Monday, February 13, 2012

SparkPeople: The Best Free Tool for Weight and Wellness Management

I am the sort of person absolutely loath to discuss my attempts at weight loss or wellness with others. It seems as though each time I have to announce my intentions, people are either immediately willing to offer advice (despite being often ill-informed themselves) or to disparage themselves ("I should be working out/dieting/etc. too... oh well"). I don't know about you, but neither of these make me feel any better. Perhaps worst of all is the common gem "you don't need to (insert wellness action here)". While it's said to boost your spirits, it ultimately serves to undermine your resolve or question your support system.

The truth is, almost every last one of us could do with adjusting our dietary plans to better meet our body's needs. Despite this post's title, weight has very little to do with wellness: it's just a number whose value is unique to every individual. However, the loss or gain of weight can be very important in the short term (vacations/weddings/general vanity) or the long term (avoiding diabetes, heart disease, etc). There are literally dozens of diet plans and paid programs that can support you in your weight loss goals, but a major problem still exists: most of us don't find it financially viable to continue these programs for wellness after we reach the "magic number". 

Here's where the most practical and extensive FREE product I have ever found on the internet comes into play. SparkPeople offers "nutrition, health, and fitness tools, support, and resources", as well as a supportive community active in blogging, forums, and non-weight related goal setting. Their success is astonishing, with almost 18.5 MILLION pounds lost as a community. 

So, what does it fail to offer that paid programs do? That's a good question-- and I can't seem to find a concrete answer. SparkPeople offers free diet plans with customization based on caloric needs, vegetarianism, lactose intolerance, and other food allergies. You needn't follow their suggestions to use their daily nutrition tracker, which boasts a huge database with complete nutritional facts for thousands of foods. SparkPeople allows you to track your weight, cardio, and water consumption goals each day. It even offers the option of adding non-health related goals to track (example: spend five minutes talking to a family member each day). There is even a selection of workout videos available for free! What I love most about SparkPeople, though, is its points system. It encourages you to go on daily, read health articles, and try Spark Recipes that are available online, creating a healthy reward system that ultimately makes you feel even better about losing weight or staying well.

While you can find health and wellness tips on hundreds of internet blogs (including this one), a site like SparkPeople hires only professionals to write their articles about fitness, health, and wellness. There are even specialized programs and affiliate sites for diabetics, teenagers, and pregnant women. Best of all, you can participate and communicate as anonymously or openly as you would like, which makes the process far less intimidating or frustrating than it can be with friends or loved ones. While not everyone is working toward a weight goal, everyone can use a helping hand when it comes to keeping wellness in check. Why not check it out and see how it works for you?

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