explaining raid strategies during raids and discuss them on the forums during off-time. You can break down combat parse logs after a night of attempts on a difficult boss, and have everyone contribute into the discussion on how to make your next raiding night better. All of these things make for a smoother running guild, which indirectly helps you recruit more quality people.

The Art of Recruiting

Coming Up with your Recruitment Pitch

Oh, this is the hard part. Here's the thing with pitches for recruitment posts: you have limited text to sell yourself and stand out from the hundreds of other guilds saying the same exact things. What do you say in your pitch? What do people want to hear?

The most important thing to state first is your guild information: your server and server type, faction, raid size progression, raiding times (and time zone!), guild website, loot council, and who to contact. This is an old screenshot from my former guild, but these days, you should also throw in your battle tag in the contact line. It is absolutely crucial to include your battle tag so they can contact you, because they aren't going to hunt you down on your server, register on your forums to PM you, or ask a question on the thread and wait for a response when battle net is just so much more convenient.

The next important thing to mention is your recruitment needs. Often, people are just scanning your forum post to see if your progression, raid times, and recruitment needs all match up, and then they'll either stop reading if they don't, or continue reading once they do. Making this information easier to find makes it easier for them, because if they can't find your recruitment needs because it's at the very bottom of a wall of text, they might just close the tab and not even give you a real chance.

Okay, so what do you say now? You've said the important stuff, and if you raid suitable times and are recruiting their class, what else would they be interested in? This is where the whole "branding your guild" part comes in. This is your time to shine and talk up your guild or leadership abilities. Make them laugh and want more from your guild. Paint a picture of the kind of guild atmosphere you have or cite your past credentials and give them reasons to give your new guild a chance. Know what kind of raider you want to recruit and how to shape your pitch to appeal specifically to them. My guild was more personality-driven, and we wanted to recruit people like us, so we made sure our pitch would appeal to them. It seemed unprofessional to other types, but what counts is that it got us the right kind of recruits and garnered a lot of interest. Knowing your audience and how to sell your guild to them is 75% of recruitment.

And just because we were more than just a few witty quips, we wanted to back up our silly pitch with some serious information about our history and who we were.

Our recruitment pitch worked extremely well. We had very little recruitment turnover, and some of our best members were people who would have never applied to our guild due to raiding times or our progression, but had been too enticed to not join us.

Don't forget the title! The title should mention your faction ([H] or [A] are the general ways to do this), size raid, progression, guild name, and something catchy. You can put something humorous, what classes you're looking to recruit, or your rank if you're competitive. 

Getting Your Name Out There

So, now you have your recruitment pitch, but where do you post it? How do you actually get people to apply to your guild with this wall of text, anyway? This is the tedious part: now you have to go to websites that aren't your guild website to get your name out there, and on top of that, you have to bump your post every once in a while, or it gets lost and nobody will see it. I recommend constantly nagging your guildmates or sticky a forum thread with the link to help you keep these threads bumped. The websites that are absolutely necessary to keep your information updated and bumped are: the official Guild Recruitment forums, your realm forums, and WoW Progress (No bumping here! Just remember to update your recruitment needs on it).

Beyond those three sites, just look for any fan website or community to post your guild pitch on. Tankspot, Elitist Jerks, reddit, MMO Champion, WoW Head, How to Priest, and GuildOx are all reputable sites used.

Can you recruit outside of traditional forum threads? Yes! If you have anyone in your guild who streams, ask them to stream often and put the link to the guild website in their information. If you have any people active on social media or gaming forum communities, it's remarkable how easily you can recruit people just by connecting with other WoW players. I've seen multiple guilds even form because of connections made through blogs and Twitter, and I recruited multiple people I interacted with on Tankspot for my own guild!

You can also recruit the good ol' fashioned way, too. Did you run a normal pug instance on your alt and bond with some of the players in the run? Are you friends with a lot of people on your server? Networking! Make connections wherever you go. Talk to people and invite them to things. Little simple acts like that add up and make people want to apply to your guild. My guild was well known on my server because we were involved in the server community, ran and participated in several events, and generally enjoyed making new friends. I got so many good guild members out of simple networking.

Talking to Potential Applicants

Unfortunately, it's not enough to just have recruitment threads. With the amount of guilds recruiting these days, and how sought after the geared players are, it's not uncommon to see many players posting LFguild threads and ending up with 2-3 pages of people trying to recruit them. In fact, a lot of people never look at the mass of guilds advertising if they have made their own post. How in the world do you stand out when recruiting has suddenly become like trying to message a girl on a dating site? You can respond to the player's post with your guild pitch, but you end up being one of 10-20 guilds vying for their attention, many of which are more progressed than your guild. How do you make them want to apply to your guild?

The first step is to read their entire post, make sure it's a good fit (don't overlook required times!), and then cater your response to their needs. Show them that you took some time to read their post and make them feel special. If you just copy-paste your entire guild spam onto their thread, it looks insincere and they'll probably ignore your post and go with someone who took time to respond to them. It doesn't have to be much. A line or two, maybe a little joke, and then express a desire to talk with them further, leaving your battle tag for them to contact you. Maybe even suggest that you'll add them to battle net (assuming they've posted theirs) and talk with them further. It looks good because it shows that you want them enough to chase them.

