Chris "SparkGuy" Downie (SPARKGUY)

The Most Popular Low-Carb Recipe on SparkRecipes

Hello, SparkPeople Members!

I hope you are having a good start to December! I'm back this week to share fun recipe information with you.

SparkRecipes.com History

A guiding principle at SparkPeople is to build features that will authentically help people reach their goals. That's exactly how we came to build SparkRecipes into one of the larger recipe websites on the Internet. In our early days, we realized that many people didn't like to or didn't know how to cook healthy meals. We knew that it was possible to learn how to cook simple dishes that both taste great AND provide your body with the nutrition needed to reach your goals.

This is why we started SparkRecipes.com. The site now has more than 500,000 recipes with millions of ratings by members. The recipes are both searchable and grouped in major categories to help you easily find what you need.

I personally love slow-cooker recipes. Slow-cooker meals are a triple-win because they are simple to prepare, taste amazing, and can be very nutritious. As a bonus, they make for great leftovers that you can even freeze. My family puts our slow cooker to regular use. 

Posted 12/14/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 0 comments   1,498 views

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One Easy Trick for a More Productive Day

Hello, SparkPeople Members!

First, thanks a bunch for all of the great comments about my chickens last week! I thought this would be a fun way to share part of the healthy lifestyle we're trying to lead, thanks to my wife who initiated this project. Hopefully this sparks you to keep searching for healthy habits one at a time to fit into your lifestyle (since I know not many people will be able to raise chickens). As a quick update, I'm happy to announce that Snoozy laid her first egg this week! She is our most timid chicken of the flock. This already seems to be giving her more confidence to stand up for herself, which is important because she's at the bottom of the pecking order and can get picked on. 

Plan to Plan (SparkTime!)

Today I want to share what I believe is one of the best ways to reach any goal: developing a simple planning system that works for you to increase your organizational skills. I KNOW this sounds boring (I can hear some groans). But a major point about doing the right "boring" tasks consistently is that it really can change your life.

One reason I'm sharing this today is that I hit a fun milestone this week as a result of more dedication to my own planning system. I crossed 100 days for my streak of spinning the SparkPoints login wheel -- WooHoo! This may be the longest login streak I've had. In the past, I have been on the site just about every day interacting with members and tracking my goals, but sometimes I would forget to spin the wheel and would lose my streak. This streak is now meaningful to me because it's a daily visual reminder of my commitment to both planning and reaching my goals.

What was different this time? It's simple. About 3-4 months ago, I got very serious about my daily planning -- especially setting aside time in the morning as a "plan to plan" session I call "SparkTime". There are many types of strategies for planning, but I use a simple spreadsheet and set up a template with daily tasks broken into 5 categories or columns. Then I follow this simple process each day:

1) Each morning, I copy the template into a new section for that day and add priorities for the day like work projects I need to complete
2) I have a section in the spreadsheet called "Priority Goals" where I put the next few tasks I want to do
3) When completed, I move that task to the completed section
4) I have a notes section where I make notes about anything that happens that day

My "tasks" can be incredibly small. Examples include:
* Spin the SparkPoints Wheel
* Work on X project at work (like writing this email!)
* Eat breakfast (otherwise I forget)
* Do at least 10 minutes of fitness (in the morning, if possible)

This simple process keeps me on track and almost acts as a coach. When I move a task to the completed section, this is like a small reward. Seeing tasks on this list keeps me accountable.

This way, my mind doesn't get cluttered with a bunch of details, and I'm free to do more thinking about bigger projects like fun new enhancements we're working on for the site and apps.

Are you ready to give this a try? Here's a friendly challenge: can you build a SparkPoints login streak that represents your desire to reach goals?

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Click to my blog to see a sample of the spreadsheet I use for planning to make this easier to visualize. Also, feel free to share fun ways you keep track of your daily planning!

If you want more motivation about the power of consistency, take a look at my free new Mini-Book if you haven't seen it yet.

SparkPoints!

I got Paul from our engineering team to add our "Get Your SparkPoints" button to this email. Now, each week, you can click the SparkPoints button below and receive 3 points. Or, just click this link now to test this out and help me set a new record for clicks from this email -- thanks for your support!

