Does SparkPeople Work?

Bridget’s Experience with the Diet Website

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As I progress through my twenties, I notice more and more that my peers are all about exercising, losing weight, and getting in shape. Despite many attempts to get in shape throughout high school and college, I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise–I’d much rather eat pizza and mozzarella sticks while reading a book or surfing the internet–but with a wedding a mere eight(ish) months away and a general desire to be healthier, I’ve grudgingly jumped back on the exercise bandwagon.

I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from a touch of OCD. (Okay, maybe more than a touch.) I love being able to track things and measure my progress, or lack thereof. I had started using LoseIt on and off my senior year of college, but couldn’t quite stick with it. Then, about two years ago, the American Cancer Society, where I was working at the time, decided to begin a company-wide health initiative which included the use of Sparkpeople.com, in which employees could receive rewards for completing challenges that could only be tracked through Sparkpeople. I thought it seemed fun, so I decided to join Sparkpeople.

Some quick background: Sparkpeople, like LoseIt (our review), is a free online food- and exercise-tracking software. You input your starting weight and your goal weight, and you can choose to 1) plan to lose .5-2lbs per week (in which case, Sparkpeople will project a date at which you should reach your goal) or plan to reach your goal weight by a certain date (in which case, Sparkpeople will tell you how many pounds you need to lose per week to reach your goal).

Immediately, I noticed that it had quite a bit more to offer than Loseit. First of all, instead of giving a hard and fast calorie limit for each day, Sparkpeople provides you with a range that you should stay within. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, but it was easier for me to remain within a range than it was to consistently stay beneath a hard and fast daily calorie limit.

Second of all, it was much easier to edit the foods I had entered into Sparkpeople manually. Whenever I tried to edit something in LoseIt, even something that I had personally entered, I always got an error message saying that my edits would have to be approved by a moderator or something. So I was glad to find that I was able to easily edit my changes in Sparkpeople!

Something that I initially didn’t like about Sparkpeople was that entering calories burned through exercise didn’t increase your calorie limit for the day. However, this was just recently changed so that the trackers “talk” to each other. You don’t have to make them talk, but I find this incredibly useful.
Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 7.06.25 PMSparkpeople’s articles are informative and their message boards can be helpful, if badly punctuated (but that seems to be true of message boards everywhere). They have quizzes and trivia, and their articles focus on a variety of topics like healthy eating, exercising, and motivation. They also have healthy recipes and exercise videos. I really haven’t even begun to explore the depths of what they have to offer.

As far as results go, I’ve been using Sparkpeople more or less consistently since January and have lost about 15 pounds. That’s not a whole lot in 8 months, but being back in the 130s for the first time since high school or so has been a great confidence booster for me. With 8 months to go, I’m reasonably confident I’ll hit my 125-pound goal by the time I get married in April!

All in all, I would absolutely recommend Sparkpeople to anyone looking to lose or maintain their weight or just be more conscious about their health and exercise. It’s so much easier for me to lose weight when I can keep track of all of my food intake and exercise output. Once you get in the habit of updating it every day (which, admittedly, can be a pain until you’ve inputted most of the foods you eat on a regular basis), it’s pretty quick and easy to keep it up each day. So if you’re looking to lose weight, sign up at Sparkpeople.com (and friend me if you want, I’m bridget_germain)!

Best App for Losing Weight

Review: Lose It! App (Android, iOS)

I came across this app after discussing weight loss and fitness goals with Alex. He showed me Lose It!, which he was using to gain weight through exercise and calorie tracking. I was looking for something basic that would keep me on track for losing weight. It had to be easy to use and not consume much time in my day in order for me to keep using it. The app I would also be happy if it could sync with my fitbit but I didn’t expect to find that for free. Lose It! seemed to meet all of my criteria in a weight loss/tracking program, so I decided to give it a try.


Price: Free (also has premium version for device syncing)
OS: Android, iOS
Maker: FitNow, Inc.