After you've successfully added one another to battlenet, greet them with a friendly hello when they aren't busy in an instance. Make brief idle chat and let them determine the pace of the conversation. Open yourself up to interrogation by asking them if they have any questions or concerns about the guild. When you answer, try to remember that you're still selling your guild to them. Remember all the driving points in your recruitment pitch and use them to impress the applicant. Try to turn it into a conversation instead of letting it become a dry Q&A session by engaging them with a friendly question or comment of your own. If the conversation is going really well and you're feeling up to it, offer them a chat in Mumble/Vent, since it's more personal than text and easier to make a good impression on someone. Don't sound bored or disinterested, or you might scare them off. When I was looking for guilds, there were times when I completely lost interest in a guild because the person messaging me made talking to me sound like a chore. But on the flip side, don't be too pushy or aggressive. I know you want to recruit someone now, but repeatedly asking a player if they've made a decision yet is a quick way to get yourself deleted from their friend list. Let people make their decisions at their own pace (within reason, of course), but don't let them forget you. Message them every couple of days to say hello, idly chat, or even offer them spots in your LFR/flex/old content runs. Continuing to show interest after the initial Q&A is a good way to stand out and make a good impression on them.

The Application Process

Yay, They Applied!

Congratulations! All your hard work paid off and someone you were talking to applied to your guild. The balance has shifted in your favor and now you're letting them apply to you. You did the hard part already (selling your guild and catching their interest), and now it's up to your guild to make sure this person is a great fit. The most important thing to remember right now, though, is that this is not a done deal yet. There are a lot of things you can do to scare off an applicant, so the last thing you need to get is cocky.

When they first apply, someone needs to respond within the first 12 hours. It doesn't have to be anything serious. Just a simple greeting and an acknowledgement that you see their application should be good enough. Depending on your application process and guild type, some guilds like to grill applicants on their itemization, talent, and glyph choices, as well as information gleamed from combat parses. This is great, because it tests their knowledge of the game and their actions in a raid, but try to not be condescending, patronizing, or too aggressive. If the applicant feels like he's being attacked or mocked, he'll probably feel like he's backed into a corner and get defensive. Or worse, he might not ever respond and just find another guild that seems nicer. If your guildmates are being too aggressive, step in and privately tell them to watch their tone. Even if this applicant is actually an idiot and you aren't interested in recruiting him after seeing his application, remember that word-of-mouth goes far and if your forums are public, other potential applicants may see how you treated him and lose interest in you. That applicant may not have been a fit for your guild, but what happens when all of these angry applicants tell their friends what a bunch of jerks your guild is? The raiding community is small and well connected; if you build a reputation of being elitist jerks, your reputation will precede you.

Be Honest

Whatever you do, don't ignore them or leave them hanging. If you aren't interested in them, take a quick moment to apologize and tell them that you've filled the spot or they just aren't what you're looking for. If you're taking a while to assess your roster or you're on the fence about someone, keep them updated. If you keep them in the dark and don't respond, they're going to assume you're not interested and probably look somewhere else. I was in a guild that took forever to get back to applicants, and it was frustrating to see all the good applicants we lost due to neglect. It doesn't take much effort. Acknowledge that you see their application and keep them updated.

Being honest ("We're not really sure if we can fit in another warlock in our core right now") is much preferred over being vague and them not knowing where they stand with you. If you have qualms with any part of their application (the combat parses, their lack of experience, them being able to keep up with the other DPS on your roster, etc), be professional and pleasant about it, but tell them as much. Give them a fighting chance to prove that they can compete or improve, but don't let their application sit there for a week while you secretly mull over their worth.

Be Selective, But Not Too Selective

Here's the biggest secret I have about recruitment: don't accept just anyone. Make sure that they're exactly what you're looking for. Make sure their raiding goals align with yours, and that they're a culture and personality fit for your guild. Don't accept any warm body that wants to raid with you or dramatically lower your standards just to fill a raid spot, because once you do, your guild becomes a revolving door. The best thing you can do for your guild is to recruit quality people who genuinely want to be there, because these people will be with you in the long-term. These people are what make your guild successful.

