Armed with a camera and standing on her granite kitchen countertop, wellness and nutrition blogger Michelle Hoover hovers over her latest masterpiece to get the perfect shot.
Hoover has reached over a million people with her autoimmune protocol, Whole30 and Paleo recipes via her blog, UnboundWellness.com. Her recipes are a labor of love, but they are also created out of necessity. At 17 years old, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid.
Hashimoto's affects 14 million people in the United States alone, and women are 7 times more likely to have Hashimoto's than men. Because of this, Hoover thought she would be able to find online communities tailored to living with Hashimoto's and other autoimmune diseases. Instead, she found nothing.
Photo by Justin James
“I just felt so isolated. I felt like nobody in the world could relate to me," says Hoover. “I knew that all these women had this problem, I just didn't know where to find them."
After years of dealing with aversive symptoms, she decided it was time for a lifestyle change, and created her blog to document the process. Now a multi-faceted media brand, Hoover has been able to share her story while creating the online community she once sought after.
A diagnosis doesn't automatically initiate behavior changes. An answer to her mystery symptoms of fainting, heart palpitations and weight fluctuation came when she was 17, but Hoover did not start taking her health seriously until she was 23.
Hoover was afraid that making lifestyle changes revolving around her autoimmune disease would drastically alter the way she was living. As a young woman, she wanted to remain independent while continuing to eat the foods she grew up loving. “I knew that diet was highly correlated with autoimmune disease, but I just never wanted to commit because I love food so much," says Hoover. “I was afraid of giving up gluten and giving up dairy because I was so set in my mind that I could not live a life that was fun and spontaneous and social if I wasn't able to walk into a party and eat pizza."
Her turning point came when she was faced with the threat of emergency surgery. Years of constant inflammation was wearing her body down, so she decided to do whatever she could to experience a full life. “That shift in mindset is what really helped me to be able to experience better health, that's what led me to start my blog," she says.
Unbound Wellness came to life in 2015. At first, it was a doubt-filled personal hobby that mirrored the limited mindset Hoover experienced when she was first diagnosed with Hashimoto's.
Her doubts started to shed nine months in, when she created a post about weight gain, a Hashimoto's symptom that challenges many women with the condition. “It wasn't until I saw hundreds of people sharing on commenting on it that I thought, my story does mean something to people and I can contribute something valuable to the conversation, even if I'm not the only person who has gone through this," says Hoover.
“I think nailing down your brand and making it really personal no matter what you're doing is key. Your customers are people, and people relate to a story." Photo by Karla Janneth
Around the same time, she created a recipe that now has over 111K shares on Facebook and Pinterest: Healing turmeric AIP balls. “The concept of making healing food fun and easy and being real, I saw those things really resonating with people. I started to run with it.
At my core, that's what I really wanted to do, I just didn't know anyone wanted to hear it."
Today, Hoover's recipes and blog posts garner over 2.6M monthly viewers on Pinterest. But more than that, she engages with her community in a way that inspires them to heal themselves through food.
“You need to have that core of a personal brand and constantly keep your eyes and ears on what is working and what you can improve on," says Hoover. “I always ask myself, how can I serve people in a way that is easy for people to consume?"
To scale her brand, Hoover launched other business initiatives outside the traditional blog outlet. She became a certified nutritional consultant and saw clients one-on-one, wrote an e-book and began a nutrition podcast. “I feel like to make in in this online content world, you can't depend on just one platform," she says. “If you want to build a brand where people really connect with you, you have to meet them on multiple levels."
Hoover says it wasn't until the second year of Unbound Wellness that she realized she could make a full-time salary from it. She was already doing sponsored posts from smaller brands who sought her out, but wasn't taking Unbound Wellness to its full potential.
“I decided that I was getting enough traffic to where I can seek out sponsorship opportunities and work with premium ad networks," says Hoover. “Once I started seeing those numbers I thought, oh, I can actually do this."
There are a lot of steps that need to be taken to captivate an audience and turn it into a monetization strategy. For Hoover, that has involved staying true to her niche of serving the autoimmune community and putting herself at the forefront. It has also meant being proactive about brand relations.
Hoover is about to launch a second e-book and hoping to expand it into group coaching. She is also coaching other nutritional therapy practitioners and bloggers about developing and expanding their business.
Some advice for those getting serious about the blogging business: It takes time to get noticed. Time and creativity, especially within the food and nutrition space, says Hoover.
“You have to get crazy creative. Which is hard. I was nightshade free for months and months, so I figured out how to make a nightshade free marinara sauce. I just made a recipe today on zucchini enchiladas. There's always a way."
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