Posts made in June 23rd, 2011

reader request: sparkpeople 101


Posted on Jun 23, 2011 in Fitness

reader request: sparkpeople 101

I get asked all the time about Sparkpeople and how I use the site in my daily life. So I thought I’d pull together a little post about my experience with the Spark!

What is Sparkpeople?

Sparkpeople is a free, community-based weight loss website that is chock-full of resources for people trying to live a healthy life. The community is mostly focused on weight loss, but in a very healthy, real food, real exercise kind of way. No gimmicks or lose weight fast schemes here.

Honestly, in the past year my use of Sparkpeople has dramatically reduced. Not because I don’t love it—I do—but because I’ve learned enough from the site to take my habits “off-site” and not login everyday. Because SP is free, the goal is to not rope you in for a lifetime to pay dues, but to give you the tools you need to create a healthy lifestyle off the site.

What are the fundamentals of Sparkpeople?

At its core, SP’s program is called the SparkDiet. It is made up of four distinct stages that slowly usher you into creating your new healthy lifestyle. When I first started weight loss, this seriously appealed to me. So many times I’d started a “diet” with the all or nothing approach and failed miserably, so when SP told me to just pick a few things to focus on at a time, I was totally into it. Through the four phases, you are slowly weaned from your unhealthy lifestyle to one full of real food, fitness and community-support.

While the SparkDiet is the blueprint for the SP program, there are multiple tools on the site to help you achieve success in the program. It would take me pages and pages and pages to explain all the awesome features of the SP site, but as I see it, the truly important tools can be boiled down into four categories:

  • Nutrition Tracker—a running document of your food choices that focuses on calorie intake and nutritional value.
  • Fitness Tracker—a diary of your daily activity measured in weight (for strength training), time and calories burned.
  • Community Support—forums, teams, blogs, SparkPages all designed to create a community of people like you helping one another to achieve similar goals.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Education—read the latest health article, download a healthy recipe, learn how to correctly do a stationary lunge, SP has thousands of pages of well-researched and well-written information about leading a healthy lifestyle.

How I use Sparkpeople

When I first started with SP, I was 100% involved with the site. I logged my food and fitness daily. I was a member of teams, joined in discussions on the forums and wrote blogs about my journey. Daily, I’d devour information about healthy snacks, new exercises and the changes my body was going through. Amazingly, the more active on the site I was, the more weight I lost.

As I reached my SP goals, the lessons I learned there were slowly applied to my daily life outside of the site. I became aware. Because I logged in my nutrition tracker last week what one cup of roasted potatoes meant nutritionally, I was aware and able to recall (roughly) that information when I ate it again the next. Slowly, I stopped relying so much on counting every gram and relying on the numbers and instead trusted what I’d learned through SP.

Of all the things I’ve learned from SP, I think awareness is the most vital. Instead of my unhealthy lifestyle being the elephant in the room, SP challenges everyone to bring your goals into the spotlight. One of their fast break goals at the beginning of the program is to tell someone about your goals. No longer was trying to lose weight or become healthy shameful. At SP, my journey was celebrated! And it made me realize that a healthy lifestyle could be celebrated outside of SP, too (hence me starting this blog).

SP is designed to be your training wheels. And it is also designed for you to eventually take off the training wheels and ride away on your own happily and healthfully. I will probably always rely on SP for some things. Somedays I still track my food. Almost everyday I login to SP just to find out more information about some health or fitness topic (a ton of my research for BTHR comes from SP). My relationship with the website and community has changed dramatically, but I am so incredibly thankful for the start it gave me.

Now what?

If you have read this far and are intrigued, I encourage you to start-up an account. It is 100%, totally, completely free. They never ask for a dime. You have nothing to lose. You don’t even need to actively be trying to lose weight (when you sign up, you chose if you want to lose weight or embark on a healthy lifestyle). Once you join up, add me as a friend!



tips for your warrior dash, mudathlon or mud run


Posted on Jun 23, 2011 in Fitness

tips for your warrior dash, mudathlon or mud run
Tips & Tricks for Your First Mud Run

A race like the Warrior Dash I ran last weekend is different from pretty much any other running race you’ll ever do. It requires some special preparation, some special gear and a special attitude to make it a fun and comfortable day. Since the Warrior Dash and similar events are becoming all the rage, I thought I’d come up with a list of tips that I learned and made my Warrior Dash much more fun. Other Warriors, let me know if there is anything you think I should add.