Weekly Check-In

Check-in time! Click to this blog and share any small steps you took to reach your goals the prior week OR a goal you have for the upcoming week.

Have a great week everyone!

SparkCheers!

SparkGuy

Chris (SparkGuy)

Posted 11/23/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 1 comments   5,886 views

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These Adorable Sleepy Chickens Will Make You Smile

Hello, SparkPeople Members!

I hope you had a great week! After a more serious topic last week about Seasonal Affective Disorder, I'm back this week with a lighter and fun topic: my chickens!

Have you ever seen a sleepy chicken? If not, read on and I'll show you some cute, sleepy chickens getting ready for bed. 

Posted 11/16/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 11 comments   5,408 views

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'Tis the Season: How to Cope with SAD

Autumn is here! Unfortunately, with the darker days and colder temperatures, autumn also ushers in an unpleasant side effect for a large number of people: Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

I have a mild form of SAD and know that it impacts me in a few ways, so I'm on a mission to help others since many people don't even realize they have this issue--and even those who do might not know there are simple treatment options. Let's see how many people we can help together! 

Posted 11/9/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 11 comments   10,317 views

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The Most Motivating Video You'll See All Week

I never imagined that a Lebron James TV commercial could make me well up with tears...

Non-sports fans: please give me a chance to show how this is relevant for all of us :)

This past Thursday night, my boys and I watched Lebron's first game back with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Just before the game, a commercial started playing. As the concept in the commercial unfolded, I immediately thought, "This is one of the best commercials ever." I'm sure millions of other people had a similar thought at the same time.

By the next morning, I realized I had to scrap the original idea I had for today's blog and instead write about this commercial (my editor doesn't know that yet -- haha).

Even if you have already seen this Nike TV commercial, watch it again from a different perspective.

Posted 11/2/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 9 comments   8,573 views

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An Easy Step to Reach Big Breakthroughs

Editor's Note: This blog is part of our "Hello from SparkGuy" series--a weekly post where SparkGuy himself stops by to motivate, inspire and share a bit about what's going on at SparkPeople. 

Hello, SparkPeople Members!

The crisp autumn weather is here (at least where I am in California). I hope everyone had a great week, taking one positive step at a time to reach your goals. As a warning, I'm about to brag about one of my kids, but hopefully you'll agree it's for a good reason :). I love sharing growth they experience with you.

Motivation in a Minute

This quick story about one of my boys demonstrates how taking small steps one at a time can lead to fun breakthroughs in life. 

Posted 10/26/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 3 comments   8,155 views

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How to Get Back Up When You're Down

Editor's Note: This blog is part of our "Hello from SparkGuy" series--a weekly post where SparkGuy himself stops by to motivate, inspire and share a bit about what's going on at SparkPeople. 

Hello, SparkPeople Members!

I hope last week went well and you are ready for another good week ahead! With the holidays quickly approaching, life can get very busy. Let's all keep taking small steps one at a time to reach our goals for the last 70 days (or so) left this year. Don't give up on reaching goals this year. Instead, make every day count!

Motivation in a Minute

I read this great quote on Quora yesterday:

"When we hit our lowest point, we are open to our greatest change." (From the TV show Avatar.)

This is a brilliant quote that illustrates a major point I make in the free 10+ Fitness Minutes Mini-Book: all it takes is a few small positive steps when we are down (which happens to all of us) to start building a virtuous cycle back up. It also clearly demonstrates how mistakes can be great learning experiences. (This is coming from someone with a history of anxiety who doesn't like making mistakes, but now values the process when it inevitably happens :)). Any time you are down for any reason, make a mistake, or somehow stray from your goals, just keep this quote in mind and immediately start thinking about one positive step you can take. Examples would be: eating one healthy food, doing 10 or more fitness minutes at home, calling a friend, or even posting in the SparkPeople Community to receive support. 

Posted 10/19/2014  12:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 3 comments   10,144 views

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Announcing the Launch of SparkAmerica!

Update 12/17/13 2 p.m.: Check out this Washington Post story about SparkAmerica, featuring an interview with Chris Downie!

Hello, SparkPeople members!
 
I’m here to share with you the launch of our SparkAmerica campaign.  This is one of my favorite projects we’ve ever launched, so I took some time to try my best to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re trying to do with this campaign. I'd love to hear any feedback or questions in the comments on this post!
 
