Chris Downie

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CHRIS DOWNIE

JOHN PETROZZI: Hi.  Welcome to Living is Easy. I’m John Petrozzi. Thanks for joining us today.

Today we’re speaking to Chris Downie.  He’s written a book called “The Spark,” and he said he came up with a way or developed a formula for losing weight, getting fit, and transforming your life. So, I’m really looking forward to speaking to Chris today.

Hi, Chris, and thanks for coming on the show.

CHRIS DOWNIE: Thanks for having me, John. I’m excited to be here today.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, what’s your journey with weight loss, Chris?

CHRIS DOWNIE: That’s a great question.  It’s a long story; I’ll try to tell it very quickly. As a kid, I had shyness mentality that runs in my family, and developed a personal improvement program that combines areas that help your body like nutrition and fitness with areas that help your mind like goal-setting, leadership, stress management.

When I smashed those all together, it really helps me break out of the shyness and anxiety and start reaching my goals. In connection with weight loss, because I have a coworker at my first job out of college, we started using this new program and she eventually lost 50 pounds. Then, she told me I changed her life and then she went on and started a walking group with all these women who said “Pat, if you can do it, we can do it, too.”

So, I realized that your daily actions and words impact more people than we actually realise. Then, I also said, “Someday, I’m going to turn this into a company,” and that’s really what led to spark people, and our mission is to spark millions of people to reach their goals.

JOHN PETROZZI: Oh, that sounds great.  So, what is it that you do?

CHRIS DOWNIE: That’s a great question.  We do a lot of things on sparkpeople.com, and we actually have a page specifically for our members in Australia at sparkaustralia.com. People can sign up through the websites and then they are able to use our tracking tools to track their calories and learn maybe there they can start new healthy habits, like replacing simple carbs with complex carbs. So it’s a lot of education with our tracking tools. Then, we have a lot of content with writers who regularly add new articles to the site to keep everybody updated and excited.

The really fun part that I love is the community. That’s where we meet just millions of people from all over the world who motivate each other. They’re reaching their own goals but then, they’re supporting and motivating everybody else and then, they tell their friends. We call that “spreading the spark.” This works so well on the website.

But we also realised that it would be exciting to have a book, as well, so we could tell the full story and really get our program out there. That’s why we launched our new book, “The Spark,” and as part of that, we surveyed our millions of members and found 27 secrets of success from our top members. I could show three of those secrets if you’d be interested in hearing some.

JOHN PETROZZI: Yeah.

CHRIS DOWNIE: Okay, so the first one that we really learned that instead of doing a calorie-deprivation diet, our successful members actually eat more food. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but we’ve learned that if you eat more than 1200 calories—like your typical break off between calorie-deprivation diets—then that actually helps you lose more weight in the long run. All of our research is showing that.

Number two, we call it the “fast break.” in The Spark, we help you set three small goals that could be started. These small goals may seem ridiculously small, like eating one fruit and one vegetable a day for four or five times a week—something that everybody can do—and we just help people learn and believe that those really are the spark that will really help you change your life.

Then, the third one that I love sharing: the power of positive people. This goes back to the community, which we’ve found that if you surround yourself with positive people, whether it’s online or offline, then you are a lot more likely to reach your goal and stay on track.

JOHN PETROZZI: It sounds really positive, Chris.

CHRIS DOWNIE: I am positive. One of the things I say when I talk to people about The Spark and what’s happening on SparkPeople.com is I really just try to project what’s happening on the site. Even as exciting as I sound, it’s still impossible for me to match what actually happens.  Literally, every single day, I have somebody tell me that this website or this book has changed their life and then they go out and help their family and their friends. So, all of that excitement is coming from real people making these life-changing changes to their life.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, Chris, with calorie-deprivation, you’re saying eat more food so increase your calories not deprive yourself of food to lose weight. How does that work?

CHRIS DOWNIE: It’s almost like a little equation, you know, if you’re doing enough fitness and if you are still eating enough food, then you’re going to have a deficit. So, you’re still going to lose weight, you just don’t want to lose it too fast because the research shows that if you lose it too fast, you’re a lot more likely to gain it back. So we really try to have people lose one to two pounds a week and do that on a consistent basis. Then, you’re so much more likely to do it in a healthy way and keep it off, which is most important because, well, let’s be honest really, anybody can lose weight by just not eating, but that’s just not a sustainable thing.

