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Spark Doesn't Work.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Recently, I've been trying to spend my insomniatic hours doing something more productive than killing off bags of pretzels or boxes of Lucky Charms. Since I've already rewatched AIRWOLF and THE TWILIGHT ZONE and all of Chef Ramsay's shows and TWIN PEAKS more times than I care to admit, courtesy of Hulu (the only TV we have right now), I decided to venture onto my Spark app on my phone and check out the chats. I've always been fascinated with chat apps, ever since the interwebs first stepped into our lives back in the 90s, with those AOL "You've Got Mail!" announcements and Yahoo's infamous chat rooms. I can't say much good has come from my chat intrigue; I met my ex-now-a-why? in a Books and Literature Yahoo room, after all, and that wasn't really a good connection for either of us, in spite of trying to work out our glitches for almost eight years. However, I have met a lot of friends online, people who have gone beyond those 2D cursor characters and those screen names. The same holds true on Spark. I will likely never meet anyone IRL that I've "met" via Spark, but I now have a couple new email friends, as well as over 1,300 Sparkies who are following me around on here for some reason (I've never really been privy to screaming fans, so I really do appreciate everyone who reads my blogs!)

In those nightly mobile chats, I have seen a common thread of posts. There are many people who state they have just started Spark and can use some encouragement, and I always try to give them a hearty "You can do it...because I did!" sort of message. On the flipside, though, there are a lot of people who chat something akin to, "Spark isn't working. I've only lost 2 lbs. in 4 months" or "I have been wasting my time on here, because I haven't lost anything in 3 weeks." Recently, I read one that actually said, "This app is nonsense. I haven't lost an ounce." The trouble with this, I believe, is mind-set. Spark does not work, people! It is US who has to work. Expecting Spark - or any app, supplement, exercise equipment, food, group, book, or anything else - to take your weight off for you is as ludicrous as expecting the garden tools to hop off your garage wall by themselves and landscape your yard or tend to your flowerbed. That shovel isn't gonna scoop up the snow by itself, and that ho isn't gonna whack those weeds without you giving it the momentum to do so. Tools don't work unless WE do. Heck, even those robotic carpet vacuums have to be made, activated, and powered by some action on our parts! I managed to lose 174 lbs. with Spark and am working toward an ultimate loss of 180, but I would have lost none of it if the only effort I put in was to create my account and go on about my life as I was living it before. Spark DOES NOT WORK UNLESS YOU WORK IT, and you work it because you're worth it.

But how do you work it? It boils down to one of those old hymns I love. I generally wouldn't take precious words so out of context, but they work here: "Trust and obey...for there's no other WEIGH." First, you must TRUST that the calorie counts recommended to you are accurate. Make sure the information you feed into Spark is accurate and honest, and you will likely be given a good idea of what you should be doing to lose weight. For me, that magic number of daily calories has typically been in the neighborhood of 1,200 calories. Weight loss really is mathematical, a matter of putting in less than you expend, so it isn't too difficult for Spark to do a few calculations based on known parameters to spit out a calorie allowance that should work for you and your goals. Second, you have to OBEY. This means sticking to those calorie recommendations and being honestly accountable for every calorie you eat. It means putting your Tic Tacs and chewing gum into your Nutrition Tracker. It means admitting to Spark when you eat 2,890 calories of Aunt Gertrude's chocolate cake at the family barbecue. It means counting that handful of animal crackers you grab at 3:08 a.m., when your wiener dog suddenly needs a potty break. If you do not trust and obey the tracker, it won't work for you. If you do not pick up the shovel, you're not gonna dig the results!

That said, I've also been asked a lot about how I've "worked it." My food logs are public because I'm happy to share what I'm doing, even on those bad days when I had to quick-add 3,000 calories because of celebrations and occasions or just general leaps off the wagon. Many have asked, though, what foods we're eating, my daughter and I, that have peeled 174 lbs. off me and helped my hardworking kiddo whack away over 75 lbs. We are NOT typical "dieters," because we do not limit ourselves to the things most dieters think they have to eat. In fact, some of the things on this list might surprise you, but I want to share some of our favorites. As long as we eat these things within our calorie counts - as long as WE work by trusting and obeying - it works!

