Get Real: The Real Cost of Losing Weight

Dropping pounds doesn't have to mean dropping a bundle. Part 3 of our four-part Get Real series.

The formula for losing weight is simple: Eating less + exercising more = a smaller number on the scale. When it comes to covering the cost of personal trainers, fitness classes, workout gear and a diet filled with fruits and veggies, sometimes the numbers just don’t add up.

There is good news: Dropping a dress size doesn’t have to lead to an emaciated bank account. You can lose weight without spending big bucks (and have enough cash left over to splurge on an organic cotton dress to show off that new figure)!
Shop Smart
It doesn’t take long for the cost of groceries to add up. Stocking up on grass-fed beef, organic milk and local veggies can be expensive but, according to Orlando-based nutritionist Tara Gidus, eating well doesn’t have to break the bank.
“The biggest expense isn’t the foods we eat, it’s the foods we waste,” says Gidus, M.S., R.D., founder of “Planning ahead and shopping smart can cut costs and food waste to help stretch the food budget.”
At the supermarket, shop for store brands, stock up on whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta, and supplement fresh produce with canned or frozen fruits and veggies — all are less-expensive options that have the same nutritious values as their costlier counterparts. Then, plan a week’s worth of meals to use all of those ingredients.  
You might want to consider making meatless meals several times a week. According to Gidus, opting for veggie lasagna over meat lasagna will save up to 200 calories per serving! Plus, meat can be expensive. The benefits of eating less meat will be evident in the bank balance and on the scale.
The bulk bin is also a great place to save.
“It’s a lot cheaper to buy in bulk because there is no brand name or packaging,” Gidus explains.
Just be sure to stick with staples like cereal, beans, pasta and spices and skip the bins of colorful chocolates.
Eat Out for Less
Losing weight doesn’t mean sacrificing date night or canceling on dinner with friends. It’s possible to spend less and weigh less while still indulging in restaurant meals.
Order a salad and an appetizer or split an entrée with a friend. It’s also a good idea to think twice about making friends with the bartender.
“Stick with one drink or skip alcohol altogether because it has a lot of calories, says Lisa Lillien, author of Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World. “You’re also more likely to overeat if you’re feeling tipsy and less inhibited.”
After dinner, skip the $8.95 slice of chocolate cake on the dessert menu — the cost and the calories will add up. To tame a raging post-dinner sweet tooth, stick with sorbet, which is lighter and less expensive, and ask for two spoons.
Form a Fit Club
Motivation can be the hardest part of losing weight. You’ll have a better chance of success — not to mention a lot more fun — with a friend.
An insurance provider in the U.K. released a report that found that women who participate in active outings with friends lose an average of 10 pounds while at least 20 percent of those who work out solo don’t drop a single pound.
“The people who get results are the ones who make a point of being active,” notes Ellen Barrett, M.A., a fitness instructor and creator of bestselling workout DVDs like Fusion Flow.
Barrett suggests inviting friends to form a Fit Club. It can be as simple as gathering a group of coworkers for a lunchtime power walk or committing to train for a 5k with friends. Making the appointment to be active is more important than the activities.
“You’ll get encouragement from others, which makes fitness much more fun. Plus, it’s a lot harder to flake out when others are counting on you,” Barrett says.
Beg, Borrow or Get Equipment for a Steal
“I think the excuse, ‘I’m too poor to be fit’ is lame,” says Barrett. “There are lots of options that are cheap or free.”
Instead of spending a huge sum on a gym membership, try hiking on local trails, jogging around the block, going to an ice skating rink with friends or organizing a flag football game at the park. Losing weight is all about working up a sweat, no top-of-the-line fitness equipment needed.
Of course, equipment can be beneficial. Before shelling out for a new elliptical trainer or mountain bike, ask a friend to borrow hers. You’ll get a feel for the workout before committing to an expensive piece that might never get used. You can also shop for used equipment at secondhand stores and garage sales where there’s a good chance someone will take accept a small sum in exchange for getting an oversized piece of equipment out of their house.
Barrett also suggests using workout DVDs to sample different workouts, from yoga and Pilates to kickboxing and step aerobics. You can borrow workout DVDs from libraries, shop for them at garage sales or add them to your Netflix queue and it’s much cheaper than attending a class.
“Classes can be so crowded and expensive,” she says. “Using a workout DVD is like having a personal trainer in the living room.”
Make a Deal

Whether you’re shopping for a $3,000 treadmill or just need new sneakers, it never hurts to ask for a discount. Retailers are often willing to cut their prices in order to secure a sale.
You’ll have the best success negotiating a discount by shopping for last year’s models or offering to purchase floor samples or scratch-and-dent merchandise. If the price is right, a few scratches in the paint on a top-of-the-line bike that’s so 2009 won’t matter at all. 
Even fitness memberships can be discounted, according to Barrett.
“Think of the membership salespeople at the gym like used-car salespeople,” she says. “They have the power to make a deal — all you have to do is ask.”

Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference.

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