JOHN PETROZZI: Yup. So, Chris, just with your website, you’ve had lots of people on there and you’ve got a whole community on there now. What were the main reasons why people were putting weight on?

CHRIS DOWNIE: In the early days, our site was probably an equal amount of goal-setting and health and weight loss. We found that people get really well with setting weight loss goals, because then you’re combining goal setting and weight loss and you can really start seeing your results pretty quickly. That starts to build your excitement and build your momentum. Weight loss is such a great example of goal-setting and setting and reaching small goals because then, it does build momentum.

In our book, The Spark, we talk a lot about the crisscross effect and that’s where we see as you start reaching goals in one area of life, you may have these breakthroughs and start reaching goals in other areas of life that you may not have even been focusing on. A good example that I see often is members who would say, “I’ve lost 50 pounds but then, using the same type of goal-setting technique, I just got a promotion at work, or I’m being a better parent, or my kids are even better.” So, that’s what’s so much fun about Spark People: that it really is different and it really does work, and it changes not just your weight, it changes your whole life.

JOHN PETROZZI: Have you noticed that there’s been a lot more young people come on the site and start setting goals to lose weight?

CHRIS DOWNIE: You know, that’s a good question. It’s really all over the board. We have people on our main site on SparkPeople.com that’s just for people 18 and over, but then we have a teen website called SparkTeens.com that is for teens aged 13 to 17. Then, on the SparkPeople.com, we have 18 all the way up to 80 and there’s a big nick.

In the community, we conjoined what we call “Spark Teams.” These teams can be around any affinity, so it could be based on the amount of weight you have to lose, your location, or your age, or different hobbies. So, we do have teams that are just for people in different age groups if you want to get motivation from other people around the same age.

JOHN PETROZZI: Okay.  You’ve mentioned goals before. What have you found has been the best way to set goals and achieve them?

CHRIS DOWNIE: Well, I’ve learned over the years that there are several ways that have helped me the most and seem to work pretty well for other people. One of those is literally writing down the goals so you can see it and put in front of you every day. A tip that I put in Spark that helped me so much is that I created what we call a “vision collage,” where I took pictures that represented my goals, a lot of more action pictures, and turn them into a simple collage and put them on the wall in my office.

So that every day, when I was sitting there and I’d be at work and then maybe get down because I was working late, maybe tempted to go eat some fast food, I could look at this vision collage and see my goals on the wall. Just those few seconds of looking at my goals would help me realize that that’s what I’m really working for.

Another good example of how Spark People in Spark just aren’t about losing weight; it’s really keeping your big picture goals in mind and realising that every day, you have an opportunity to get one step closer to those goals.

JOHN PETROZZI: It sounds like on your website, Chris, you’ve got a facility to track your goals. How does that work on a website, this sort of thing, because I suppose it’s almost a coaching site?

CHRIS DOWNIE: It is a little bit like coaching. We do have what we call “Spark People coaches” in the community and they help other people. In the software we let people set goals and they can type out the goals and give themselves a certain time period for reaching those goals. So, we really have integrated the concept of goal-setting into the whole processing of losing weight and making a healthy lifestyle change.

JOHN PETROZZI: People just encourage each other in the community – is that how it works?

CHRIS DOWNIE: Yeah, that’s exactly how it works.  So, everything about SparkPeople.com is really positive, starting from the mission and then the colors of the site. Once people start reaching their goals, they just get so excited about it that they then are encouraged to help other people. I talk about how it’s a little bit like when you throw a rock into a pond and you see those rings start to form.

In early days when our community was very small, then somebody would make a post on the message board, our team would go in and answer the questions. We would usually do that. But then, as we started growing and getting more people who were having success, we noticed that we would go in to answer a question and a member would have already answered it with a better perspective than we would have been able to give, because they were actually living it themselves.

So, these rings have expanded and we started out with just a few people in the community and now it’s literally millions of message board posts every month and SparkPeople.com has the largest online health community, I believe, in the world, or at least it’s one of the largest.