Setting the Stage: How to Think about SparkAmerica
First, I want to set the stage for how you can think about this project.  As you know, we like having different types of challenges on the site as a way to motivate members to reach their goals.  Examples of challenges can include:  eating more fruits and veggies, submitting a crockpot recipe to win a prize, learning a new exercise, and many more.
 
This emphasis on challenges fits well with the underlying SparkPeople brand and program that integrates these two areas:

  1. The best of all areas of health and fitness
  2. The best of behavior change – including goal-setting,  motivation, leadership, fun, and more
We have seen that the integration of these two main areas has been key to our success in helping to transform the lives of tens of thousands of people over the past decade – where challenges are a great way to emphasize setting goals, getting motivated, having fun, showing leadership, and more.
 
As you read about SparkAmerica below, just keep in your mind that SparkAmerica is really just a giant challenge we’re building into the site in several fun ways.  In fact, when I tell the full history of SparkAmerica, I love sharing how this concept originated from a small challenge started by members in the SparkPeople community!
 
What Is SparkAmerica?
Now that you understand that SparkAmerica is simply a new type of challenge on the site, I want to share that we think this challenge could become so BIG that it grows into a national and international grassroots movement that is led by SparkPeople members!
 
Here’s how we are describing SparkAmerica to many large partners coming on board:
SparkAmerica: A National Movement to Spark America’s Health and Health Leadership
"We are bold enough to believe we can change America, but humble enough to know we need help—continued help from our many millions of visitors...and
help from visionary leaders and organizations across America."

–Chris Downie, Founder, SparkPeople
We’ve all seen the statistics: 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Only 22% of us report regular physical activity. $495 billion in lost economic productivity due to health-related issues per year.
 
At SparkPeople, we believe our nation’s health problems are just as much a leadership issue as a health issue. By looking at the situation from this perspective, we have developed an innovative solution that has never been done before.
 
SparkAmerica is a campaign championed by SparkPeople and our 15 million members that aims to improve the health of all Americans in a sustainable way.
**
One of the big points of this language builds on what I mentioned earlier: that the underlying SparkPeople program integrates the best of health and fitness with the best of goal-setting, motivation, leadership, and more.  In other words, SparkPeople + our amazing members may truly be ideally suited to lead this movement!
 
We’ve been incredibly excited that many visionary leaders and organizations are signing on to be partners with SparkAmerica in some way.  I’ll be sharing more about this with you soon.
 
But, I’ll let you in on a secret.  I strongly believe that our most important partner in this campaign is YOU and every other current and future SparkPeople member.  After watching so many people transform their lives on the site over the past decade, I KNOW that individuals working together are the real key to building a grassroots movement.  And I know that with many of the new features and programs we’re launching as part of SparkAmerica that we now have the right formula to bring this all to life right now in a way that will help motivate you to reach your goals, possibly help the people most important to you (your friends, family, co-workers, and social network). And then, if we have enough individuals working together on this, that is what really could make an impact on one community at a time, scaling up to cities, states, many other countries, and the world.
 
Read on to see how we’ll make this happen...
 
What Programs Are Included in SparkAmerica?
As you know, we love SparkPoints!  We originally developed this rewards program because we want it to be fun and motivational for people to take one small step at a time to reach their goals—and ultimately reach goals you may have never thought possible.

1. The comprehensive SparkPeople weight-loss and fitness program
One of the best parts about this new SparkAmerica campaign is that the most basic thing you need to do to participate is to just take one step at a time to reach your goals on the site.  We will then take your SparkPoints and fitness minutes you earn as part of reaching your goals and do something very fun and exciting with those points and fitness minutes that I’ll describe in the next section.

2. The 60-Second Daily Check-In
A new program we are launching along with SparkAmerica is something we’re calling the 60-Second Daily Check-In. Here is the thinking behind that option:  Whenever we get together with SparkPeople members in person, they tell us that they share the site with all of their friends.  They say that many of their friends will tell them that SparkPeople is great and they become SparkFriends.  But, they also say that some of their friends aren’t looking to participate in a comprehensive program like SparkPeople. So, for a long time, we’ve wanted to strip out the best of what we offer (tracking tools; articles & videos from experts; and our supportive online community) and build a very simple program that anyone can use to reach their goals—even if they don’t want to track their foods or lose weight, for example. This program is essentially a slightly modified version of the SparkPeople.com Start page that emphasizes easy fitness-minute tracking instead of daily food tracking.

