SparkPeople Community Director and Fitness Coach

Jen Mueller left her first career in corporate finance to earn a master's degree in health education. She is a busy mom of four and holds a number of fitness certifications (including ACE's Health Coach, Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist and Behavior Change Specialist). She is passionate about helping people reach their health and fitness goals. In her spare time, Jen loves running, kickboxing and spending time with her family. Jen enjoys blogging about raising healthy children and how small behavior changes can impact health and quality of life.

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Work Out When It's Dark Out With These 7 Motivational Tips

There are so many things to love about fall—the leaves changing color, roasting marshmallows over the backyard firepit, the comfortable temperatures—yet the one thing about fall that leaves many struggling to stay consistent with a regular workout routine is fewer hours of daylight. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and you can still see the moon in the dark sky of your bedroom window, it's hard to jump out of bed full of energy and ready to sweat. When you plan a workout after work and realize you'll need to pull out the reflective gear to be seen, your comfy couch can be a tempting alternative. 

Posted 11/24/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 335 comments   1,219,022 views

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7 Tips to Help Any Night Owl Become a Morning Person

If you're someone who feels most productive long after the sun has set, the idea that you could become a morning person might seem impossible. Perhaps you've tried in the past to get your day started early, only to find yourself hitting the snooze button so many times you lost count. Or, if you did make it out of bed, you felt yourself dragging for a few hours before your first cup of coffee finally hit.

Posted 11/20/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 463 comments   865,737 views

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Isn't It Time You Stepped Out of Your Comfort Zone?

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." T.S. Eliot

You might think of adventure as something reserved for those with little responsibility who thrive on chaos and live for adrenaline. The truth is that everyone needs a little adventure in their lives to help them grow in happiness and good health. According to research, the desire to seek new experiences is a natural human tendency—and that includes experiences related to your health and wellness. Adrenaline junkie or not, we all need to shake up the routine now and then.

Don't let the term "adventure" lead you to believe you should start planning your climb up Mount Everest or scuba diving with sharks. According to Chris Englert, founder of Eat Walk Learn, adventure isn't as much of an activity as it is a state of mind. "With an adventurous state of mind, curiosity comes out and activity soars. It can be as simple as strapping on your walking shoes and discovering your city." Englert believes that adventure begins the moment you think up an idea. "To find your next adventure, dig into your thoughts. Do you have a bucket list? Have you watched a show or read a book that has inspired you? Start there," she suggests.

Being Adventurous Has Its Advantages

Feeling invigorated and actively engaged in life. "After [finding a job out of college], we sometimes become more deeply ingrained in our routines, which help us navigate our lives successfully," explains social worker Arthur Anderson. "For better or worse, these routines sometimes do not allow for enough variability within our lives." Anderson asserts that everyone's idea of adventure is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all version of what constitutes an adventurous experience. "Choosing an experience that is slightly outside of your normal but still allows you to feel safe and supported is very important. Going too far outside of your comfort zone can have the opposite intended effects." 

Allowing your curiosity to breathe. "This curiosity leads to active lifestyles, engaged friendships and interactive experiences," Englert says. "In turn, we develop more compassion, empathy and patience with the world, ultimately leading to a more peaceful existence."

Limiting feelings of stagnancy. Anderson points out that feelings of stagnancy can come from one's job, routine or feeling as though you can't engage in activities you once enjoyed. "Stimulating feelings of adventure can help counteract these feelings of stagnancy by reinvigorating past interests and fostering new ones."

Personal growth. Learning and developing new skills is a lifelong process. By pushing your limits, you might not always succeed, but you will likely learn something new about yourself. Don't hesitate to try new things because you're afraid to fail. Instead, think of those experiences as stepping stones to success.