Eggs (I eat at least two a day, fried in Pam)
Sesame Brittle (found it at the Dollar Tree and love it @ 56 cals for 2 pieces)
Nuts (a few salted peanuts out of the shell or 100-calorie packs of Emerald)
Pretzels (the Kroger pretzel sticks I eat are 42 for 110 cals)
Popcorn (air-popped with butter spray, I get 3 cups for 120 cals or less)
Raisins (between 80-100 cals a box, sometimes less)
Tomatoes (I love to roast them with a little oregano and parmesan)
Spam Lite (My daughter's not fond of the "meat jelly" in the can, but I love to fry it!)
Fish (I love cod in particular, just baked with a few seasonings)
Hormel Compleats (some are low-cal, and they don't have to be refrigerated)
Light Bologna (at 60 cals a slice, great for sandwiches, hobo soup, or frying)
Cottage Cheese (I choose the fat-free kind and love it with tomatoes and paprika)
Cabbage (wedges, boiled, or fried angel hair cut)
Lean Pockets (love the Meatballs and Mozzarella and the breakfast ones)
Bread and Butter Pickles (I use the Splenda-sweetened kind, at 0 calories)
Jr. Dippers Snacks (the pretzel and cheese ones are 60 or 70 cals)
Jerky (Chicken jerky is only around 80 calories)
Oyster Crackers (great for salt cravings, and a nice portion for few calories)

Applesauce (50 calories for a half-cup, unsweetened)
Granola Bars (we look for 130 cal-or-less options)
Michelina's Frozen Meals (both the light and regular varieties under 300 cals)
Ramen (the kind in a cup is under 300 cals)
Cheese Crackers (reduced fat or 100-cal packs)
Goldfish (about 55 for 130 cals)
Pasta (as low-cal as possible, with a little parm and butter spray)
Beef Vegetable Soup (about 175 for a regular sized can)
Bagels (about 250 for a whole bagel)
Carrots and Ranch (we go for low-cal ranch and mini-packs of carrots @ 35 cals each)
Dole Chopped Salad Kit (she eats the whole thing as a meal sometimes, just over 420 cals)
Gum (at less than 5 calories, this helps her cravings)
Celery with Cream Cheese (she uses whipped cream cheese for fewer cals)
Pickles (anywhere from 0 to 5 calories each, helps with salt cravings)
Cracker Snack Packs (a variety of flavors, between 4 and 6 crackers, for around 130 cals)

Buddig Meats (90-calorie packs of thin cold cuts, for snacking, sandwiches, casseroles, and even baked or fried)
Banquet Sausage Links (we choose turkey or lite and split the box for about 170 cals)
Hot Tea (we drink tea at least twice a day, to help with cravings, with 0-cal sweetener)
Canned Vegetables (green beans most of all, but also hominy, mixed veggies, potatoes, and lima beans)
Mushrooms (canned and fresh, we use them in everything and also sauteed, as a side dish)
Yogurt (we look for options under 100 cals, and we often use Kroger Carbmaster at 60 cals)
Cereal (even the yummy sweet kinds are low in cals, around 130 calories or less per bowl)
Skim Milk (we don't drink a lot but use it in cereal and cooking)
Hot Dog Chili Sauce (canned yumminess that we eat like soup, at 180 cals a can)
Mozzarella Cheese Shreds (sometimes fat-free or lowfat, but always lower in cals than other cheeses)
Cheese Slices and String Cheese (Sargento and other brands make 40-cal slices of yummy cheese, and Weight Watchers and others make 50-cal string cheese)
Ground Meat (turkey or chicken, as lowfat as we can get it, for burgers or in recipes)
Pork Chops (thin cut, baked or made in crock pot)
Smoked Sausage or Kielbasa (turkey or lite varieties)
Tuna (for sandwiches or in casseroles or salads)
Chicken (all sorts of varieties, including breaded frozen, as long as we watch cals)
Apples (we buy smaller ones, so we can snack without so many calories)
Fish Sticks (the Kroger ones we buy are 180 cals for five sticks)
Banquet Frozen Meals (surprisingly many under 300 cals...and cheap!)
Popsicles (we look for Frutare or sugar-free fudcicles or popsicles for snacks)
Rice (we use this in place of pasta in casseroles, but watch the calories)
Hotdogs (look for light or turkey or chicken varieties. Some are as low as 45 cals each)
Hotdog Buns (the lite Kroger buns are 60 calories each, our go-to bread)
Pudding (we prefer pistachio and opt for sugar-free/fat-free instant, about 120 cals for half the box if made with skim milk)
Gummy Snacks (look for the 70-cal or less varieties)
Candy (we use a lot of small candies, such as LifeSavers and sugar-free Werthers, etc. to take off sweet cravings, but be careful not to eat too many!)
Fruit (we prefer bananas, pears, and grapes)
Frozen Vegetables (lots of peas and green beans and brussel sprouts)
Hash Brown Patties (at around 130 each, these are great for breakfast or as a side dish)