And sometimes, that means recruiting people who aren't quite on the level you're looking for in terms of experience or even skill, but people with good attitudes and a lot potential. Learn to develop an eye for players you can quickly teach to be on the level you want your raiders to be. Yes, you need people who can raid at the level of your guild, and yes, you need someone who has enough gear to help you progress. Most guilds don't want projects because it's a lot of effort and work for no good reason. But every once in a while, you come across someone who is such a good fit in attitude, drive, and personality, that they're worth the effort. If they're willing to make the extra effort to try to get on your level, give them a chance to prove it. Gear and experience can be easily obtained, but good attitudes are harder to come by.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Was a Weight Loss Success Story

One of my weight loss photos.
When we hear about weight loss success stories, we always imagine these glamorous fairy-tale stories of ordinary people who lose weight and suddenly have so much more to offer life. You've seen those images before: the left frame filled with a sad-looking person, slouching over and not making eye contact with the camera, and the right frame is filled with a slimmer figure in better-fitting clothes, standing tall with shoulders back and smiling at the camera. Some of us look at these images and think to ourselves, "They look so happy now. They've accomplished so much now that they've lost weight. Can't I do that too?" We glamorize these people's journeys, turning them into role-models whether they want it or not, and aspire to lose weight so we, too, can discover the magical key to being happy with our lives.

While these pictures are circulating the Internet and thousands to millions of people are viewing, sharing, and commenting on everything from speculation about their personalities to criticism of their bodies, do we stop to think about the actual people in the photos? We assume they were unhappy and unsuccessful in the before photos, and now they're so happy and successful in the after photo. We assume they're so happy and confident in the one picture we see of them, in fact, that we don't stop to wonder if the thousands of negative comments strangers are making about their bodies will ever negatively affect them. By then they're not even real people to us anymore, and have somehow transcended into social celebrity status, where we all have opinions and criticisms about them but they're not allowed to have feelings. 

I Was That Girl

When I embarked on my weight loss journey nearly four years ago, I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into it. I actually didn't loathe my life or my body. I was a bigger girl and wasn't necessarily happy about it, but for the most part, I had accepted it and moved on with enjoying my life. Not surprising, the times I struggled the most were when people pointed out my size in a negative light or when I tried to shop for clothing in trendy, young shops. After a few back-to-back embarrassing social situations regarding my size, though, I finally caved in and decided I would try to lose some weight and change my lifestyle. "Not a lot of weight," I promised myself. "I don't want or need to be skinny! I just want to lose 20 pounds and make healthier choices."

Once I started to lose weight, though, I was running downhill and didn't know how to stop the momentum. It
became my obsession and purpose in life. All I wanted to do was talk and think about my weight loss. At first my efforts were healthy and my obsession just aided in keeping me focused on my goal. But after spending a couple of months dissecting my body in a critical light, I suddenly found more reasons to hate my body. In the words of Cady from Mean Girls, I used to just think there was fat and skinny. Suddenly, specific body parts on me were fat, and I had now programmed my mind to see fat as the enemy. I found myself entertaining destructive thoughts about my body and my progress, and started doing unhealthy things to achieve faster weight loss. I spent my days and nights daydreaming about being skinny, pinching the fat on my body, weighing myself, reading pro-ana forums, and secretly photoshopping my photos to see what I'd look like smaller. I started meticulously counting calories and eating significantly less than a healthy calorie deficit. I had tied my self-worth into my size, and so when I didn't feel thin, I was depressed, socially anxious, and lacking in confidence.

I was in a dark place, and it usually has to get worse before you can admit there's a problem. I was rapidly losing weight, but I was also losing physical strength. Everything made me tired, and if I got up too quickly or moved too fast, I'd see black spots and lose vision for a split second. I stopped hanging out with my friends because I had put on this facade of being this happy, healthy person pursuing healthy weight loss, and if I didn't eat, they'd see the truth. It took fainting at work one day before I saw I was heading down a dangerous path.


I didn't like the direction I was heading, but I still lacked the ability to be honest with people about my struggle, so I decided to make a health and fitness Tumblr to keep me in line. I became Crissfit: a positive, healthy-minded figure who helped girls who were struggling with what I was going through. I didn't know how to help myself, but I figured if I helped others I would eventually be able to believe what I was telling them. I eventually started eating more and lifting heavy weights, and even though I had bad thoughts about my body still, I was on the path of recovery. My blog kept me accountable for my actions, and the small community there kept me positive and open about my journey.

I posted my progress pictures in the small communities I was a part of, getting feedback and compliments from friends. I was proud of my progress because to me, my pictures spoke of not just the physical transformation, but the emotional and mental growth I had experienced in that year of weight loss. At the time, it felt nice being praised for my hard work and seeing my friends recognize how difficult and emotional my journey was. I was delighted when my pictures were reblogged, and when my Tumblr followers numbered 30k, I was giddy with happiness because it meant I was influential! People were listening to me and cared about my story. It gave me the resolve to stay strong and be healthy in both mind and body because so many young women were looking up to me.

But then my pictures started going viral over the Internet, being posted on all sorts of popular social media sites, forums, and meme photo websites. I was getting countless messages from friends, family, co-workers, and old Internet acquaintances, informing me of every place they saw my pictures posted. At first, I read them all; every last comment. I saw literally thousands and thousands of comments from strangers criticizing everything you can imagine about me: the way I was standing, my height, that I was too skinny or still too fat, my pale skin or my red hair, my "fat knees," and my chunky legs. I was told it was a shame my face was still busted, or that I may have lost weight but I was "still a 5 in big cities with actual hot girls." One popular article managed to turn me into nothing but a number, and if the blog post wasn't bad enough, the comments were demeaning and soul-crushing. I had people write lengthy break-downs on every little thing wrong with my face and body, from my nose to my ankles. Ironically enough, posting my weight loss pictures on my blogs to show my friends ended up resulting in irreparable low self-esteem.