Since this SparkAmerica challenge is all about encouraging everyone to take action, we aggregate everyone’s SparkPoints and fitness minutes from both programs and bring them together.  Next, I’ll show you what we’re doing that is fun and innovative!
 
SparkAmerica Leaderboards & Challenges
This section is where all of this comes together into something new and exciting that nobody has ever attempted before.
 
Several years ago in our hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, we did a small beta test called SparkCincinnati. It ended up being so fun that we knew we wanted to make this a national and international challenge at some point.  Now is the time!
 
Here is how the SparkAmerica leaderboards will work: A key part of the challenge is that we’ll have members select their “favorites” from many different categories including city, state, employer, favorite sports teams, favorite celebrities or athletes, non-profits, universities and schools, and more. One key new point about these SparkTeams like your favorite city and state is that you don’t need to be active in the actual SparkTeam in order to join or support it.  Instead, you are simply indicating that this Team is one of your favorites that you support (additional participation in SparkTeam community is completely optional).
 
Next, the SparkPoints and fitness minutes earned by members will be aggregated and applied to all of their selected Teams. We will then rank the Teams in each category and publish ongoing leaderboards. This framework will become a platform for countless types of challenges all over America in a way never done before. SparkPeople has seen that this type of friendly competition is a great way to motivate people to reach goals.
 
Another fun feature we launched to help you feel even more connected to your favorite Teams is the “Team Bonus Points” feature (Step 3 on your SparkPeople Start page).  As you earn SparkPoints throughout the day, you will earn Bonus Spins so that you can give extra points to your favorite Teams to help them rise on the leaderboards.  Our goal with this feature is to have a simple and fun way to connect you with your real-world affinities as a way to stay motivated to reach your goals by helping support your teams.
 
Some examples of SparkAmerica Leaderboard Challenges will include:
 
  • Healthy Leader Challenges ranking individual fitness minutes and SparkPoints
  • City Challenges
  • Sports Team Fan Challenges
  • Corporate Challenges
  • Fans of Celebrities & Athletes
  • School and University Challenges
  • Mom Challenges (where Moms across America come together to help the children of America to end childhood obesity)
  • Health and Fitness Professional Challenges
  • Rallying Cry Challenges that everyone strives to reach together (an example could be for all SparkPeople members to reach 10 billion fitness minutes in 2014)
In addition to many types of ongoing leaderboards, we will also do many shorter-term challenges like:
  • Challenges between two cities during the week that their sports teams play each other
  • Short-term goal challenges around some part of the SparkPeople program
How to Get Involved
The great part about SparkAmerica is that just by using SparkPeople.com as a way to help you reach your goals, you are involved with the challenge.  But here are simple ways you can take this involvement to the next level:
  1. Select your favorite SparkTeams. Be motivated by the fact that reaching your goals will help your favorite teams rise on the leaderboards.
  1. Use the site to reach your goals.
  1. Spread the Spark (more on that below) about this to anyone you know. Now your friends can participate on SparkPeople using either the existing SparkPeople.com program, or the new 60-Second Daily Check-In if they want a simpler experience.
  1. Share SparkPeople content with your social networks (Facebook, Pinterest and more). Our healthy and motivational stories could be that small “spark” that changes someone’s life!
 
