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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.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 2, 2013 6:37PM

This post comes from Geoff Williams at partner site U.S. News & World Report.


U.S. News & World Report logoEvery January, the nation is clobbered by TV, print, and online advertisements touting products and services that will make this the year that extra weight finally comes off.


Image: Person on scale (© Purestock/SuperStock)If the ads ever do mention the cost of using their products or services, it's downplayed. That doesn't necessarily mean spending money should be a deterrent from shedding pounds and improving your health, but it's nice to know whether your bank account can handle the weight-loss strategy you're about to embark on.


If you realize midway through your new fitness regime that you didn't budget adequately, you may find yourself abandoning it and embracing your old friends Taco and Bell.


According to data by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm that specializes in tracking niche industries, Americans shell out north of $60 billion annually trying to lose pounds, spendng on everything from gym memberships and weight-loss programs to diet sodas.


If you've resolved to lose weight, consider these tips before emptying your pockets:


If you join a gym

As gym regulars know, every January an onslaught of new members storms the entrance and swarms the machines. "You do get the New Year's resolution crowd," says Patrick Strait, communications manager for Snap Fitness, a worldwide chain of 24-hour gym and fitness centers. "It probably starts about the last week of December. Everyone's motivated and excited about the idea of getting into better shape."


Last January, Snap Fitness added 100,000 members to its nationwide membership roster -- nearly double the number it added in August.


At fitness centers throughout the country, by summer the new gym members are nowhere to be seen. Consequently, exercise caution before joining a gym, especially if you're signing up for a full year's membership and if fitness training is a new concept to your body. While a Snap Fitness single membership is $35 a month, the average monthly cost for a gym membership is $55, according to, which specializes in collecting data on consumers and businesses.


Other stats from worth noting: The average amount of money that goes to waste at the gym is $39 a month, and 67% of people with gym memberships never use them.


Of course, you may buck the odds, and nobody should be immediately discouraged from joining a gym. However, opting for a pay-as-you-go fitness plan or a monthly membership -- instead of locking yourself into a yearlong membership -- is a safer option, financially speaking. You can always sign up for a longer, presumably cheaper membership later, after you've determined whether you're going to stick to your new lifestyle.


After all, according to a new survey from, two-thirds of U.S. adults have made a New Year's resolution to become fit, but 73% of those two-thirds give it up before achieving their goal.


If you can't afford a gym: While sit-ups and pushups may sound like a drag, Jennifer Seyler, a dietician and personal trainer and the president of the Chicago Food and Nutrition Network, says, "There are a variety of at-home exercises you can perform that leverage your own body weight, including sit-ups, pushups, walking lunges, squats and triceps dips."


Beyond that, many cable services offer free, on-demand workout videos, as do various websites, like YouTube.


If you join a weight-loss program

If you opt for Weight Watchers, what you spend will depend on whether you're attending in-person meetings ($42.95 a month) or joining the organization online ($18.95 a month).


Nutrisystem a tiered pricing system depending on your gender (men pay a little more), making it difficult to say exactly what you'll pay, but costs typically range from $270 to $300 a month. While that may sound pricey, the payment includes about 60% of what you'll be eating every month, which is why men pay more (they get more food), so at least the cost should be offset by a drop in your grocery bill.


Visit and you'll be told you can spend as little as $36 for an eight-week program and $488 for a full year. However, that doesn't include the cost of food and shipping, which can add up to 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 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."


Carney ticks off a couple other examples, including a woman who traced imaginary lines on her plate. She divided it into half 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 at


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. But if your paycheck is sickly, the prices in the produce section at the grocery store can seem discouraging. 


However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted studies that insist you don't have to spend much more to eat more healthful 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.


When the USDA compared 20 different fruits and vegetables with 20 other snack foods, it determined that, on average, the fruits and vegetables cost 31 cents per portion and the snacks were 33 cents per portion. If you're careful about what you buy, you may spend less by eating better.


If you can't afford to change the way you eat: Saying you can't change is a cop-out, says Dr. Tanvir Hussain, a cardiologist in Los Angeles who has many low-income patients. "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.


"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. In the course of losing weight and becoming thinner, "my food bill went way down."


More from U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money:


Jan 2, 2013 9:57PM
To keep a high credit score you must keep debt. Might have a lower score due to not having any debt.

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