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Free Online Site Takes on Diet Gurus

Many people need a push to lose weight.

Chris Downie, the 39-year-old founder of SparkPeople, offers weight-loss tools, but not like Weight Watchers (WTW - Get Report) or other diet programs such as the South Beach Diet, the Zone, Atkins or eDiets. SparkPeople's goal is not to help people lose weight, but to help individuals set and achieve personal goals. It's also completely free.

"We're more of a healthy-lifestyle program. Our goal is to help people make a healthy lifestyle change so they won't have to diet anymore," says Downie. "We try to make it really positive and fun. So we have a lot of things in our program that help people turn this from being a chore into something that's fun and exciting."

To help individuals make a change, SparkPeople offers numerous tools based on a goal-setting system Downie has been developing since he was 13 years old. It took nearly two decades to unveil it to the world, but in 2001 SparkPeople launched.

"We try to get people to start off with small goals and then reach those and get excited," says Downie. For example, a user might set the goal of drinking eight glasses of water a day. "That builds momentum and then you can start tackling bigger goals."

There's probably no better testimonial to Downie's system than Downie himself. In 1996, he and a friend launched an online auction site, Up4Sale.com, after he left his career as an accountant at Procter & Gamble (PG - Get Report). In 1998, after two more friends joined, Up4Sale was acquired by eBay (EBAY - Get Report) for a reported $70 million. Downie met his wife at eBay, crediting his motivational system for their connection. He then decided it was time to start a new company, and SparkPeople was born.

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