Sparkpeople (http://www.sparkpeople.com/) is a great wellness resource, offering tools and information to help you make healthy lifestyle changes in diet and fitness as well as offering articles on skin care, mental health, and more. Membership is free and allows you to use their online food and fitness trackers, create personalized meal plans, and access expert advice via articles and message boards. Meal programs are customizable, allowing you to tailor suggestions to your health goals, such as “low sodium” or “high protein.”
The site offers motivational tips when you login as well as “challenges” that you can accept with other users (such as skipping fast food for a week). You can even set up a meal plan using the database of recipes and printable shopping lists. Their statistics boast that it’s the “#1 Health Website,” with the highest average amount of time spent by users on the site – visiting various pages to enter data, gather information and get guidance.
Most diet and nutrition experts will tell you that a key factor in improving your eating habits is to maintain a food journal, detailing what you eat and tracking calories ingested. A study published in the August 2008 edition of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that dieters who kept a food diary lost about twice as much weight as those who did not.
Yet maintaining a hand-written journal can get tedious – writing notes, looking up food values in a book, tallying up your day’s calories. This leads many to ditch the practice before they gain the true benefit: becoming aware of the food they eat and how much they’re truly consuming.
Sparkpeople’s online food journal makes it easy. Its food database is extensive and easily searchable, allowing you to quickly and easily log your intake.
However, if you find Sparkpeople’s social aspect and motivational tidbits more annoying than helpful, Fitday (www.fitday.com) is a great basic, free online diet journal and calorie tracking tool. Just about any food (even brand name or prepared meal items) is included in their database, allowing you to add items with a few clicks. Create a free account to start your personalized log. Enter a keyword such as oatmeal and select the specific oatmeal product and amount (easy drop-down options) to add it to your daily intake log.
With both sites, calories are automatically calculated and tallied for you. You’re prompted to log your daily activity in order to compare calories ingested with calories expended. The selection of available activities is more extensive at Fitday than Sparkpeople, but the food database is harder to navigate. For example, that “oatmeal” keyword entry on Fitday gives you twelve pages of results in which you have to locate the specific oatmeal you’re looking for. However, it gets faster once you enter some of your favorite foods, get familiar with its categorization and learn how to effectively search.
The Fitday site is simple and sleek, making it easy to use but not necessarily compelling. It’s a tool, pure and simple. For those seeking information and support as well as a tool to track diet and exercise, Sparkpeople is a great option.
Finally, if you are looking for a more tailored diet program, keep in mind that the most well-known names in dieting now maintain extensive web-based resources. You can join Weight Watchers, NutriSystem or South Beach online (fees vary) to gain access to the programs you’d normally have to sign up for in person.