Pros:
1) Free – This is a free app
2) Previous Meal Feature – If you tend to eat the same meal often this app allows you to find it quickly and add the entire meal or parts of that meal into your current day’s tracker
3) Barcode Scanning – Allows you enter nutrition facts by scanning a food’s bar code
4) Portion Input Options – Many items allow you to choose to put in portions in ounces, cups, fractions of bags, and more. This is great when you have no idea how many ounces something is.
5) Speed – It takes me about 5 minutes a day to input 3 meals plus snacks. That’s fast!
6) Weight Goal Tracking – It calculates when you will reach your goal based on how you have been progressing

Cons:
1) Connecting fitness tracking devices costs money – In order to sync my Fitbit data with Lose It!, I have to upgrade to the paid version of the app.

Summary

This is an extremely useful app for weight loss. I find it to be very easy to use and it only takes about 5 minutes out of my day to input everything. The simplicity is really what makes this app so good. I have no excuses for not putting my daily food intake. Armed with some basic knowledge of calorie counts and weight loss programs, you can use this with great success. I lost 15lbs in the first month!

What’s the Deal with Paleo?

Tips for Success

Written by Erin Cummins
Paleo SaladA few years ago, I had a meeting with my college’s nutritionist where she suggested I go carb-free. (I imagined a police scene: “Step away from the bagels and no one gets hurt!”) So I valiantly embarked alone on a new way of eating, trying to eliminate carbs from my life entirely. It ended, as these things always do, in a wild scuffle for a half-eaten cannoli.

My dreams of making a change were over until a few months ago, when I joined a new gym and was introduced to the Paleo diet: a more “official” version of what I had tried to do before the day of the fateful Cannoli Battle. I have subsequently thrown myself into this lifestyle with the abandon of Honey Boo Boo hopped up on go-go-juice. If you are considering going paleo, here’s what you should know:

What it is (and importantly, what it isn’t).

With the paleo diet, the focus is ostensibly on “eating what our ancestors ate”—and by ancestors, I mean people who actually used their wisdom teeth and for whom a fun Saturday night meant fingerpainting the cave walls. In actuality, the name “Paleo” is just a trendy name for a fairly simple way of eating. The focus is NOT to go out into the wild, battle a dinosaur, and finish it all off with some (hopefully not poisonous) berries—the point is to eat real food, food that hasn’t been overly processed and pumped full of salt, sugar, and fat. The point is to get back to the basics.

There are some other arguments about evolution and our bodies’ capability to handle certain types of foods (namely, grains) but the most salient argument for me is that it’s about putting the “food” back into, and removing the “stuffs” from, our foodstuffs.

What you eat.

Eat what is good for you. Look not at the calorie count, but at the nutritional content of that which you eat. For example, many paleo-eaters will only eat grass-fed beef: they argue that while you can get protein from regular beef, you’re probably not helping yourself out by ingesting pink slime. (Personally, I am not the Lehman Bros, so I eat non-organic/grain-fed meat. That is a sacrifice I’m ok with).

Also, fear not the fat. Healthy fats are good for you! As I understand it, they allow you to store up nutrients in case you get sick, so your body has something to fall back on. Let me put it this way: if you are up against a wall, and have to choose between eating something that’s sugar-free or something that’s fat-free, eat Sugar-Free. Sugar-free foods are supplemented with fats (to make them taste good), and vice versa for fat-free foods. It’s way, way worse to eat sugar than fat. At least fat has something to offer.

How to succeed

1) Do your research. There are a lot of detractors out there (link and link). Not everyone is sold on this lifestyle—and that’s fine. If you are considering switching over, you should read what they have to say (the good as well as the bad), and find out if this is for you.

The other research you need to do is internal: find out how different foods affect you. For me, I discovered that my gross adult acne was tied to eating dairy. If I had never tried cutting it out, I would never have known how nice my skin could be! So try going a few weeks without different food groups and see how your body responds. This is the best way to find the right combinations of foods for yourself. You may find that a strictly paleo diet won’t work for you, but certain modifications are extremely helpful.

2) Get a buddy. If nothing else, you need someone to commiserate with—someone who won’t think you’re insane if you start having dreams of chocolate bars and pasta.