And then, at some point, something inside of me broke. Two years of eating well and restricting calorie-dense foods went down the drain and I started binge-eating everything I felt I had missed out on: pizza, chips, soda, and take-out. I told myself it was just a break and that I'd get back on track, but the more I ate, the more I gained. The more I gained, the more emotional I was over my weight gain, and so the more I ate. Before I knew it, I had gained 20 pounds back. 

Dealing with My Weight Gain

At the time, it felt like the end of the world. I was a small-town and internet celebrity for my weight loss, and here I was, gaining all that weight back! I was still getting hundreds of messages a day from people desperate to know how to lose weight or simply congratulating me on my weight loss. People were still sending me links of places my pictures were being posted. It got to the point where seeing those comments or even seeing my own weight loss picture triggered feelings of low self-worth. After all, I had let people base my self-worth entirely on my size, and if I had put on weight again, what was my value? So many sites had reposted my pictures with superficial headlines like "She Fixed It" and many comments had referred to my before photo as repulsive and calling me an "it." If I had put on weight, did that mean I was "broken" again?

I thought I was in a dark place with my disorder before, but I went somewhere deeper and darker. I became a slave to my emotional eating disorder in a way that I never did before. It was like there was another person inside my head, fighting the rational part of my brain for control. Sometimes, the ED voice would win and lock away the rational Criss, leaving me to dwell on destructive thoughts about my body. And then I would starve; literally starve myself for multiple days. I would eat little or no food and drink a surplus of water. I would sometimes take sleeping pills to go to bed early if I thought I'd end up weakening and eating late at night. When I could cope with the hunger pains without having to go to bed, I saw it as a success. In a sick, twisted way, I had begun to see the hunger pains as necessary punishment for the crime of being fat, and when I could withstand the pain without succumbing to eating, I felt strong. I was happiest when I was successful in my fasting. I began to feel the most beautiful when I was hungry and hadn't eaten enough. When I went to bed without eating most of the day, I smiled to myself in pride at being strong enough to overcome my "weakness." I felt weak and easily winded, but the scale was going down dramatically and my waist was becoming so slender, so I had a skip in my step regardless of energy.

But for every few days of extreme restriction and starvation, there was a week or two of extreme binge-eating. I would just be so, so hungry after not allowing myself food that I would eat one thing and just break. I'd crumble and lose my resolve, eating everything in sight. I would eat until I was literally sick and hurting. I welcomed the pain and considered it punishment that I deserved. I saw myself as a fat, disgusting slob, lacking even the most basic control over food, and I felt I deserved the physical pain, emotional wreckage, and shame.

The worst part was that I struggled to acknowledge I had an eating disorder, to others or even to myself. What would people say if they found out the person whose pictures were reposted daily as fitness inspiration was actually struggling with an eating disorder? Furthermore, would they even believe me? Nobody ever seems to believe girls who claim to have an eating disorder unless their BMI is extremely low, and clearly, mine wasn't. Worst of all, what would I do if I admitted it to myself? I knew how to do things right, and admitting that I lacked control over my body and mind would make me feel foolish and unintelligent. All I had ever wanted was to be known for being an influential and intelligent individual; to admit to the world that I had an eating disorder would chance losing all credibility I ever had. I was scared of everyone's judgment and having to cope with all the backlash when people realized the person they idolized as some sort of weight loss wizard and healthy role model was flawed. Human, like the rest of you.


I feel relieved that I am finally at a point in recovery where I can tell everyone the truth of my struggles, and it has also helped to know that I'm not alone. Do you know how many other people known for their weight loss stories have struggled with similar issues? Surprisingly, almost every person I've met who has lost a large amount of weight has recounted experiences that closely mirror my own. Why does that happen? I suspect the unsolicited attention and the pressure of being turned into an internet role model eventually becomes too much for them, and eventually we crash and burn. We let people tie so much of our worth into our weight loss stories that we lose our identities when we aren't the people in the "after" photos anymore. 

I'd be lying if I said I was fully better now, because I'm not. I don't know if I have a happy ending to this story. I still have bad weeks where I restrict too much and then binge in response, but finally admitting that I had an eating disorder helped take a weight off my back. I'm trying to learn how to find a balance between the two extremes, but habits-- especially ones spurred by an emotional disorder-- are hard to break. Mostly, though, I'm trying to find ways to celebrate my self-worth that don't hinge on my weight. After being known solely as Crissfit for so long, it's hard to fully break from that identity, but I'm an intelligent, talented individual with so much more to offer the world than being merely a successful weight loss story. There's so much life has to offer than wasting it worrying about what the scale says.