General Tips

  • Gear check a bag. I’m normally not a gear check kind of person at races, but this is one instance where you will definitely need a bag. Factor in the extra time to check your stuff, you’ll be happy you did. Also, bring a bag you don’t mind getting dirty. Everything will get muddy.
  • Don’t rush. Yes, it is a race, but on my course, they left some of the hardest obstacles until the end. Trust me, you don’t want to be burnt out and have to crawl through 50 feet of mud under barbed wire.
  • Want to take pictures? I took our old point-and-shoot, put it in a zip-top bag and had it in my bra for the whole race. It even made it through the mud pit pretty well. Wiped off a bit of mud and it was good as new. Of course, I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but it did for me!
  • As with all races, hydrate and fuel properly. Because the atmosphere for this race is more fun than competition, you might be tempted to skip your normal pre-race routine of hydrating and eating. Don’t! You’ll be working hard and will need the energy.


  • Wear tight-fitting clothing. Mud is heavy. Heavy pants mean that I saw a whole lot of boy bum crack at the exit of the mud pit. The less you wear, the less mud to cake onto. See how tight my pants are up in that photo? By the end, I could barely keep those up. I saw lots of men wearing just tightly-tied swimtrunks and women in boardshorts and sports bras.
  • Think swimwear. If you aren’t comfortable wearing just swimwear, at least make it your bottom later. Swimsuits dry faster and can work as an under layer that you don’t need to change.
  • Bring gloves. There were quite a few rope obstacles in our course and I wish I would have had gloves! After pulling up your own body weight on a rope a few times, your hands start to get seriously chapped.
  • Bring a second set of clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. You won’t ever be clean until you get home and take a shower (even after you rinse off) but putting on some cleaner clothes will at least make it to where you aren’t miserable. Bring a pair of old shorts and a ratty t-shirt to throw over your bathing suit after you’ve chucked your race clothes.


  • Don’t expect to keep your shoes. Just go ahead and accept the fact that you are going to need to donate them at the end. Bring your grubbiest, oldest tennis shoes and be happy that they’ll live on another life as something else after they’ve been donated.
  • Tie your shoes tightly. For running, it is generally good to keep your shoes tied loosely because your feet swell. Not this time. If you do that, you’ll lose your shoes. Some people even had duct taped the top of their shoes to their ankles, but I found that tying them very tightly (as in, they almost hurt) was enough to keep them on nice and snug.
  • Bring flip-flops or other easy-to-clean sandals in your gear check bag. One of the first things you’ll want to do after the finish is toss your shoes and socks, and you definitely don’t want to walk around barefoot. Your sandals will get muddy probably, but at least your feet will be covered.

Other Stuff to Bring

  • First aid kit. While you probably won’t sprain your ankle like I did, you probably will get a few small cuts and scrapes on the obstacles. A small first aid kit with wipes and Bandaids will do wonders to make you more comfortable. You can always go to the first aid tent, but I prefer to leave that for serious injuries.
  • Plastic grocery bags or trash bags. If you want to take your clothes home and try to wash them, you can tie them up in plastic bags and put them in your gear check bag without getting everything else muddy.
  • Dark (preferably brown) towel. Most races have a place to rinse off after the fun, but you won’t get “clean”. Bring the towel to help wipe off/dry off after your rinse down. I’d avoid bringing your really nice guest towels.
  • A wet washcloth in a zip-top bag. Again, you probably won’t get to rinse off very long. So a wet washcloth will at least let you get your face and hands clean.
  • Sunscreen. If you are planning on sticking around for a while after the race, slather on the sunscreen. Trust me, a mud-speckled tan is not a good look.
  • Your ID. Want to drink beer afterward? Don’t forget your ID. They’ll be checking.
  • Cash. See above.
  • Sheets and/or towels. Leave these in the car to sit on for your drive home.
  • A good attitude. Everyone was in good spirits and there to lend a helping hand when necessary at my race. There were very few serious competitors and most people were out there just to have fun! Join in. Giggle when you slip and fall in the mud (you will) and give someone a hand if they need help over an obstacle (they will). You’re all trying to get through this together!

With a little preparation, a mud run can be super, duper fun! And heck, if you forget something, just go buy yourself a beer and don’t worry about it. Happy mud running!