JOHN PETROZZI: Wow! So give us a rundown, if we’ve got a whole lot of weight we want to lose, and we’ve been carrying it for, let’s say, 10 to 12 years, don’t do much exercise, have a pretty busy lifestyle, sort of leave home early, get home pretty late, cook at home couple of times a week – what kind of advice can you give someone who’s in that situation to lose some weight?

CHRIS DOWNIE: First of all, I would point out the comments that you made that it’s 10-12 years that it took you to put on this weight, so it’s having that mentality that it took you a long time to put this on, so it’s going to be more than a week to take it off. We’ll have people focus on setting those three small goals. When they come and join the site, we’ll enter your current weight and your goal weight and that’ll help you set goals each week – the number of calories and your fitness level.

So, it’s really a simple set up process that gets you set up, because we do all the math behind the scenes and you just have to enter a few numbers. Then, as you go through your three small goals and one of those may be, probably my all-time favorite one, is to try to do 10 minutes of exercise four or five times a week. People will say, “Well, how in the world can that help me lose 50 pounds?” We have so many stories that people who started off being very obese and that they couldn’t even walk to their mailbox, and then they do this and just continue to build momentum, eventually, they run in a marathon. So, it’s really just amazing to see what that kind of mindset to new people who did it.

So, it might be that combination of simple nutrition-changing in your house. You’ve mentioned eating at home. That’s another one of our secrets of success is that our members learned to cook more food at home so then they are able to control portion sizes and choose very healthy ingredients, and just really feel that they’re more in touch with the food that they’re eating on a regular basis.

I’ve learned that that’s been a great one for me because I help keep my wife on track with fitness and she’s really great at cooking at home and cooking healthy meals so she helps me stay on track with fitness. Well, that’s actually another good one for this person losing weight is to involve your family, involve your friends in your journey. That’s going to make it a lot more likely that you’d build up this momentum.

JOHN PETROZZI: Oh, that sounds great, Chris. What kind of exercise ideas have people on the site come up with? Because if you usually go to the gym and work out, there’s go for a jab, go for a walk, walk your dog – any other sort of inventive ways that people have thought of sticking some exercise into their working day?

CHRIS DOWNIE: Yeah, that’s a great question because a lot of people do think when they think about fitness, it’s like “Oh, I need to go to the gym.” I found out that if you base your entire fitness program on needing to go to the gym, then you’re always at risk of life getting overwhelming and that makes you more likely to fall off.  So, what I try to encourage people instead is to base your fitness program on simple things that you can do at home, maybe as simple as walking around the block.

One of my favorites is having a mini trampoline that you can get for usually $30-50, then going out in the morning and bouncing on this mini-trampoline and trying to get a good amount of sunshine in the morning to help wake you up. Sometimes, I even do that with my kids, so it makes it killing several birds at once because then I’m spending quality time with my kids, as well. So, that’s one of my real favorites – the morning exercise.

Then, once you have this base at home, then going to the gym becomes actually fun. It’s almost like extra credit. So then, you have a completely different mindset and it’s not like, “Oh, I need to go to the gym.” It’s more like, “Oh, I get to go to the gym!”  It’s like a treat.

Really, we keep our members to a lot of different things, all the way from Wii Fit exercises, which some people may think aren’t really exercises but they’re routines. Recent studies show that they actually do provide good exercise, especially for beginners. We’re really open to just about any kind of activity, especially to get people started and then slowly living it up.

One of my real favorite ones is to find something that you actually like doing so that fitness doesn’t feel like a chore. For me, one of my favorite things is to go hiking with my family. We’d go on the weekend and hike for an hour or so and it’s just a lot of fun.

JOHN PETROZZI: Beautiful.  In terms of nutrition, have you found that people will need to eat more regularly in smaller portions to lose some weight or what have you found in your community that’s worked?

CHRIS DOWNIE: I think that is a good one that you try to be more balanced. Actually, some people will come up with extreme types of diet like they won’t eat breakfast, then they won’t eat anything until 2:00, and then they eat one big giant meal. We try to help people stay very balanced. One of our secrets of success in Spark is to eat breakfast. Almost every single one of our success stories in the survey eats breakfast regularly. That helps you just start your day off right by having something simple and healthy for breakfast and then, just follow this consistent plan throughout the day.

