Nutrition Resources: SparkDiet Resource Center: Nutrition Guide

This is an exciting moment! You've decided to take control of your health and create a better future. You can feel the spark, right?

If you've tried dieting that didn't work, you may have noticed the spark fading along the way. Keeping that spark strong is the single most important thing you can do for your weight loss. Other diets that are short on common sense and long on unreasonable demands make it tough to sustain the spark, leading to burnout and boredom.

But the Spark Diet is different. If you follow these 7 Spark Step, you'll be able to break through those walls of the past and you will lose weight.

You'll find a spark of personalization with customized plans and lots of choices. You'll find a spark of complete understanding of healthy habits and strategies that can help you now and for the rest of your life. You'll find a spark of motivation as a member of our supportive and caring online community.

This site and these 7 Action Steps are designed to give you the confidence, momentum and results you need to take off the weight - and keep it off once and for all.

Action Step 1: Get A Smart Start

Most likely, you've already set up a Spark Diet nutrition and fitness plan. Hopefully, you were realistic about your weight loss goals. Healthy weight loss is an average of 1-2 pounds per week. Steady, consistent weight loss is much healthier and more permanent than wild swings and sudden changes. Crazy expectations can be discouraging at best, dangerous at worst. You can readjust your weight goals by clicking the Change Diet Settings on your start page.

You might wonder why there were only a few choices for short-term nutrition and fitness goals during setup. That's because by starting small, you can spark some fast momentum right from the get-go. It's so much easier to build sticky habits a few at a time. Too many goals too early just causes goal overload and stress - and ultimately, failure.

That's what your Fast Break goal is all about. A Fast Break is a simple habit that you focus on and track for two weeks while you get used to reaching goals and feeling good. It's a habit you can build on. It could also end up being that permanent habit that puts you over the top. Make sure these starter goals are ones you can succeed with.

Action Step 2: Learn to win the Healthy Eating Calorie Game

It's simple. To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn up. In fact, to lose one pound in a week, it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit (cals burned minus cals consumed), or an average of 500 calories per day.

Nearly all fad diets boil down to the calorie equation. The Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Hollywood Diet, even the Gummy Bear Diet - the only reason any of them might work is because you're using up more calories than you take in. They just have different ways of getting to the same point.

Why mess with all of that hassle if you don't have to? The Spark Diet does away with the harmful side effects and restrictive food limits and keeps what counts: the calorie equation. That spark you feel is the freedom to eat the foods you like and feel good about the healthy choices you're making.

Here's how the calorie equation works. It starts with your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the amount of cals you burn simply by going through a normal day - breathing, walking, talking, avoiding your mother-in-law, etc. GoalPilot did this automatically for you when you signed up and got your calories goals.

Then, you compare your BMR with your food calories. The difference will tell you how much you need to cut back on cals consumed or increase cals burned to reach your desired deficit. An example:
Suppose your BMR is 1800. If you ate 1800 calories per day, you'd stay the same weight. BUT, if you simply cut out dinner rolls with butter (100 cals) and a can of soda (150 cals), you'd end up with a 250 daily cal deficit. Spread out over a week, that adds up to 1,750 cals, good for ½ pound of weight lost. You could also walk for just 40 minutes, boosting your cals burned another 250 per day. That means a 3,500 total cal deficit for the week. Voila - one pound gone!

The first half of the calorie equation - food calories - is easy to compute using our Food Tracker. To get a real-time picture of your calorie levels, just choose the foods you eat from the 10,000 food database. You can save your favorites, add new ones, even save entire meals. Our members tell us that the Food Tracker makes them feel more responsible and accountable for food choices. It's also a quick, easy way to spot food "landmines" and bad eating habits.

Besides calories, the Food Tracker also computes other important nutrient levels, like protein, fat and carbs. Following the recommendations of the American Heart Association, we suggest that 55% of your cals come from complex carbs, 30% from fat and 15% from protein. These levels help you eat more efficiently and improve your overall health, lowering your risk for heart disease, cancer and the like.

To help you make good food choices and meet these recommendations, we have a host of optional meal plans to select from. Each plan is designed as part of a full menu of healthy eating that will help you stay within your calorie ranges while getting the nutrients you need. They're full of good ideas to get you started.

Our Diet Resource Center and online Weight Loss Class include a lot more information about how to make smart, healthy food choices. They include articles, recipes and more, and tell you about the special importance of complex carbs, water and simply watching your meal portions.

Action Step 3: Boost your Burn Rate with Exercise

The second half of the calorie equation, Exercise, is often overlooked, but it's as important to weight loss as a second wheel on a bicycle.

Exercise makes it possible to eat healthy calories and still lose weight. Deprivation diets that cut cals at all costs leave you feeling drained and listless. Exercise gives you that spark of energy that can actually make weight loss fun. At the same time, exercise boosts your calorie burn rate and increases the calorie deficit.

Calculating your calorie burn rate is pretty similar to food tracking. Just look up and select one of 200 exercises or activities in our database, and the calories burned will be added to BMR to get your weekly total. (Since you might not be exercising every day, we use weekly numbers to reach a daily average.)