Oh, and for those thousands of sites who posted my photos with cheap, superficial headers that added false context? I wasn't broken, and so I didn't "fix" anything. I'm not an it; I'm exactly the same person at 130 pounds as I was at 200 pounds. I didn't lose weight because my ex-boyfriend called me fat, my pictures weren't posted in the wrong order, and I'm not a "disgusting animal" in the left picture just because I'm bigger. Whew, that feels better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Guide: How Criss Lost Weight

This guide has been two years in the making. Two years' experience of trial and error, sorting through what's fact and fad, battling with body dysmorphia, and coping with my abrupt and dramatic change in lifestyle. Despite all of this experience, though, I still don't feel like an expert on weight loss, health, or nutrition. I'm not a doctor, and I have not personally conducted any scientific studies. With that said, all information posted here has been carefully researched and double-checked to ensure it's factual, up-to-date, and proven by the people who are doctors and scientists. You will find no misconceptions or fad diet posts here.

Another important thing to note is my perspective on weight loss and health, and my belief that they are two completely separate things. I believe BMI is a load of cock, that one's weight isn't always indicative of one's health, and that even if someone's health is poor due to their weight, it's still not my or your place to criticize them or their personal life choices. I do not believe in body-shaming of any size or shape.

With that said, I do like to put my personal weight loss story out there in a non-obtrusive, guilt-inducing way, for those who do want to lose weight in a healthy manner. With all of the misinformation out there, I think it's a positive thing to want to show people that weight loss doesn't mean being miserable, depriving themselves of food, exercising until they puke, taking pills or supplements, or hating their bodies. For many people- myself included- a healthier lifestyle seems too complicated and confusing. I personally grew up a completely sedentary, nerdy child, who subsisted primarily on fast food, ramen noodles, and microwaveable food. I didn't eat vegetables and didn't even understand the concept of a calorie. I was feeling the unhealthy side effects of all the junk I was putting into my body, but when I thought about change, it seemed too overwhelming because of all the contradicting information out there. I didn't know how or where to start, because it was a lifetime of bad habits I had to break.

This guide is for all of the people out there who feel like I did.
Did you know studies show somewhere between 80-95% of people who lose weight gain most or all of their weight back within two years? Why do so many people struggle to lose weight, and then when they finally succeed, struggle to maintain? I can tell you the answer to this from personal experience: it all depends on whether or not you see your weight loss as a diet, or a result of a lifestyle change and healthier habits.

Years and years ago, I used to daydream about losing weight, and would paint this picture of weight loss in my head: I would suffer by eating less, eating bland food, and by sweating my butt off at the gym to "punish" myself for being fat. I would somehow magically wake up skinny overnight, and then I could resume my old bad habits and go back to "living" again. I imagine many others have the same idea of dieting, and as a result, this is why so many people fail before they ever start, or gain it all back after losing it.

The most important thing about weight loss, and the key to your success, is how you see it. Losing weight successfully means you can't ever go back to "normal." You have to change up what normal means to your mind. Most people who fail at weight loss do so because they saw their weight loss as a result of a diet. Diet is a very bad word in my mind, and has a negative connotation for me. I've since learned that diets do not work; lifestyles do. And there's a reason I stress calling it a lifestyle change and not a diets. Diets just aren't maintainable. We're human. Even now, after one year of weight loss, and then another full year of maintenance, my food quality ranges from healthy and wholesome to, "Ooh, is that CAKE?" Remember this: too much restriction can be just as bad as too little moderation. The best "diet" is the one that is balanced and maintainable for YOU. If that means cake twice a week, then have your cake!

Despite the complicated fad diets and fitness magazines claiming otherwise, studies show that weight loss occurs when you consume fewer calories than you burn. Not what kinds of calories, or when the calories were consumed. Just calories. Calories in; calories out. "Wait, what does that even mean?,"  you frantically ask. "How do you know how many calories you burn? How many calories should I be eating? Criss, this is so complicated!" No, calm down, and I'll explain.

You burn calories in everything you do. Talking, smiling, eating, pooping, sleeping. You burn calories simply by existing! To find out how many calories you burn a day simply by existing, you need to find out your BMR- your Basal Metabolic Rate. This isn't how many calories you need to eat a day to either maintain OR lose weight; this is simply the base number of calories you'd need to stay alive lying in a bed all day in a coma. Click here to find out your BMR!

Cool! Now you know your BMR. That's only step one. Let's next determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight where it's at. Go to this link to find out your maintenance weight! (And bring out your handy calculator.) At 5'3, 25 years old, and 132 pounds, my BMR is 1407. I'd consider myself lightly active, overall, so according to the chart, I'll multiply my BMR base number by 1.375. I get 1935. That's how many calories a day I need to maintain 132 pounds. Need help finding yours? Post in a comment and I'll try my best to help you.

Okay, and now the reason you're here: to find out how many calories a day you need to lose weight. This one is easy: If you want to lose weight, subtract 500 from that maintainable number (not the BMR, but the bigger of your two numbers). That's IT. That's your number. If you go below it, don't go below 100-200, and not every single day. For example, at my current weight of 132 (as of writing this post), my maintenance level is 1935. If I want to lose more weight with my current activity level, subtracting 500 from 1935 yields 1435. 