One of my favorites that I remember I used myself is that when I’d be leaving work, I was a lot more tempted to stop off and get fast food because I was hungry. So I would leave that healthy food in my car like some simple nuts and raisins or something like that that would hold me over until I got home and make a healthier choice than fast-food. So, it’s all these simple little habits that you can build one at a time and it makes it fun. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt or something the way you’re building up these fun and healthy habits one at a time. We really try to give people a lot of different tips like that in Spark.

JOHN PETROZZI: That’s great. Just to give people a bit of a timeline, how long does it normally take to develop a new habit and how long does it take to lose some weight and see a noticeable difference in losing weight?

CHRIS DOWNIE: First, I’ll address the habits. There’s a lot of different research out there, but there’s probably something “Do something for 21 days in turning it into a habit.” I’ve found that if you try to focus on building one new habit at a time, a lot of times that you need to do it so that you don’t get overwhelmed. A lot of people, when they first part trying to lose weight then, they’ll think they have to change like ten different things at once, and then they get frustrated when those things don’t work out. So, we try to get people to change that mindset. When you think about making small changes one at a time and have you build one habit, that becomes part of your lifestyle and then you can start working on the next one.

In terms of losing weight, we really encourage people to start losing weight right away just at a slower pace than a lot of traditional diets. We try to get people to focus on losing one to two pounds a week right away. Some people will often lose more right at the beginning, because they’re either at the higher scale of weight or they lose a lot of water weight at first. So then, we just try to keep them encouraged to not continue losing a lot at once and get happy with just one to two pounds a week and see it steadily happen.

So, one of my fun, favorite things on the website is seeing people get into that and say “It’s taken me a while, but I’ve lost 80 pounds,” then, seeing that they build up these habits that make it so much more likely that they will continue that way.

Another one of the secrets is once people go through all of these changes on nutrition and fitness and everything else, they find that they actually like eating healthy foods more than they used to like eating some of their unhealthy choices.

JOHN PETROZZI: Interesting. Just before we need to wrap it up, Chris, can you share with us some of your most favorite stories you’ve come across on your community website, where people have made some great life changes and lost a whole bunch of weight?

CHRIS DOWNIE: Yeah, that’s really so fun. There are so many different types of stories. One of my favorites that we have featured in Spark is a doctor named Birdie. She lived in Florida in the United States. She lost a hundred pounds on our website and then, went out into her hospital and sparked hundreds of patients at her hospital and eventually, we heard about this story that she was this doctor helping so many people. We had her featured in People Magazine, a very large magazine, and you know the key is getting excited about doing that.

Then, from there, she went on Good Morning America and was interviewed by the one of the top interviewers in America. It’s just so exciting to see things like that where we can feature these members.

But then another one of my favorite stories that just highlights the excitement in the community on SparkPeople.com was a group of women, probably 15 to 20 of them, where they met on the website and became such good friends that they decided to take a vacation together. All of them went with their spouses and rented a cabin and just spent a weekend together. They said it was like a reunion of sisters coming together. So that just highlights how much fun and interactive the online community actually can be.

JOHN PETROZZI: Oh, that sounds great, Chris. Sounds like you’re making a massive impact in the world of weight loss.

CHRIS DOWNIE: Yeah. We’re trying to be more and more for our Spark friends in Australia, because we love just taking this all over world, and I hope to visit one day myself.

JOHN PETROZZI: Oh, good. All right, Chris, well, that’s all we have time for. Thanks for making the time to talk to us today, and I wish you all the success with your book and with your website. Anyone who’s listening out there, go and have a look at the website because it sounds like it’s a very positive place to go and share or actually have a read first, I suppose, of how people are losing weight and make an impact on your life to lose some extra kilos that have been hanging around for too long.

Thanks a lot, Chris, for coming on the show.

CHRIS DOWNIE: Thank you, John. I appreciate it. Have a great day.

JOHN PETROZZI: That’s great. Thank you.

Thanks for joining us today on Living is Easy. To listen to this and other podcasts, go to www.livingiseasy.com.au.

I’m John Petrozzi. Until next time, stay well and stay happy.