Sugar-free Mixes (we buy the single-packs and the 2-quart paccks and premix so we always havve these on hand)
Vitamin Water Zero (my kiddo likes Triple X and I'm all about the orange one)
Powerade Zero (we go for grape and orange)
Snapple (diet Peach or Raspberry teas and Noni punch, between 10 and 25 cals a bottle)
Diet Soda (we only like lemon-lime, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Root Beer, as these taste less "diety," and we look for Diet Rite and others sweetened with Splenda or sucralose or Zevia, sweetened with natural sweeteners)
Neuro (we love the Bliss and Sleep varieties of this drink, around 35 cals a bottle)
Welch's Essence 10 cals a bottle)
Fruit 2O (we love the Lime Twists, at 0 cals)
COFFEE! (about 20 or 30 oz. a day, with low-cal powdered creamer and sugar-free flavoring)

Garlic (powdered and minced)
Black Pepper
Soy Sauce (we look for lite)
Worcestershire Sauce
Poultry Seasoning (adds flavor to chicken and turkey burger)
Oregano (even on my fried eggs!)
Italian Seasoning (we add this to everything)
Cinnamon (boosts metabolism, so we add it to coffee and oatmeal)
Miracle Whip and Mayo (we look for low-cal versions)
Ketchup (look for low-sugar versions or packets that are portion controlled)
Mustard (very low cal)
Parmesan (a few sprinkles work wonders!)
Sweeteners (we only use Splenda - sucralose or stevia)
Coffee Flavorings (we buy sugar-free hazelnut and vanilla syrup from the dollar stores)
Cooking or Baking Spray (butter-flavored, in lieu of any oil or lard)
Butter Spray (typically Parkay, in place of all butter and margarine)
Bread Crumbs or Panko (we use these for coating meats or making meatloaf)
French-Fried Onions (a yummy addition to salads)
Minced Onions (we prefer the dried ones and put them in everything)
Dijonnaise (at only a few calories, this is delish on sandwiches and in tuna salad)
Pickle Relish (we even add this to ground meat to give our burgers flavor)

Taco Bell (crunchy tacos, Fresca menu, or pintos n' cheese)
McDonald's (snack wraps or kids meals with apples or an occasional soft-serve cone)
Wendy's (small chili and a salad and a jr. frosty)
Bob Evans (their Be Fit menu is great)
Long John Silver's (their baked fish isn't too bad on cals)
Dominos (thin-crust pizza with spinach and mushrooms)
Coffee Shops (almond milk lattes with sugar-free syrup come in around 50 calories for a small)

Red Raspberry Ketones
Chromium Picolonate

Refined or Table Sugar, white, brown, or powdered
Margarine or Butter

And there you have it, folks. See? You really don't have to weed-whack all the normal foods out of your cupboards and fridge, and you can still fit many convenient, easy, enjoyable foods into your calorie counts...because we did! Everything that works for us may not work for you, but you don't have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to see that Spark WILL work for you as long as YOU put the work into it.
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