Things to keep in mind about BMR:
Your BMR changes often, based on your age, current weight, and most importantly, your activity level. It needs to be adjusted often. I didn't eat nearly as few calories when I first started my weight loss journey, and then there are some times where I am literally playing World of Warcraft all day long (don't judge me!), so I'll eat fewer calories because I am sedentary. I go through phases where I am really, really active, or really, really not active. You have to be the one to judge your own activity level, because only you know what you are doing all day. Please also remember that being active can also mean on your feet all day at work, taking care of children and housekeeping, and even shopping! The lowest level (sedentary) means basically lying in bed or sitting down almost literally your entire day, everyday. 

One important note: don't try to calculate your calories burned through machines. Those machines grossly over-calculate your burned numbers. If you feel like you are really, really active, then add another 100-200 to it or reassess your maintenance weight by going up a notch in activity levels. At my current weight, I generally stick with 1200 on nonactive days and 1400-1500 on active days, and don't bother trying to figure out an exact number burned. It's really hard to know how much you burned, since so many factors go into how many calories you burn doing every little thing. Don't over-think it!

Be careful, too, with how low you dip your calorie deficit. You might grow impatient and want to speed things up by decreasing your calorie intake, but it's actually counterproductive and can hinder your results. Besides that, it makes you weak and tired, and your body won't have the nutrients it needs to sustain itself. You might be losing pounds on the scale, but when you starve yourself, your body feasts on muscle too.  If you have a lot of weight to lose, losing weight too quickly can also result in more loose skin that you'd have if you had paced yourself better. Remember that there's no finish line in this; it's a journey to a healthier lifestyle on which you've embarked. 

Don't fret too much over excess calories. One pound of body weight equals 3500 calories, so eating an extra 500 calories per day will result in one pound gained in a week. One pound. So when you inevitably eat something you think you shouldn't, and gain water weight on the scale the next day, don't freak out. Unless in one day, you managed to consume 3500 excess calories, you did not gain as much weight as you think.

Let's talk about food specifics. If you're like me, you're used to eating convenient, processed junk food. Fast food, packaged food, frozen food, and sodas, aw yeah. Wait, no! That's terrible for you, and it's not even because it's probably high-calorie; it's because it's full of chemicals, sodium, and unnatural ingredients that hate your body. Lots of these things are even pointed at as causes of cancer, including sugar-free, "low fat" products aimed at the dieters. Yes, that's right: those "alternatives" to your favorite meals are actually just as bad or worse as the real thing.

One thing to realize about being healthy is that calories are not the most important thing here. Yes, eating too few or too many calories can cause weight loss and weight gain, but that should not be your primary focus. If you actually just swapped your regular eating habits for eating whole foods instead of packaged junk, you'd actually lose weight without ever having to track a calorie. In fact, a lot of people prefer to not ever count calories, because it can incur dangerous, obsessive thoughts. Yes, if you ate nothing but McDonald's everyday, but stayed 500 calories below maintenance, you'd still lose weight. You won't be getting the nutrients you need, though, and you'd be putting a lot of sodium and chemicals in your body. You'd probably be hungry still, since their foods are so calorie-dense for such a small quantity of food, which means you'd be more inclined to over-eat. You'd probably be tired and not feeling at perfect health, and your digestive system might hate you for it.

Well, cool, but that doesn't help you, right? What sorts of things should you eat, then? Preferably anything that isn't frozen or that comes in a package with a long list of ingredients! As they say, if the list of ingredients is longer than 10, it's not "real" food. Veggies, fruit, meats, fish, and nuts are generally what I eat. If you like to cook, you can really experiment with things! Personally, I still don't cook a lot, but I've learned a few things along the way, like how to make a healthier pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches.

"But what about macro-nutrients?," you'll ask. "I was told if I eat over 50 carbs, I'll never lose a pound!" Contrary to popular belief and bro-science, eating a certain amount of any macro-nutrient doesn't yield more or less weight loss, according to reputable studies. That doesn't mean eating a certain amount of carbs is silly, but it does mean that low carb won't affect your weight loss. I personally try to reduce my amount of carbs to mostly natural carbs like the kind you find in fruit and vegetables, simply because they make me hold more water weight. It doesn't make me lose more weight, but it helps me with my bloat problem. As long as you're primarily sticking with whole foods, there's not really a right or wrong answer to this. Just try not to get too extreme with things!

As for when to eat, it's been proven that your metabolism doesn't actually speed up when you eat more often or what time you eat, which is a common misconception. Eat when you're hungry, and if eating small meals often helps you not over-eat, then that's what you should do!
I'd recommend not weighing yourself daily, because like calorie counting, it can incur obsessive and dangerous thoughts. It can be especially destructive when you aren't realistic about the number you see, because so many things can affect it. The number on the scale is never a true representation of your body weight and body fat percentage. How recently you've pooped, how much sodium you've consumed the last few days, how much water you've consumed, how dehydrated you are, how much you've exercised, if you're PMSing, etc; all of these things can affect your scale number.