3) Forgive yourself; don’t give up. My Nana likes to tell me that attitude is 90% of life; this is definitely true when it comes to changing your habits. There are many moments where I have to stop and remind myself why I do paleo in the first place (especially going out to dinner; I hate to be that person who has so many specifications to her order!), but in the end I have found that forgiving myself for making mistakes and keeping myself excited about trying new recipes has made this process more “real.” Concurrently, it’s easy to quit something if it feels like a temporary fix; by changing my attitude to realize that this is a permanent change, it’s easier to come back after making a mistake.

4) Use tools: recipes, blogs, cookbooks. The quickest way to lose steam is to eat the same thing every day. When I first started, I got so bored of eating salad every day for lunch, I wanted to stray to sandwiches just to mix things up. The only way to pull myself back in was to find new recipes- eating leftovers became much more satisfying! Creativity doesn’t hurt either; instead of sandwich bread, use lettuce and create mini wraps. Instead of fries, make your own sweet potato fries. There are a lot of great blogs and resources out there. I will be honest though- some of them are not that great because they require you to have fancy food implements, like food processors and stuff. Some people who are really into paleo are also really rich; I have had to modify a lot because (as I may have mentioned before) my last name is not Rockefeller.

5) Listen to great music and read awesome books. This is more general “life-success” advice, but I can’t say enough how Serena Ryder’s Stompa has been able to pull me out of a bad mood. And when I’m happy, I have the energy and desire to take care of myself. So find an anthem. Memorize a poem. Learn about the Peloponnesian War.

Personally, there are a lot of good things that have resulted from my switching over to paleo. For one, I’m no longer feeling guilty that I’m not following “doctor’s orders” (and I’m also not clawing for Italian baked goods… most days!). Another great thing is all the experimentation that I’ve been able to do; having a limited set of ingredients often forces me to find creative ways to mix things up. I’ve also lost weight (which is nice) and gotten stronger (which is nicer). Ultimately, though, for me, the best part of eating this way is connecting to ancient peoples. I don’t mean cavepeople when I say this, by the way- I mean the Ancient Romans (those of you who know me should not be surprised that I brought it all back to Rome). Romans had a common Latin expression, ab ovo usque ad malum, “from the egg to the apple”, essentially meaning from start to finish. Typical Roman dinner parties would have eggs to start off the meal, and apples for a sort of dessert. Since switching to paleo, I have started most days with eggs, and finished each night with a nice snack of an apple- literally living out a proverb from 2000 years ago. This hasn’t been the easiest change in my life, from the egg to the apple I have seen a lot of great results.

Review: Fitbit One

Fitbit OneI bought this fitness tracker as a way to improve/track my physical activity. The hope was that this would motivate me to get up and be more active on a daily basis. My other need was to get a general idea of how much I can eat in a day based on my activity.

I have also had trouble sleeping over the past few years so the sleep tracker was an intriguing feature. This feature turned out to be pretty useless.


Price: $90.87 from Amazon.com
Ownership Length: 3 Months
Buy at Amazon.com (aff)


Pros
1) Dashboard – Adjustable goals, visual tracking, tools for tracking food intake.
2) Size – Very discrete and unnoticeable.
3) Battery Life – I charge it only about once a week from my computer. It also will send you an email when the battery level is low.
4) Weight Loss Plan – The dashboard helps you calculate how many calories you can consume per day based on how quickly you want to lose weight and how much exercise you have gotten.
5) Badges/Milestones – They are a nice reward for your hard work and are not so easy to achieve.

 

Cons
1) Sleep Mode – I thought this would be a worthy feature. However, after the first week or so it ended up not telling me any new information. Plus, every so often it randomly activates in the middle of a day.
2) Android App – The android version is pretty useless. It doesn’t synchronize and sends you late motivational notifications.

Side Note: I don’t use the food tracker because it seems far too time consuming to enter your meals/snacks in every time you eat.

Summary

I am definitely pleased overall with this purchase. It does most of the things that I was looking for and turns fitness into a competition with yourself (and friends). I highly suggest taking the first week with it and setting a baseline by just wearing it The visual graphics definitely help with seeing your progress. The improvements that can be made are on the software side, which means it can be fixed in the near future without having to buy another one.

The one thing to remember is that this only solves half of the weight loss process, by tracking just physical activity on the device. However, it does provide some other tools to help you with the eating part.