Choose Your Own Adventure

If an adventurous mindset doesn't come naturally to you, never fear! "All you have to do is commit to making one change," advises entrepreneur Rebecca Binnendyk. This could mean telling family and friends you're focusing on your health when you usually keep those goals to yourself, or taking the exercise class that has always looked interesting but intimidating. "It might be putting aside $100 to buy the bike you keep saying you want to ride to work to get into better shape," says Binnendyk. "[Take] action, even if it feels different or uncomfortable. In fact, the more uncomfortable it feels, the more adventurous it probably is and the more rewarding the outcome will likely be."

When you're ready to step out of your comfort zone, consider starting with these simple ideas:

  • Experiment with recipes from other cultures.
  • Find new ways to take care of your mental health. Taking a yoga class, setting up a meeting with a therapist or starting a daily meditation practice are all good places to start.
  • Volunteer with an organization with a mission you believe in.
  • Try a new workout. Who knew kickboxing could be so fun?
  • Say "yes" when your first reaction is to say "no."
  • Check out a new genre of music.
  • Ask someone new to join you for a workout.
  • Change up your routine. Work out in the morning instead of at night, or pack your lunch instead grabbing the usual takeout.
  • Try a food you'd ordinarily decline. If it's been 10 years, it's time to give salmon another try.
  • Become a mentor. Inspiring others can inspire you.

When it comes to your health and wellness, the possibilities are endless for big and small adventures. All you need is a little courage and one step forward to dive into something new.

Posted 8/3/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 153 comments   56,376 views

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6 Budget-Friendly Ways to Work Out at Home

You've seen the infomercials for fancy treadmills, stationary bikes with screens for streaming workouts and professional-grade strength equipment. If only you had thousands of dollars to spare, you'd be able to get a quality workout without ever leaving home.

Although unlimited income or a gym membership offer access to a wide variety of exercise options, it's not a necessity to get fit. In fact, you can use the privacy and convenience of home to create a budget-friendly workout routine that works for you. Often the challenge isn't what equipment to buy, but rather, what to do with it once you get it home.  By learning a few basic movements, you can start simple, slowly building in complexity and difficulty to get stronger and healthier.

Posted 6/25/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 173 comments   187,882 views

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Hit the Trails With These 7 Pro Hiking Tips

Did you know there are almost 200,000 miles of trails on federal land in the United States? From steep and rugged terrains to flat, well-traveled routes, there is something for anyone who wants to get out and enjoy the fresh air. Not only is a trail run or hike great exercise, research shows that spending time outside is associated with good health and well-being.

Before you head out on a new outdoor adventure, though, there are a few things you should know. Trail running and walking aren't quite the same as traversing paved surfaces, so it's important to be prepared. With the right equipment and expectations, you can enjoy all the benefits that your local trails have to offer.

Posted 6/15/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 207 comments   100,717 views

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3 Important Things to Know Before Starting a Walking Program

That walking trail at the local park has been calling your name since you moved into your house, and your co-workers have already told you how much they love their weekly walking group. You know the benefits and you know you'll love it if you could just get started—but you're not sure exactly how to do that.

Walking is the perfect form of physical activity for many reasons, and the fact that it's accessible to almost everyone is at the top of our list. Whether you're just getting started or want to take your race walking to the next level, it can be a challenging activity for any fitness level when done right. But it's not just as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. To get a proper workout from walking, there are three important questions you'll want to answer before you tie up your sneakers.

Posted 5/28/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 213 comments   596,813 views

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How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Running Mistakes

One foot in front of the other. On the surface, running seems like a simple activity.  In reality, though, it's not that easy. Without the proper footwear, clothing, warm-up and training, you risk injury, and frankly, a miserable experience.  

The right gear and plan can make running a positive addition to any workout routine—just don't repeat the same mistakes many runners, both new and experienced, often make.

Posted 5/7/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 190 comments   101,347 views

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5 Foam-Rolling Moves Your Muscles Will Appreciate

Stretching is stretching, right? Not according to people who swear by foam rolling. The foam roller is a simple, inexpensive tool that can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your exercise routine. Whether you're looking for a new way to warm up before a workout or you need to stretch tight muscles, reduce soreness and recover quicker, the foam roller can help.