You might notice that as calories burned rises, your recommended caloric intake doesn't rise with it. That's how the calorie equation is working in your favor. Exercise is not an excuse to eat more, it just makes healthy eating possible. But, if you find that you're burning more or less than you expected, you can use the "Change Diet Settings" link the start page to make adjustments.

You can create an entire program of exercise goals too, using our recommendations or adding your own. Just like with foods, we recommend starting small with low intensity workouts, building up to more advanced stuff.

We also recommend a mix of cardio and strength exercises for optimal weight loss. Cardio (running, treadmill, biking, tennis, soccer) strengthens the heart, boosts oxygen to your brain, keeps the blood flowing and increases energy. Strength and resistance (weights, stacking firewood, nautilus) is underrated by dieters but absolutely essential. These exercises create fat-burning muscle that bumps up your metabolism and burns fat while you're not even exercising! Read more about cardio and strength exercising, with examples and visual demos in the Fitness Resource Center.

Action Step 4: Measure and Adjust to Your Progress

We know how frustrating weight loss can be, especially when you hit a plateau. No matter what you do, that number sometimes just won't budge. Rather than getting discouraged, sometimes you have to rely on measurements that have nothing to do with the scale.

Progress can show up in your waist, hips, even your neck. Success can be felt in how your clothes fit, or proven in how many miles you can run. Either way, it's important to consistently track and pay attention to what's going on. Tracking and measuring eliminates guesswork and can show you a direct relationship between your actions and your results.

Find 2-3 measurements that are meaningful to you and track them in GoalPilot to keep your spark alive.

Beware: "paying attention" does not equal "obsessing." We recommend weighing and measuring once a week so you're on top of it without being preoccupied. So many things can affect your weight (time of day, temperature, the day's activities, water level) that daily weigh-ins are poor gauges. The last thing you want to do is to change your plan every day based on what you weighed yesterday. Once a week weigh-ins help you stick to the plan.

Try to weigh and measure at about the same time of day as well. This helps give you a consistent read. If you find yourself not losing weight with your current program, you can adjust it at any time, using the setup process again to decrease calorie intake goals, increase calories burned goals, and adjust your target weight or target date.

Action Step 5: Seek out Support & Motivation

You're not alone. Thousands of other SparkPeople members are right here, waiting to give you a word of encouragement, a pat on the back or even some well-placed brutal honesty.

The biggest mistake most people make with weight loss is trying to do it by themselves. Many of the people on our message boards faced the same challenges, overcome the same obstacles, had the same questions that you have. They are a spark just waiting to happen. Visit our message boards and simply introduce yourself. You'll quickly meet a group of people dedicated to helping each other succeed.

Other sources of motivation are all around you:
Diet Buddies (people that help each other reach goals) can provide a regular spark and a bit of social fun to your program.
Visual reminders, like pictures of your ultimate goal, are very powerful and should be used liberally. Find one today.
Rewards work when they're meaningful and simple. However, food should never be used as a reward for weight loss goals.

More information on these motivators, along with motivation tips and tools (like our thought-provoking Motivation Worksheet), can be found in the Motivation and Goal-Setting Resource Center.

Action Step 6: Reach Mainenance Mode

This is where you create your long-term spark. For the first 30 days or so, you've been counting calories, creating some quick wins and getting used to your new habits. You've been learning what you can about smart eating and effective exercise. Through trial and error, you know something about what works and what doesn't. You've probably already seen some good results too.

Now you can take all that and make those new habits and eating choices stick for good by entering the Maintenance Mode.

During Maintenance Mode, you steady the ship and follow the course you laid out as a result of those first 30 days of learning and experimenting. No need to worry about setting new goals unless you want to. Just concentrate on reaching the ones you mapped out.

To make sure you're consistent, we recommend you:

Weigh-in and measure once a week
Track your food once a week
Visit the message boards regularly
Use the Resource Centers for recipes, articles and more
Mix up your options to keep from getting stuck in a rut and getting bored
Try a Fast Break again whenever you need a jolt

When you reach your weigh loss goal, your new habits are more important than ever. Many people revert to old habits once the goal is reached and put the pounds right back on. Not this time! Just use the "Change Diet Settings" feature again to change your calorie goals levels to maintain that current weight.

Action Step 7: Build on your success

The Spark Diet can be a stepping stone to a better quality of life all the way around. By the time you finish the Maintenance Mode and hit your weight loss target, you'll have picked up the skills and know-how to reach any goal you set now or in the future. That's right - any goal at all can be accomplished by following the principles of starting small, forming habits, tracking progress and building momentum.

You are free to build on your success and continue building your spark by:
Setting new types of goals. What have you always wanted to do? Maybe you'd like to learn some leadership skills, work on your stress, be more effective at work, or get especially good at a hobby. There's no better time to try.
Spread your spark to others. The more energy and time you give, the more you get in return.
Become a mentor on our message boards or in your community. The smallest effort on your part can affect more people than you may ever know.

You're off to a great start. These seven steps will help you take that great start and turn it into even better results. Take care of your spark, it could be the difference between losing the pounds or losing your focus. Anytime you feel it fading, come back here and review the basics. You can do it!