Speaking of water weight, it's a tricky, fickle thing, and I hate it. Ever drastically change your eating habits and find that you're losing A LOT of weight immediately, and then it slows down to a normal pace? That's water weight. Your body is usually holding onto a lot of it, which can really affect your scale number and even your tummy measurements. If I eat something that's really high in sodium, for example, I can "gain" as many as five pounds and two inches in my waist overnight. Fortunately, as you might recall, you have to eat 3500 EXTRA calories to put on a single pound. You might think it's due to your wonky metabolism causing you to gain five pounds overnight because you had that chocolate cake and those salty potato chips, but really, it's just bloat. Drink extra water and exercise, and bam, your weight magically goes back to the number you expect.

You can really help reduce your water weight by drinking more water, primarily! It seems silly, but if you're dehydrated, your body actually holds onto the water. The more water you drink, the less water weight you'll hold. It's also good for weight loss, because it can help flush out toxins and aid your digestive system, both of which affect your scale number.

Another reason why putting so much stock into your scale number is because if you're exercising, chances are you are gaining muscle as well. Granted, if you're a female, chances are you aren't actually putting on as muscle as you think that quickly unless you're eating well over what you're eating to lose weight. But strength training can cause your muscles to retain fluid as well, so while it might seem like you're gaining 3-10 pounds in two weeks after starting weightlifting, yet your measurements aren't showing it, it's because your muscles are retaining water to repair themselves. It's normal and expected, since it's part of the muscle-building process! That's good.

If you need something to gauge your progress, take measurements and judge by how your clothes fit you. You might be surprised at how they contradict your scale number!

When it comes to weight loss, there is nothing more upsetting to me than the wealth of misinformation that makes people believe they need to consume some sort of weight loss "aid" or supplement in order to successfully lose weight. A lot of the products are unhealthy and full of dangerous chemicals that can harm your body, and many of them in the past have caused lawsuits because they did turn out to harm people. Even with that knowledge, people still risk their health and take these pills and drinks because they are overwhelmed by weight loss and just want the magical solution without changing their habits. 

Maybe taking the drinks will increase their metabolism and cause them to lose weight while eating pizza. Let's just say that your best-friend-for-like-ever, Kaywinnit, just lost 60 pounds while drinking Pluxus Slim, but never changing her eating habits. Yay, Kaywinnit! Kaylee reached a weight she finds good and healthy, so she stops buying and paying for that extremely expensive drink that caused her to lose weight, and continues eating the same way she's always eaten. Months later, she's realized that she's put all of her weight back on! Why's that? Because Kaylee was never taught anything about her body or her health, and never looked at her eating habits. It was never about changing lifestyles or being healthier for her. Worse is that Kaylee probably feels worse afterward, and thinks that she's doomed to never lose weight.

Fad diets too can be unhealthy. What's worse is that you'll look at magazines or infommercial s, claiming you'll lose inches off your belly if you only eat whatever they're trying to sell. All that does is perpetuate the wealth of misconceptions and poor information out there, and make people feel more overwhelmed when they try to sort through what is true and false. 

Another problem with popular and perpetuated ideas of weight loss is that exercise on its own can make you lose weight. Unless you're running multiple miles per day or a training athlete, a nonathletic person's exercise isn't enough to negate excess amount of calories derived from poor eating habits. As they say, abs are made in the kitchen; not in the gym. That doesn't mean exercise isn't helpful in weight loss, because it can certainly aid your weight loss! It can burn calories, increase your metabolism, make your body run better and increase your overall health, and help you gain muscle you might lose from eating at a calorie deficit. But it's not totally necessary, either, and there's no need to get extremist about it unless you just really, really love exercise. I actually didn't really get into fitness until I had lost most of my weight, and I wouldn't call myself fit by any means. I lift weight three times a week for about 25-40 minutes a session, and sometimes play Dance Dance Revolution/In the Groove because it's fun and because it's the only cardio I can stand. That doesn't sound too extreme, does it? There's just this big misconception that you need to exercise in order to lose weight, and you have to be extremely obsessed with it. You don't have to go that often or that long!

One thing to keep in mind about exercise is the idea that you can spot reduce areas you don't like by exercising certain areas, which is very false! Where you gain or lose fat is totally dependent on your genetics, and exercising certain areas or eating certain things won't change that. However, let's say that you've got flabby thighs you want to be sturdier (which was my problem). You can't "replace" fat with muscle (they are two different things), but you can gain muscle underneath to make it look firmer, which the definition of what most people think "toned" means. That also debunks yet another myth that lifting weights when you're trying to lose weight results in you looking "fatter." Nope!