Used as a form of self-myofascial release, foam rollers can help reduce muscle tension while also increasing flexibility. If you're a beginner and have any injuries or chronic conditions (such as fibromyalgia), make sure you get clearance from your doctor before starting a regular foam rolling routine. Take things slowly if you're new to the foam roller because the process can be uncomfortable, especially if muscles are tight. Start with shorter sessions and move gently through each exercise. It shouldn’t feel comfortable when you’re rolling, but also shouldn’t feel painful. Mild discomfort with steady pressure is usually appropriate.  

Luckily, you don't need to carve out lots of extra time for foam rolling. Using the foam roller for just 10 minutes, two to three times per week will improve range of motion and reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Get started with these five exercises that are guaranteed to hit your muscles in all the right places. 


Sit tall on the floor with legs out in front of you, left ankle crossed over the right and toes pointed up toward the ceiling. Place the foam roller under your right ankle and place palms on the floor at your sides, lifting your backside off the ground. Roll your right calf from ankle to knee three to five times. Repeat with toes pointed inward, then toes pointed out before switching to the other leg.


Sit tall with legs out in front of you and the roller under one knee. Bend the other knee with the foot flat on the floor. Put palms on the floor at your sides and press down to lift your backside off the ground. Slowly roll out along your hamstring until it reaches the bottom of your glute, then roll back in until it reaches your knee. Repeat seven to 10 times, then switch legs.


Lay on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and the roller behind your upper back. Lightly rest your hands behind your head for support and push with your feet to roll from your neck to the middle of your back. Repeat seven to 10 times.


Lie face down with the roller positioned perpendicular just above the knees on the quads with toes on the ground. With your bodyweight on your forearms, slowly push back until the roller reaches your hips. Then push forward until the roller reaches the starting position just above the knees. Repeat seven to 10 times.


Lie on your side with knees bent and the roller under your right shoulder. The right arm can be extended slightly to help guide the movement properly. Slowly roll up and down along your deltoid muscle using a small range of motion. Repeat seven to 10 times, then switch sides.


Posted 2/24/2020  12:00:00 AM By:   : 144 comments   91,400 views

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Do Your Homework Before Hiring a Personal Trainer

Perhaps you've been working out on your own for a while, but your results have stalled and you no longer feel like your fitness level is improving. Or you've become totally bored with your current routine and need to shake things up with some fresh ideas. Maybe you're brand-new to exercise and could use some direction to get started safely. No matter your reason, hiring a personal trainer can give you the guidance and instruction you need to help you reach your fitness goals more efficiently. It can be a costly investment, so it's important to do your homework before you just jump in with the first trainer you find at the gym. The reason?

Not all personal trainers are created equal.

Posted 5/24/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 121 comments   86,204 views

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This Full-Body Strength Workout Uses Only a Towel

Most of us are familiar with the benefits of a regular strength program and why it's so important to add this type of training to your exercise routine. Yet despite recommendations from fitness trainers and urgings from doctors, many people are resistant to give it a try. For some, it's the idea of fumbling through how to use complicated weight machines at the gym that gives them pause. Others find that the expense of purchasing costly dumbbells for a home workout has been an obstacle. Many people find themselves overwhelmed simply by the idea of understanding what kind of equipment you need to effectively target various muscles.  

No matter what your reason may be, the bottom line is that strength training doesn't have to be complicated or scary. In fact, a very simple routine using tools you already have in your home may be just what you need to get started. One of those tools is the towel. Versatile in many ways, a single bath towel can help you challenge muscles in your body from head to toe without ever needing to step foot in a gym. If you're already a regular exerciser, adding strength training to your plan could be the change in routine you've been needing. So head to your bathroom closet, grab a bath or beach towel and let's get started!

Posted 4/11/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 125 comments   161,558 views

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When Exercise Burnout Sets In, Here's How to Get Motivated Again

Whether you've been a regular exerciser for three weeks or three years, motivation levels tend to ebb and flow. You go through periods where it feels empowering to get off the couch and head to the gym because you're seeing fitness gains and feeling strong, and then there are other times when it's a challenge to drag yourself out of bed and working out feels like a chore. It's normal to have those lazy days here and there, but what if low motivation becomes a pattern you can't seem to shake?

