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Spark People

Spark People
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SparkPeople, considered by some to be one of the world's leading health and fitness online portals. It was founded just 10 short years ago by Chris Downie, a successful internet entrepreneur. Having benefited from being an early eBay employee, he and his wife have taken their wealth and are now “using their earnings…to make the world a healthier place.” Which explains why the services on this site are completely free.

With 6 million members in 150 countries, SparkPeople offers diet and nutrition advice, fitness tools and services, along with motivation and support for people looking to lose weight. They even have separate sites for teens (SparkTeens) and pregnant women (BabyFit).

Basic Diet Tenets/Nutritional Philosophy

This is a one-stop shop for people looking to lose weight, become fit, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It doesn't subscribe to one type of diet or program, but rather encompasses a wide variety, helping you to find what works best for you. The site also keeps you up to date on the latest general health news, has an A-Z health dictionary (created by the faculty of Harvard Medical School), and Conditions Centers-which are in-depth guides to a variety of health conditions, making it a good all-around site for all your health needs.

There are personalized diet and fitness plans, most of which are easy to follow. SparkPeople also employs a team of professional dietitians, fitness coaches and chefs to help you reach your goals. Each weight-loss success, big or small, is viewed as a "spark" or incentive to continue in the weight loss journey and as a metaphor that problems can be overcome. This is part of why this program is so beloved, because it excels in its motivational format-cheering you on at every turn.

SparkPeople is also big on community, with forums, message boards, blogs, and success sotries. They have a Woo Hoo! button to announce your triumphs and a Panic button for emergency use.There is also online help with tools for tracking calories and physical activity, healthy recipes, as well as diet and recipe applications for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry phones.

Exercise/Fitness Component

There is a strong exercise component on this site, which features fitness plans, a workout generator, workout tracker, and both videos and exercise demos.

There is a personalized fitness tracker that allows you to set goals and then input your daily steps and mileage walked, strength training, cardio training and then provides you with daily and weekly totals. There are also fitness maps where you can create your own routes or go in and trace a route you have walked to get total distance. You can then calculate your speed and calories burned. Overall, a very cool feature I have not seen on other sites.

The site has a good number of exercise videos and demos, from beginner to advanced, home and gym workouts, with everything from simple calf stretches using a chair to more advanced upper body weight lifting.

Food

The site provides you with your own page for Nutrition Goals. You can set it up to track calories, carbs, fat, protein, cholesterol and whole host of nutrients. At the end of the day it tells you how you did, whether you came in under calories, over carbs, or were low on folate. It also tracks your progress week by week.

You can use SparkPeople's Meal Plans, based on dietary restrictions (sodium, vegetarian, now fish, etc.) to set up personalized meal plans (although no prepared meals are provided, you must shop and prepare your own food). Within those meal plans you can modify and substitute either a whole meal or individual items. Don't like tilapia? No problem, you can substitute salmon or one of 60 other items to take its place. Don't want to schlep a meal to reheat at work, then choose from one of the pita sandwiches or fresh salads to make. Then based on the meal plan you choose (including substitutions), a shopping list is generated for you for the while week.

Also available is a Dining Out Guide to help make smart choices at popular chain restaurants and a pretty comprehensive Recipe Finder with over 245,000 recipes. The Recipe Finder allows you to do a typical search for recipes based on a food item (chicken, broccoli), but goes a step further allowing you to further drill down options by choosing cuisine type (Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc.), dietary restriction (vegetarian, low-cal), calorie count, prep time, cooking time, and more.

Ease of Use

There is a lot to take in on the site, as it has so many different components. It will take a significant amount of time to become acquainted with all it has to offer to and determine those facets that best suit your needs. I also found that the site was slow to load on the three different occasions that I accessed it. But if you are patient, you should be able to find what you need, from the calorie count of a banana to a 6-minute butt-blasting workout.

This site is set up to be accessed at least once, if not multiple times per day: to check the daily meal plan, and input water consumption, food consumption, exercise and activity. Some may find this difficult, while others may benefit from seeing tangible results, exactly how many calories they are taking in and expending.

Cost/per month

Membership: none
Food: none
Other: Book, The Spark (optional)

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