How Sparkpeople fails pregnant women (and everyone else)
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Recently I re-listened to "The Spark" while at work. I had some down time and felt inspired to pick up the audiobook after 6 years. I remember how shy and normal Sparkguy sounded, like a regular dude who is good at some things but not others (namely, he isn't very good at reading audiobooks aloud, but I love that he did it anyway. Sparkpeople is about facing fears and not taking yourself too seriously, right?)
In "The Spark" it is repeatedly emphasized that this is a lifestyle change, that weight-loss (while a common goal) is not only secondary, it is actually not even necessary to the enjoyment and use of Sparkpeople. The founder himself wasn't trying to lose weight, he was trying to gain something back! Energy, control, self-determination, vitality. These are the things we all want and sometimes (sometimes) our weight is one of the things holding us back. More often it is our perceptions, priorities and habits.
Which is why I am so disappointed in the website.
I've been off and on Sparkpeople's website for years. But when I got pregnant I really wanted that community aspect which Sparkpeople does so well combined with their fun "streaking" progress and goal-setting. Except when I go to the Start page and have to set up my goals, I am immediately told I cannot use Sparkpeople if I am pregnant or breastfeeding.
I went on a quickly depressing journey researching BabyFit, a community of goals, diaries, message boars and mothers all navigating this wild body experience together -- it has been "moved". Actually, it has been erased and replaced with articles. Even the button "Join the conversation!" is broken -- there is no conversation to be had.
I get why Sparkpeople is nervous about pregnancy on the program: nutrition and exercise are even more precarious during pregnancy, and it becomes a very unique conversation between the woman and her doctor. But this just reveals the problem that Sparkpeople and other Health & Wellness groups have: they inevitably limit themselves to weight loss.
Why can't Sparkpeople say, "Congratulations on your pregnancy! Now is a great time to focus on aspects of health and wellness often overlooked by our society!"?
Make a printable list of Lifestyle Questions for Your Doctor with things like, "How much weight should I gain over the pregnancy? How should I keep active? Should I keep a food journal? What should I track--measurements? Morning sickness? Energy levels? Mood swings? Sleep satisfaction?" -- encourage the mother to get answers from her doctor and set those goals together.
Track non-vital measurements from Sparkpeople's original ideology: drink water, do 10 minutes of movement a day, write a blog entry or connect to a new Spark pal, read an article, keep a gratitude journal.
Now, more than ever, is the time to treat energy as precious and to evaluate good and bad habits in your life -- another thing that Sparkpeople says they care about but seem to forget in practice. Is your job making you happy? Does it support your pregnancy? Where are you getting overwhelmed by stress? Do you have time for yourself? What does your perfect life look like?
As Sparkguy says in the very beginning of his book, What are the invisible tethers holding you back? What would it look like if you stepped free of them?
I love the ideology behind Sparkpeople. I want to hold myself accountable to my own goals and ambitions, to constantly evaluate what is and is not good for my well-being, and to challenge myself to go beyond the limitations I've placed on myself. A part of me (the young girl in high school who cried because she felt ugly and worthless) wants to lose weight and things that this is somehow the key to finding happiness. But the mature part of me, the part that has held that little girl and told her she is beautiful and worthy, knows that weight loss doesn't even enter into the issue.
Just as cleaning up my life might make my kitchen better organized, re-dedicating myself to health & happiness might make me lose weight (but probably not now, since I need to nourish myself and my baby!) but it is a small part of the bigger picture. By defining victories as "Scale" or "Non-Scale" we have tragically limited the scope of our power and narrowed the focus of what healthy means.