If you're fairly new to exercise and feelings of burnout are tempting you to quit, consider first whether or not you're doing too much too soon. If your workouts are too frequent or too long, they can leave you feeling physically drained. No one likes feeling run down all the time, and regularly experiencing this can allow thoughts of quitting to start infiltrating your brain. Also consider whether or not you enjoy the activities you're doing. If you don't, you're not likely to stick with them long-term. Don't be afraid to try new things until you find activities that you like and seem to be a good fit.

If you've been a regular exerciser for years, feelings of burnout can be more difficult to understand. You likely know your limits and have found things you enjoy doing, which is why you've stuck with them for so long in the first place. It can be difficult and even frustrating to pinpoint what has changed and why, suddenly, your workout just isn't working for you.

Posted 3/13/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 63 comments   73,368 views

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Cancer Couldn't Stop Jane from Losing More Than 140 Pounds

In the fall of 2015, Jane (FUNNYFACE101002) was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. At 348 pounds, she was embarrassed by the number on the scale. Jane was wearing size 28 pants and a four or 5XL shirt. "[If I gained more weight], I was at a total loss as to where I would buy myself clothes," she recalls. Luckily Jane had no other known health issues, but after surgery to remove the cancer, she knew it was time to make changes.
Jane's first step was to buy a FitBit. Although her husband told her that alone wasn’t going to help her lose weight, she knew it would be a constant reminder of the lifestyle changes she was making. Jane also decided to start counting calories, which is what brought her to SparkPeople.

Posted 2/12/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 146 comments   69,884 views

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A Thank You and Well-Wishes after 18 Years

Hi everyone!

We wanted to let you know that our Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand, will be parting ways with SparkPeople. After so many years helping people through her Message Board post responses, articles and blogs, we thought it important to let you know that she is leaving SparkPeople. More importantly, we wanted to publicly thank her for her many years giving advice to our members. Becky has been with SparkPeople almost since the beginning, so the number of members she's helped is immeasurable.

Rest assured, you'll still receive high-quality content and information from our wide variety of experts, which continues to grow. Becky helped set the foundation for the nutritional recommendations on our site, and those will remain the same—all based on well-researched, scientifically verified studies.

Thank you, Becky, and best wishes in your future endeavors!
Want to send your well-wishes to Becky? Share them in the comments below.

Posted 2/9/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 76 comments   49,128 views

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This 1 Change Helped Lori Transform Her Body

In 2009, Lori (LORI-K) was sedentary, ill with respiratory issues from 23 years of heavy smoking and ate poorly. Although she was never severely overweight, Lori knew she was unwell. With a husband and three children who were depending on their mom, Lori decided the time had come to start making changes to improve her health.

Lori's first step was to quit smoking, and that goal prompted her to join SparkPeople. "I had several failed attempts at quitting until an illness scared me enough to get serious about becoming smoke-free," she recalls. At just 41 years old, Lori was told that she had the lung capacity of a 95-year-old woman, which left her petrified. Lori was prescribed medication to help her quit smoking but it had some negative side effects. At that point, she turned to willpower, walking and drinking a lot of water to deal with the cravings.

"At first the walks were very short. A block and back is all I could do," Lori recalls. As time passed and she began feeling better, her walks got longer and longer. Eventually she decided to try a 5K training program and began running. "I went from being very sick and having a hard time breathing to eventually running long distances including a half-marathon just three years after I quit smoking," Lori proudly states. 

While starting a regular exercise program was important, Lori knew she also needed to change the way she was eating. "I was a self-professed junk food junkie," Lori admits. "[My kids were young] so I ate a lot of fast food [and] their snacks, or [I] didn't eat at all." As she spent more time on SparkPeople and learned about proper nutrition, Lori began to realize that her diet needed serious changes. "I started logging all of my food which was an eye-opening experience," she says. By logging, she was able to see how she was doing relative to her recommended calorie and nutrient ranges and identify where she needed to make serious changes.