I won't tell you what exercise you should do because everyone's goals are different. Some people just want to get their bodies more active; some want to get super fit. You have to find something that suits your needs, interests, and lifestyle. With that said, if you're looking into weightlifting, I did write a guide aimed at women interested in weightlifting, simply because there are just so many misconceptions regarding women, muscle, and weightlifting.

What people don't tend to tell you about weight loss would be the emotional side effects of your body undergoing a transformation, or how to cope with all of the reactions of the people around you. It's tough, because you're going to have people from your closest friends to your co-workers coming up to you, and giving you unsolicited opinions on your body. Some will tell you that you don't need to lose weight, or that you're looking too thin. When you encounter people who tell you these things, try to be firm about letting them know it's your life and not their place to criticize. Only you know your body and your eating habits. 

Some might also indirectly insult you by making you think you are better after your weight loss, but remember this: your self-worth isn't determined by your weight or your measurements. You are the same person before and after, and anyone who makes you think you are more or less because of your body shape or size needs to be removed from your life. Even after you lose weight, your weight will fluctuate the rest of your life, so basing your self-worth on something as flexible and fickle as your weight is dangerous thinking.

Sometimes it's also hard to also cope with not seeing your progress because your mind takes a while to catch up with your body. It's hard, too, when you see your progress, but you get so intent on chasing perfection that you want to speed up the process. These things are dangerous thoughts to have, and I recommend joining support communities to help deal with them.

•Start learning to love your body now. If you can’t see anything good about yourself, weight loss will not make you feel better. Instead, as you get closer to your goal, you’ll get depressed you still aren’t “perfect.” You can love yourself while seeking self-improvement.

• If you are losing more than 2 pounds a week, with the exception of water weight initially, then you are losing lean muscle. Muscles that keep your body alive. The only exception is when you first change your eating habits, you might lose a larger amount due to water weight.

• Don’t reward successful weight loss with unhealthy, processed food. What you’re doing is creating a bad relationship with food, and you are confusing your brain. Isn’t it counterproductive to gain weight due to excess unhealthy foods, to cut out unhealthy foods in order to lose weight, and then when you lose weight reward yourself with the very thing that restricted your progress in the past? This is my biggest tip: when you tell yourself “NO CHOCOLATE, IT’S BAD FOR ME,” you want it more. You put it on a pedestal, and you think about it more and more. And when you finally cave in, you’ll binge. That’s why I don’t restrict in my diet; I moderate. I want a soft taco supreme from Taco Bell? Okay, I can have it. I’ll look up the calories online to calculate into my daily calories, and if what I eat is more than I normally eat, no big deal; it's just a single day. If I’m going out with friends, I’ll fill up on something healthy like broccoli before going so I won’t overeat at the restaurant. If I’m eating something at home, I’ll eat it with a side of something healthy so again, I won’t overeat.

• If you're tracking calories, use calorie counting tracking sites! The Daily Plate is my favorite site to track.

• MEASURE YOUR FOOD. I can’t emphasize this enough! You may think that spoonful of peanut butter is one tablespoon, but it’s twice as high as the spoon and spilling over all the sides. You think you’re eating a certain amount of calories, except you’re over-estimating your portions. Get a food scale and some measuring cups. It’ll be the best weight loss decision you’ve ever made, I promise!

• Take LOTS of pictures during your journey! If you are less motivated when you look at them, then take them and put them away in a folder on your computer. Wait until you’ve lost some weight and THEN go back and look. There were times when I didn’t feel like I had made much progress at all and wanted to quit, but when I would go back to my older pictures, I would see how much progress I had actually made. You might surprise yourself!

• Find ways to be held accountable. If that means writing down things in a personal little diary nobody else sees, go for it! If that means tracking your activity on Fitocracy, starting an anonymous weight loss tumblr to track food, making a bulletin board and putting stickers on it for everyday you were active, or to even publicly talk about every success and trial on your personal facebook, go for it! Know what makes you tick and what will help you stick to it better.

• Find a partner! Losing weight was a lot easier when I had friends to do it with. Don’t have friends in person who will talk weight stuff with you? Find people online! There are loads of communities out there.

• Food is not the enemy. Repeat with me: food is not the enemy. Food is not bad. Eating food does not make you fat. Food is fuel. Fuel gives you the energy to get through the day, and to work-out. Working out is nice. Therefore, food is nice.

• Got off track for a day? Did it start with a single donut and end with a whole box of pizza? That’s okay! Hey, guess what? You’re human, and so am I. Nobody can be expected to be perfect everyday. It’s okay to indulge your cravings sometimes! Enjoy the hell out of that pizza and don’t let the taste of guilt make it not worth it. Start over tomorrow and don’t let it weigh you down.

• Exercise is not a punishment for eating bad or for being "fat." Exercise is about being healthy and rewarding your body with healthy activities. If you are miserable with your current exercise, find something that doesn't make you miserable!

• Try to be realistic about your expectations of your body. Even when you reach your "goal," you still aren't going to be perfect, because nobody is. Be happy with your body, regardless of its natural shape, fat you think shouldn't be there, stretch marks, and even loose skin. We're human.

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