The SparkPeople Blog

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How Fasting Affects Your Health


Many religions recommend fasting for both spiritual and/or health benefits. All religious fasts are different: Some restrict certain foods, while others only restrict the times of day in which one can eat. Few religious fasts involve a long-term or complete abstinence from food, but no matter what the nature of the fast is, you may wonder just how it really impacts your health.
 
Three religious fasts have been studied the most:
  • Islamic Ramadan: During the holy month of Ramadan, which varies according to the lunar calendar, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.
  • The 3 annual fasting periods for Greek Orthodox Christians:  The Nativity Fast (40 days prior to Christmas), Lent (48 days prior to Easter), and The Assumption (15 days in August).
  • Biblical-Based Daniel Fast:  This fast typically incorporates a 21-day fasting period.
 
Read on to find out how these fasts impact your health and weight-loss efforts.
Posted 3/27/2014  5:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 1 comments   4,477 views
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SparkPeople's Diet & Fitness Tracker App: Now Free At Last!


UPDATE: It's here!

After months of teamwork, SparkPeople is thrilled to offer you an improved version of our popular Diet & Fitness Tracker app (now renamed Calorie Counter & Weight Loss App)--for FREE. Our mission has always been to SPARK millions of PEOPLE to reach their goals and lead healthier lives, and we believe that offering our best food and fitness tracking tools in a free app will help more people than ever before.
 
As of today, our app is free for all Apple (iPhone and iPad) and Android users. You can download the app using the links below (or search for "SparkPeople" in your mobile phone's app store). And to sweeten the deal even more, you'll get 250 SparkPoints just for downloading the app! 
Posted 3/26/2014  3:00:00 PM By: Nicole Nichols : 45 comments   10,672 views
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How to Prevent Muscle Loss When Losing Weight


When starting a weight-loss plan, most of us hope to lose body fat, specifically—not muscle mass. But when we lose weight, a large percentage of the total weight lost can be muscle. Is there any way to reduce that muscle loss?
Posted 3/22/2014  5:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 2 comments   8,178 views
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You Asked: Can You Really Eat Too Much Protein?


For a healthy adult, eating more protein than your recommended daily range once a week or so won't have any major impact on your long-term health or weight loss (assuming you still eat approximately the same amount of calories for the day). Based on your food selections for that day, if you consume a larger-than-normal amount of protein you may notice:
  • A change in bowel habits in the next 24-48 hours (due to a lower fiber intake)
  • A sluggish or light-headed feeling (if you also ate very few carbs)
  • Some abdominal discomfort if your fat intake sky-rocketed
  • No noticeable changes at all
However, you may be wondering how a long-term high-protein diet affects your health in the long run...
Posted 3/21/2014  5:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 15 comments   45,063 views
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You Asked: Are 'Negative Calorie' Foods Real (or Too Good to Be True)?


You might have heard that you can eat as much of you want of certain foods because it takes more energy to burn them than they actually contain. But is it true? Can eating more of these foods really help you lose weight?
Posted 2/28/2014  6:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 2 comments   9,158 views
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6 Smart Ways to Stay on Track This Season


The days are shorter, the weather is colder, and the couch is looking a whole lot comfier. This time of year, attendance at the gym drops and our desires to exercise and eat right fall lower on our priority list. Between back to school, tailgating, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the year-end frenzy at work, Christmas, New Year's and everything in between, it's no wonder we need to "restart" again on January 1.
 
As fall morphs into the busy holiday season, let's choose to make this year different. Let's commit ourselves to just one simple goal to stay on track. You might not be able to do everything perfectly between Halloween and New Year's Eve, but you can do something.
 
SparkPeople has a lot of fun, simple and effective challenges that are the perfect pick-me-up for your program. I would recommend choosing ONE program listed below to focus your efforts. These are all great ways to re-commit this fall and hit the ground running this holiday season!
Posted 10/25/2013  5:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 14 comments   21,630 views
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Is the Junk-Food 'Addiction' Study Junk Science?


"I'm fat because of Oreo cookies!" screamed the woman as she entered the weight-loss class I was coaching last week. In hand, she waved the press release from Connecticut College, which blared the warning, "Oreos are just as addictive as drugs!" 
 
 
"I am addicted to certain foods, just like those rats were addicted to Oreo cookies," she continued on.  "It's supposed to be worse than being addicted to cocaine. How am I ever going to be successful with my weight loss?"
Posted 10/23/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 65 comments   16,386 views
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Join the 30-Day 'Fit Food' Challenge!


Now is the perfect time to kick off a brand new challenge to help you get on your way to your healthiest, fittest self yet: 30 Days of Fit Food. It's a great way to kick the season and head into the holidays (just around the corner!) feeling your best.
Posted 9/26/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Melinda Hershey : 26 comments   84,951 views
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7 Reasons Why You're Going to Fail


That headline got your attention, didn't it? Not to worry, SparkPeople hasn't changed our attitude about healthy living and weight loss. But what we have done, for the first time ever, is compile and publish the very best advice, tips and tricks from our "Success Stories"--more than 100 members who've lost weight and kept it off using SparkPeople.com to accomplish their goals. These members know that how you start to lose weight is the most important indicator of long-term weight loss. They shared their struggles and successes so that you can learn from their experiences and remove the guesswork from weight loss.

We compared their success against people who gave up on weight loss within the first two weeks. And you know what? We found quite a few red flags that determined--from Day 1--whether someone would succeed or fail.

Here are our top 7 signs that someone is going to give up on weight loss--and how to reverse your fate if you have any of these demotivating habits.
Posted 9/16/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 27 comments   16,306 views
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Want the Body of a Fitness Model? Find Out What it Really Takes


My good friend Kelly Booth is a NSCA-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. We met in college (since we had the same major) and worked together as trainers and fitness instructors during school. Kelly has always been fit. She has toned arms, a trim waist, and can kick my butt in the weight room. She even trained for a marathon and ran it all by herself. Obviously, she's dedicated to fitness.

