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.
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!