SparkPeople reviews extol the breadth and depth of the online supports designed to help members lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles, and they hold out special praise for the large and active member community. The site is associated with a book, The Spark Solution, which earns a solid four stars at Amazon, where SparkPeople reviewers report they have lost 50 pounds and more and learned to make regular exercise an ongoing habit. Moreover, adherents add, SparkPeople recipes are varied, easy, and tasty, and the online tracking tools for things like nutrition, weight, and fitness keep them informed and motivated. Reviewers also value the surprisingly simple and understandable approach that downplays the notion of dieting and boosts the concept of long-term fitness and health, all underlined with reams of information and customizable tools. Four mobile apps for iOS and Android devices let users keep tabs on their goals and find workout routines and recipes at any time or place.
Members of the online community (sign up for free) can join one of the many SparkTeams organized by criteria such as age, location, hobby, or favorite exercise regimen. Although the early stages take commitment and the transition can be tough, participants report at Diets in Review that the cheerleading, reinforcement, and advice provided by like-minded people helps them stay with it. SparkPeople members earn SparkPoints for remaining involved and completing tasks on the site, and can use the points to enter into friendly competition with others and to send electronic gifts. Although SparkPeople is really an online program, some members join offline exercise-focused meet-ups that have been facilitated by the community forums.
Basically, the SparkPeople diet plan focuses on changing daily habits in the service of a healthy lifestyle. The SparkDiet is divided into four stages: Fast Break, Healthy Diet Habits, Lifestyle Change, and Spread the Spark. The first lays the foundation -- finding achievable nutrition, fitness, and motivation goals that suit a personal profile and can be reached in two weeks. With a few good habits in place, step two involves the diet part of the plan whose core is fewer calories in than out (that is, burn off those calories); this phase comes with a recommended daily calorie limit based on the member’s personal data. There are no particular off-limit foods but the site lets users track the nutritional content of whatever they eat and stresses portion control and drinking lots of water. The third step involves incorporating the new learnings as a constant in their lives, identifying potential setbacks and how to overcome them, and finding healthy ways to reward progress. Step four asks followers to give back by providing other members with advice and encouragement.
The SparkPeople program also appears in book form. The Spark draws on members’ experiences and contains motivational techniques and food and exercise recommendations. The Spark Solution is geared toward beginners who don’t yet know how to count calories or understand how different foods affect their body. Although the books can be used on their own, they’re most effective when augmented by the SparkPeople website.
This is an online program, and the lack of face-to-face accountability may be hard for some dieters. The lack of rigid rules and the massive amount of information may also pose a challenge. Still, SparkPeople meets the needs of beginners, those who have been living a healthy lifestyle for years, and everyone in between. Its members are fervent believers. There’s no cost to join -- or to drop out if it all seems a bit much. In other words, it can’t hurt to give it a try.