The Heavy Price of Losing Weight

Shedding pounds can be expensive, but the costs don’t have to be as bloated as you might think.

People working out at the gym
By + More

Visit JennyCraig.com and you'll be told you can spend as low as $36 for an eight-week program and $488 for a full year. However, that doesn't include the cost of their food and shipping, which can put you out a couple thousand dollars over the course of six months.

If you can't afford a weight-loss program: Kat Carney, executive producer of the TV show The Weigh We Were, which airs on PBS stations in Georgia, says she's picked up a number of cheap weight-loss tips by working on the show, which features 34 people who lost a combined 3,472 pounds.

"One guest put up his large dinner plates and ate all of his meals from a small bowl," says Carney. "In other words, [he exercised] forced portion control. He made no other changes to his diet."

[In Pictures: 10 Kitchen Tools That Will Save You Money.]

Carney ticks off a couple other examples, including that of a woman who traced an imaginary line down the center of her plate. She divided one half into vegetables, one-fourth carbohydrates, and one-fourth protein. She lost 116 pounds. Another guest on the television show shed 111 pounds by copying exercises she saw on TV and taking frequent walks in nearby parks.

The pilot episode can be seen for free starting January 1 at TheWeighWeWere.com.

If you change the way you eat: Anyone who isn't a healthy eater knows that it's easy to find cheap snacks and inexpensive fast food, like a McDouble on McDonald's dollar menu, or a 99-cent bag of Cheetos at the grocery store. However, if your paycheck is sickly, go to the produce section at the grocery store, where the prices can be deflating.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted studies that insist you don't have to spend much more by eating healthier foods. According to Food Business News, one recent USDA study found that if you're eating 2,000 calories from breakfast to bedtime, you should be able to consume all the vegetables and fruit you need for $2 to $2.50 a day. The USDA also determined when it compared 20 different fruits and vegetables to 20 other snack foods that, on average, the fruits and vegetables cost $0.31 per portion and the snacks were $0.33 per portion. If you're careful about what you buy, you may spend less by eating healthier.

If you can't afford to change the way you eat: Saying you can't change is a cop-out, according to Tanvir Hussain, a cardiologist in Los Angeles who has many low-income patients as part of his practice. "Sometimes patients forget the fundamentals, which is that the biggest bang for your health buck comes from replacing unhealthy foods [with] healthier foods," says Hussain. "Eating more fruits and vegetables in place of meats and heavy carbs creates huge health benefits."

Hussain insists that "cheaper produce can be found," and that people too often don't search for inexpensive fruits and vegetables. Case in point: Also on the McDonald's dollar menu is a side salad.

[In Pictures: 10 Ways to Save on Food Costs.]

"Produce is produce, and an apple's nutritional value doesn't increase if it's bought at an expensive grocery store," says Hussain. "Furthermore, there have been many studies showing frozen vegetables to be at least equally, if not more, nutritious as fresh vegetables, since they are often frozen closer to harvest and not sitting around. It isn't uncommon to find big, cheap bags of frozen vegetables at the grocery store, and again, the nutritional value doesn't change just because there is a name-brand logo on the bag."

He adds: "The longer-term savings that can be gained from avoiding medications, hospital stays, and medical procedures is incalculable in today's health economy. Avoiding or delaying a heart attack or stroke by several years means that many more years of work and generating income, health and mobility, and time spent with family during the holidays."

People aiming to lose weight may save money in other ways, says Carney, who dropped 90 pounds 12 years ago and says that in the course of losing weight and becoming thinner, "My food bill went way down."