SparkPeople.com, a free, online weight loss and fitness application, might truly be the best thing to hit the Internet in a long, long time. SparkPeople launched in 2002 as a FREE way “to help millions of people reach their goals using health and fitness as a springboard to success” but somehow I’ve only found it now, four years later.
SparkPeople was founded by Chris “Sparky” Downie, one of the architects of Up4Sale.com, and Ebay’s first acquisition right before it went public. Presumably this left Chris pretty comfortable financially, and he was able to start development of SparkPeople.com, his long-time passion, when he left Ebay three years later.
SparkPeople boasts a clean, if somewhat dated, design and an intuitive interface, but the sheer amount of information may overwhelm some people. Even though SP advocates taking your time and getting to know the site, it took me over a month to work up the desire to wade through all the information.
A wizard makes the initial set up quite easy, and once your current weight, target weight, fitness level, and nutritional preferences are entered, a meal plan and nutrition and fitness targets are generated. (A note on the nutritional preferences: While I found the options to be quite flexible, i.e. vegetarian, low-cholesterol, etc., I was disappointed that low-sugar/diabetic choice wasn’t offered.)
SparkPeople is so feature-and-content rich that it would be impossible to accurately review it in anything less than a volume the size of War and Peace, so this examination will focus on just the highlights.
In addition to a comprehensive food database that contains over 10,000 entries, including fast-food and name brands, SP includes a food journal to track your daily food intake. From this input, SP will calculate your total calories, fat, carbohydrates, and any other nutrient you’d like to track. If you’re not near a computer at mealtime (who is?) and you own a camera phone (who doesn’t?), you can email a photo of your meal to your account so you can enter an accurate accounting later. Both the food journal and meal planner are flexible and allow you to add your own foods and meals. In addition, a bank of healthy recipes is included and can be added individually to your meal plan.
Motivation & Goal Setting
Goal setting and staying motivated are an integral component to the SparkPeople concept. As mentioned in a SparkPeople article, most diets just tell you what to eat and don’t even address the #1 roadblock to weight loss – lack of motivation. SparkPeople.com counters this obstacle by teaching users to start small and develop effective diet strategies. A thriving user community provides support and encouragement along the way.
The points system provides additional motivation, and of course, the comprehensive progress reports offer great feedback.
SparkPeople boasts an impressive library of fitness articles. In addition, there are illustrations and videos that demonstrate the proper technique. Exercises are categorized as beginner or advanced and require little, if any, equipment. (Medicine balls, Swiss balls, and a towel are the three props utilized.) Exercises can be tracked in the fitness log, and like the food log, users can use the prepackaged exercises, or add their own. Reports can be generated from the log results.
This is where SparkPeople really excels. Personalized pages, a la MySpace, allow users to chronicle their weight loss, post photos, and blog. Lively message boards provide a positive place for users to offer encouragement and tips to each other, while the journal feature sets aside some virtual quiet time for reflection. There’s also a Diet Buddy forum where users can partner with another user with similar goals.
Track nutrition, fitness, and weight goals using SparkPeople’s extensive collection of printable reports, including weight, measurements, water intake, exercise frequency, and goal setting.
All in all, this is by far the most useful fitness site on the web. If you’re looking to lose weight, you can’t go wrong here.
Note: If you do decide to join, consider listing me as your referrer. Even though there’s no reward as such, I really am coveting that next level’s icon (think of it as profile bling) and SparkPeople awards 10 points for each member referred. While you’re at it, add me (daniesq) as a friend. No points are offered for adding friends, I believe, but I’d welcome your company!