A few years ago, Kelly shocked her friends and family when she decided to compete in a women's figure competition. Unlike female bodybuilding, figure competitors aren't as muscular—they're strong but feminine. But according to most people's standards, they're still pretty ripped. Kelly looked great and was already fit, so I wondered why she wanted to change her body so much. Even though they look like the epitome of fitness, male and female body builders alike do some not-so-healthy things—food restriction, dehydration, overtraining and more. Luckily, Kelly is a smart girl and an experienced trainer. She also had her best friend on board to train with her, as well as an experienced coach to guide her through it.

Over the course of several months, I watched as her body transformed—she developed larger, stronger muscles; reduced her body fat; increased her definition; and suffered through some major dietary restrictions (I've never felt to guilty about eating in front of someone!) to reach her goals. I'll never forget when she told me, "I have abs now; it's kind of disgusting," she laughed. After seven months of hard workouts and diligent dieting, she placed sixth in her class during her very first competition! Go Kelly!

I realize that most of you probably don't want to be body builders or land the cover of a muscle magazine. But most of you DO want to drop body fat, increase muscle tone and look better. I think we often compare ourselves to the women on magazine covers and then lament about our fat thighs or belly rolls in comparison. But what does it really take to look like THEM? And more importantly, is looking like that worth the suffering it takes to get there? I decided to interview Kelly about her experience, and she told me straight up, without sugarcoating it, exactly what how hard it was to stick to her strict diet, what her workouts were like, and how she felt about her body before and after her transformation.
Posted 6/7/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Nicole Nichols : 393 comments   247,557 views
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How to Conquer Your Snack Attack


I’ll admit it up front: I am a snacker. In fact, I have a snack twice a day. My body screams for food around three p.m. every day, even though I make a point to eat breakfast and lunch. If I ignore the hunger, I end up grabbing and devouring handfuls of chips or cookies as soon as I get home around five p.m.  Therefore, I plan ahead and have a non-perishable snack stashed in my desk drawer at all times, usually homemade trail mix.
 
My second snack attack hits in the evening, and is not related to true belly hunger at all.  In the evening, I want to eat food for comfort.  You know what I’m talking about. At the end of a long day, all I seem to want is chocolate ice cream along with my favorite TV show, book or magazine. 
 
There is nothing inherently wrong with snacking. In fact, snacking can help with weight loss by warding off afternoon and evening binge eating.  However, the snack should be factored into your total calorie intake for the day, and should contain about 150 calories. A balanced snack should have about 15-30 grams of carbohydrates and three to five grams of protein.

Unfortunately, this type of healthy snacking is NOT happening in America, for children or adults.  While I know you are probably not really surprised by this statement, you may be surprised at the numbers. 
Posted 6/6/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Becky Hand : 141 comments   99,923 views
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To Beef or Not to Beef?


Red meat gets a bad rap sometimes. Criticized for its high levels of fat and cholesterol, it's been avoided in the diet world for years. However, not all red meat is created equal; when choosing the right cuts in moderation, beef can be a great source of iron, protein and zinc. Between 3 ounces of cooked flank steak and 3 ounces of cooked 80/20% ground beef, which is the leaner choice?
Posted 5/30/2013  10:00:00 AM By: Melinda Hershey : 65 comments   40,634 views
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Most Americans Think Their Diets are Healthy


If you've recently started tracking calories and watching portion sizes, chances are you've been surprised that your morning cereal is really three servings instead of just one. Or that the salad from your favorite restaurant you thought was a healthy option really isn't. It's easy to convince yourself that your diet is fairly healthy until you really start measuring and tracking your food throughout the day. That's why I'm not totally surprised by a new survey that says most Americans consider their diets to be at least "somewhat" healthy.
Posted 5/23/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 173 comments   34,019 views
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Do You Have 'Quick Fix' Dieters In Your Life?


When it comes to losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, everyone has to do what works best for them.  I can give all kinds of reasons why a balanced diet and regular exercise is the way to go.  But in the end, everyone has to find a style of eating and activity that they can live with for the rest of their lives.  It’s not my place to judge whether or not someone is right or wrong if they choose to go about weight loss in a different way.
Posted 5/16/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 73 comments   10,610 views
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Should You Maintain Your Weight before You Lose?


"Weight loss is really hard---but maintaining that weight loss is even harder!"  If anyone out there agrees with this statement; please raise your hand. 
 
That’s what I thought. There are lots of hands held high.  It seems that most people struggle with the yo-yo syndrome: lose the weight, gain the weight, lose the weight, gain the weight.  But, what’s a dieter to do?  Perhaps it is time to put the cart before the horse.
 
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine recently conducted a "switcharoo" when it came to weight loss and weight maintenance.  They took 267 overweight and obese females and divided them into two groups.  The control group went through a traditional 20-week weight-loss program followed by an eight-week maintenance phase. 

The test group went through the eight-week maintenance phase first, and then focused on weight loss for 20 weeks.  The results were surprising to say the least, and significant.  While each group lost about the same amount of weight--17 pounds or 9% of their initial body weight--the "maintenance-first" group only gained back three pounds at their one-year follow-up but the "weight loss first" group had gained back seven pounds, on average. 
 
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it!  But guess what?  Those women who first spent eight weeks mastering the tools, techniques and skills for weight maintenance were better equipped mentally and physically to handle the day-in, day-out struggle of their toxic food environment after the 28-week program was completed.  Are you itching to discover how?  
Posted 4/11/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Becky Hand : 110 comments   33,765 views
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