Injury Leads to a Shift in Routine

In 2016, a foot injury derailed her running progress. "I knew I had to do something to stay active," says Lori. "My husband had been lifting weights for a while, so I joined him and did upper-body strength training while I was unable to run."

Instead of becoming a temporary solution, weight-lifting became a passion that Lori has pursued ever since. "I quickly came to love weight-lifting as I started getting strong, seeing changes in my body and changes in my overall mood."  Lori says she gained confidence, improved her posture, experienced less anxiety and stress, and had an improved sense of well-being as a result of her strength training. "I've been lifting weights for two years now. I'm almost 51 and healthier than I've ever been," she declares. 

Lori's fitness routine includes a structured weight-lifting plan as well as regular cardio exercise such as running, rowing, elliptical and high-intensity interval training. Lori treats her fitness routine like a job that counts on her to be there every day. Consistency is key.

"I weight train five to six days a week for at least an hour but usually longer," Lori says. "I follow specific lifting plans and switch them up every six to 10 weeks or so; upper body is my favorite (chest, shoulders and arms)."
Lori isn't afraid to lift heavy and encourages other women to challenge themselves in the weight room. "Don't be afraid of 'bulking up'," she advises. "Weight-bearing exercises are important as we age and naturally begin to lose muscle mass. I've been lifting for a little over two years, and from my experience, it takes daily, lengthy and focused lifting to start developing [significant muscle mass]."


Lori's Advice for Newbies

Although Lori joined SparkPeople for support and resources when she quit smoking, she's still an active member nine years later. She tracks all of her fitness and food to measure progress, and says she sees better results when she's consistently tracking. "The friends I've made here and the support I've found have been amazing," Lori says. She reads member blogs for inspiration and enjoys participating in SparkChallenges for an added boost of motivation.  

For someone just starting out on their wellness journey, Lori believes that anything is possible. "Anyone is capable of making big changes as long as they are consistent with fitness and proper nutrition. Experiment with different food plans and activities until you find something you enjoy that produces your desired results."

Lori has a few valuable tips to share with new members: "[In addition to] logging your food and exercise, take pictures along the way," she advises. "Pictures show a much better measure of progress than the scale. Also, take measurements [since sometimes you can see a loss of inches even if the scale isn't moving] and journal your thoughts. These tools have been very helpful for me." 

Over the past nine years, Lori has become discouraged many times when she wasn't seeing the results she'd expected. "There have been times when I lost all motivation and direction," she recalls. "What I have learned is that my motivation won't always be there, but discipline and willpower is what gets me through the rough patches. I remember why I started and get it done even when I don't feel like it. I just keep moving. With consistency, every weight lifted, every repetition performed, every step walked or run, and every wise food choice adds up to big changes over time," Lori believes. 

How has weight training made positive changes to your body? Share in the comments below and congratulate Lori on her amazing progress!

Posted 1/31/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 108 comments   83,274 views

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These 3 Simple Changes Helped Diane Lose 128 Pounds

In 2010, Diane (DIANEDOESSMILES) weighed 288 pounds and was confined to her power chair 97 percent of the time. She had depression and an infection in her big toe that led to a diabetes diagnosis. When she went to the doctor seeking help for back issues, he told her that the pain was because she was fat. "I hated him for saying it, but that got my attention," Diane recalls. "What was I doing to myself?"

Because of her health issues, Diane was encouraged to enter an assisted living facility. When she learned she couldn't take her cat with her, though, she decided it was time to start making changes on her own. She tried another online program but had trouble understanding their system. Diane says she was "hit and miss, but mostly miss" with exercise because her pain level was so high. Although Diane went from 288 to 256 pounds, eventually she found herself on a four-month plateau. Feeling like her weight loss shouldn't have stalled already, she decided it was time to reach out for help and joined SparkPeople.