Here are some examples for how you might Spread the Spark:
 
  • SparkTeams: Help your favorite Teams (cities, sports teams, employer, etc.) rise on the leaderboards by spreading the spark to anyone you know who also is a fan of that Team.  This can be a fun and simple way to introduce your friends to SparkPeople
  • Companies/Organizations: If you work at a company or are involved in any other type of organization (like a church, school, non-profit, etc.), you can consider starting a SparkTeam for that organization and then being the “SparkAmerica Champion” for that organization.  With the launch of the 60-second daily check-in, SparkPeople now has something to offer to anyone in an organization!
  • You! We realize that sometimes members will heavily use SparkPeople.com for a while to reach a weight-loss goal and then they might stop using the site. With more emphasis on simple ways to stay engaged with SparkPeople that go far beyond weight loss, we hope that members will stay more engaged with the site for longer periods of time.  The important part about this is that this simple consistency—even if it takes only 60 seconds per day—can build your momentum over time to reach goals you might have never thought possible!
Note to International Members
Our goal is to build out this challenge one step at a time. So, the first step is to launch in the U.S., our home country.  But we are very passionate about bringing this challenge to many countries around the world.  Our first step is to provide a leaderboard for all other countries.  A next step will be to build out those leaderboards into specific country challenges like SparkCanada, SparkUK, etc.  Another next step will be to reach out to possible large partners in other countries for help.  Please remember we’re still a small team trying to do our best to help as many people as we can, so stay tuned for more steps for additional countries.  Our real goal is to Spark the entire world!
 
We welcome your questions and feedback about SparkAmerica. Please comment below with any thoughts or questions about whether SparkAmerica makes sense to you, what you like about it or anything else!

Posted 12/11/2013  5:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 31 comments   17,955 views

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Great News: The Spark Solution is Now in Stores! (Help Us Spread the Word)

Today is a pretty big day here at SparkPeople. Our new book, The Spark Solution: A Comprehensive Two-Week Diet Program to Fast Track Weight Loss and Total Body Health, is officially available. WooHoo!

This isn’t our first book, but this is a major first for us: For the first time ever, we have published 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.

To celebrate the release of The Spark Solution in stores, we're giving the first 1,000 people who buy the book in a store a special BONUS gift. Why are we asking you to buy in a store? We think this book has serious potential to change lives, but to do that we are asking for your help to reach the best-sellers list. When people buy our book in a store, we have a better chance of getting on the best-sellers list, and impacting even more people!

Posted 5/9/2013  6:00:00 PM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 41 comments   70,432 views

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Big News from SparkGuy: 'The Spark Solution' Available for Pre-Order

At SparkPeople, it's really hard to keep a secret. Our news is usually so good that we want to share it with you, our members, as soon as possible. But this secret is BIG and finally the time has come for me to share the news with you!
SparkPeople wrote another book!

The Spark Solution is a two-week diet program to jump-start weight loss and total body health. The idea behind it is simple: Why waste time experimenting with weight-loss tactics that don't work? With The Spark Solution, you could spend the next two weeks jump-starting your weight loss and setting yourself up for long-term success. Whether you want to lose 10, 50, or 100 pounds, this book will set you up for a lifetime of healthy living by helping change the way you think about weight loss and setting goals that you'll stick with.
 
With The Spark Solution, you'll get:

  • A three-part plan to make over your mindset and optimize your metabolism while building momentum that will allow you to reach your weight-loss goals
     
  • 14 days of 1,500-calorie eating plans, with three easy, delicious meals a day plus two snacks--packed with foods that will keep you satisfied  while helping you burn calories
     
  • A program based on research into what worked for our most successful members--and what didn't work for those who gave up early on
     
  • A custom workout plan from Coach Nicole that helps you maximize your efforts--without spending hours in the gym
     
  • Dozens of delicious and filling ALL-NEW SparkSwaps recipes (created by Chef Meg) that are ready in 30 minutes or less
     
  • Daily motivation to keep your enthusiasm high, tips from people who've lost weight and kept it off, plus the latest research in nutrition and goal setting distilled into simple actions that will help you reconsider how you think about healthy living
And it's from the SparkPeople experts you know and trust. The book was written by our head dietitian Becky Hand and editorial director Stepfanie Romine, but it was really a team effort. I wrote the introduction. Coach Nicole developed the workout plan. Chef Meg created the recipes. Coach Dean contributed to the motivation section. And all of you contributed in some way. We surveyed our most successful members to find out what worked and what didn't--and that became the basis of the program our experts created for the book. You are "The Spark Solution"!

The Spark Solution will be releasing on May 7 in both hardcover and e-book versions, but you can get over $45 in FREE gifts (including 500 SparkPoints) by pre-ordering your copy today!

Posted 3/1/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Chris "SparkGuy" Downie : 35 comments   15,565 views

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