Breaking Out of the Diet Mentality

Even though she joined SparkPeople, Diane didn't initially follow the program. She was eating below her recommended calorie and nutrient ranges and deprived herself of many of the foods she loved. Despite getting down to 174 pounds, Diane was not happy. "Ever notice the first three letters of the word DIEting? I can't help but to think that was on purpose," she jokes.

Diane used quick-fix strategies instead of permanent, sustainable lifestyle changes, so, even though she was still consistently logging into SparkPeople, she quickly gained the weight back. Diane was very discouraged when she found herself over 200 pounds again.

Determined to turn things around, Diane started blogging on her SparkPage. "This is an amazing tool that many people don't use because they think what they say isn't worthy or important to write about. I felt the same way, but eventually, I found it to be a useful tool," she says. "Over time, more people started to read my blogs. It's not about followers, [though,] It's about me getting healthier- physically, mentally and emotionally. I love blogging now."

Diane's 3 Secrets to Success

Over the past six months, Diane has maintained a 128-pound weight loss. She credits her success to three things:
  1. Tracking food and exercise daily. "I eat within the guidelines SparkPeople has set for me," Diane explains. "I am in the diabetes program and know that I need to keep tracking in order to be successful, staying [within] my calorie, protein, fat and carb ranges." Diane also keeps a close eye on her fiber intake, since that helps with her feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
  2. An attitude of "progress, not perfection." "I learned from others who post that phrase in the Community Goal Feed that I don't have to be perfect in order to be successful," Diane says. "I even painted a rock that says 'progress, not perfection' and keep it on my kitchen counter so I see it often." By focusing more on what she has accomplished and what she's capable of achieving, Diane gives herself permission to make mistakes, learn from them and move forward.
  3. The 5% SparkTeam Challenge. "When I joined SparkPeople, somehow I met a most wonderful Sparker (HEALTHYGRAMMY49) who invited me to join the 5% 2011 Winter Challenge," Diane recalls. Since then, Diane has participated in all of the seasonal 5% Challenges, being a "motivational leader" in the challenge for many years. She says the challenge helps her stay on track and holds her accountable to her goals. As a participant in these challenges, Diane started drinking more water, learned to tolerate more fruits and vegetables, and began exercising more. "I am a competitive person who wasn't going to let my team down, [and] that meant I had to exercise," says Diane. "At first, I could only do 10 minutes, three times a week. With help from my teammates, I came up with a plan to do chair exercises and it worked! Now I'm stronger than ever."
Diane even met one of her best friends, MARYANNGI, in the challenge and they were able to meet in person. She encourages others to find SparkTeams that motivate them and give them the support they need.

Setbacks Will Never Stop Her

Throughout her journey to health, Diane has faced health challenges that she continues to overcome. Three years ago she had a bone infection that resulted in a toe amputation. "Despite the hurdles, I know I'm in the driver's seat," she proudly states. "It didn't discourage me because I was finally walking without any aids. Last year, I gave away my power chair and now I can walk more than three miles a day!"
Diane has learned to look for the silver lining on a rainy day. "I had surgery for a brain aneurysm that was found accidentally. It has affected my left eye and I stand a good chance of losing partial sight, but at least I still have the right eye," she says. "Life is always going to throw nasty health issues at me. One thing I've learned from SparkPeople members and content is this quote from Charles R. Swindoll: 'Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.'"

Diane's advice to other members is to take advantage of everything SparkPeople has to offer. "Read the articles, use the SparkCoach planner on your Start page, join some SparkTeams and SparkChallenges, blog on your SparkPage and check out the Community Goal Feed." She likes to help new members whenever she can, saying that helping those who are just starting the journey reminds her of where she started and how far she's come.

"I'm doing this!" she declares. "I'm maintaining my weight within a five-pound range. I'm happy, joyful and positive. Who knew life could be like this again?"

How do you deal with setbacks? Share in the comments below and congratulate Diane on her amazing journey to better health!

Posted 1/2/2019  12:00:00 AM By:   : 127 comments   50,431 views

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