The Cost of Dieting
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
What would you do with £25,000? Buy an expensive new car, splash out on lots of exotic holidays, pay off some of your mortgage?
It’s a huge amount of money that most of us can only dream about. Yet according to a recent study, British women potentially spend this staggering amount on diets over the course of a lifetime.
It might sound unfeasible, but memberships to gyms and slimming clubs, buying new exercise equipment and clothes, investing in diet books and magazines, and the additional costs to the weekly shop for healthier ingredients, special diet foods and supplements soon add up.
The study, carried out by Engage Mutual – a financial services company – included 3,000 women and found that on average, they incurred the following costs each time they started a diet:
|'Diet ' Foods||£27.41|
|Magazines and Books||£6.06|
The study found most women started three diets a year – giving a yearly spend of £485.25. And if this annual pattern is repeated from the age of 18 to 70 years, that adds up to £25,233 in a lifetime!
It doesn’t have to be this way though – check out our Get Skinny on a Skinny Budget Kit which includes our Budget Diet Plan to help you lose half a stone for with delicious food for less than £25 a week.
So just why do we fork out such staggering amounts of money – and is it really necessary? We take a look at where your money can go and show you how to keep it in your purse, whilst still shifting those extra pounds…
Costly calories 1: The weekly shop
It’s commonly thought that starting a diet means eating less, which in turn should cut costs as you buy less food. But the reality is often different. Experts agree that eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to lose weight, and in many cases that may mean spending more – rather than less – on the weekly shop.
Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish and reduced-fat cheese, which nutrition experts say we should eat at every meal to help improve satiety, are expensive. Similarly, fruit and veg tend to be more expensive than fatty and sugary snack foods such as crisps and biscuits – for example, a bag of crisps from a supermarket own-brand six-pack costs around 17p. In contrast, an apple costs around 30p. Similarly, a packet of supermarket own-brand biscuits – roughly three biscuits a day for a week – costs around £1.25, whereas seven supermarket own-brand individual pots of fat-free yoghurt costs £2.87.
Furthermore, many slimmers find it easier to rely on reduced-fat ready meals, which are conveniently calorie-counted, and these tend to cost anywhere between £2-3 each – a lot more than, for example, a jacket potato with baked beans and salad, which costs just 95p.
For many of us, starting a weight loss plan is synonymous with stocking up on foods that we associate with dieting, many of which we don’t usually eat or even like that much – healthy cereal bars, excessive amounts of bagged lettuce (that inevitably ends up in the bin), cottage cheese, fat-free natural yogurt, bran cereals, artificial sweeteners and copious amounts of diet drinks, for example. There’s also a tendency to suddenly start buying low-fat ‘treats’ such as cakes, crisps and puddings, which we don’t normally eat, but because we’re ‘dieting’ we think we might feel deprived if we don’t have them available.
On the positive side, making our own packed lunches, eating fewer takeaways and going out for dinner less often can considerably cut calories but also saves large amounts of money – and this may easily offset an increase in the price of the weekly shop and may even leave a profit!
Budget-beating healthy tips
- Work out a weekly menu of meals and snacks that you enjoy and actually want to eat, (the Calorie, Carb & Fat Bible will make this easier), then make a shopping list that includes all the ingredients you need to make those meals. If you need some help putting your menus together take a look at WLR’s Budget Diet Plan.
- Make the most of supermarket ‘economy’, ‘value’ or ‘budget’ brands, which now include healthy foods like potatoes, fresh and canned vegetables and fruit, beans, wholemeal bread, milk, orange juice, chicken, pasta and rice – they’re even cheaper than supermarket own-label brands.
- Look out for special offers such as ‘buy one get one free’, ‘half price’ or ‘25 per cent extra’ deals on healthy ingredients.
- Check ‘use by’ dates on packaging, particularly for salad, fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, yogurts and meat and only buy them if you can be sure you’ll be able to eat them while they’re still at their best.
- Buy fruit and veg from your local market or greengrocers. They’re often cheaper than supermarkets, especially if you go at the end of the day. If you’re not able to pick your own fruit and veggies, check the quality of the produce in the bag before you leave the stall so you can swap any items that are past their best.
- Save money by buying fruit and veg that are in season. In September you’re guaranteed to get a good price for butternut squash, figs, pears, plums, pumpkin, cabbage, leeks, apples, aubergines, beetroot, carrots, chicory, fennel, sweetcorn and watercress.
- Rather than always choosing meat, poultry or fish, plan some meals that include less expensive sources of protein such as eggs, beans and lentils.
- Don’t rely on expensive ready meals. Instead, come up with a list of quick, healthy and convenient meals you can make yourself, such as a jacket potato with tuna and sweetcorn, pasta with a vegetable sauce or even scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast.
- Buy veg you need to prepare yourself. Ready-peeled potatoes, trimmed green beans or sliced mushrooms may be good time savers but they cost a lot more.
- Use a price comparison website to help you make healthier – and less expensive – choices. Try www.mysupermarket.co.uk
Why not take a look at our Slash Your Weekly Spend article for more budget beating healthy tips.
Costly calories 2: The expensive diet plan
It may not be a surprise to discover that weekly menus from fashionable diets usually cost more than your normal weekly menu. But by how much?
Several years ago, American media giant Forbes investigated the cost of weekly menus from 10 popular diets including Jenny Craig, Atkins, Weight Watchers, the Zone, South Beach and Slimfast and found that on average, the food needed to create a weekly menu for one person cost $86 – around £55 at today’s exchange rate.
Jenny Craig dieters were hit the hardest where a week’s worth of food, including ready-supplied meals and snacks, cost the equivalent of more than £88.
A week on the Atkins diet was found to cost £65, perhaps unsurprising when one lunch recipe included lobster tail! Even a weekly menu for Weight Watchers came in at an expensive £62 per week – and for club members that’s on top of the joining and weekly fee.
Added to the cost of the food itself, many fashionable diets also recommend supplements to compensate for the lack of nutrients provided by the diet. Plus, you’ll usually have the cost of the book that comes with recommended meal plans.
Thankfully WLR has worked out a plan that includes all the nutrients you need for less than £25 a week, check out our delicious 4-week Budget Diet Plan .
Meal replacement products can also be expensive. For example, two ready-to-drink bottles of Slimfast milkshake (the recommended amount for a day) costs £3.18 or over £22 for a week’s supply – and then you still need to factor in the cost of a healthy meal and three snacks each day, too.
In reality though, nutrition experts agree that despite the higher price tag, popular diets are unlikely to be any more effective at shifting those pounds than a healthy, balanced, reduced-calorie diet. All diets – whether Slimfast, Atkins or Weight Watchers – work on the same principle: they restrict calories forcing our bodies to use up their fat stores to provide them with enough energy to function properly.
That’s why creating your own lower-calorie diet, which includes foods you enjoy and can easily afford is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. WLR’s Get Skinny on a Skinny Budget Kit will show you how for only £9.99.
Meanwhile, if you’re eating a balanced diet you shouldn’t need to take vitamin and/or mineral supplements. Plus if you’re a fan of meal replacement plans, you can easily create your own at a fraction of the cost by making up big batches of homemade soup with beans or lentils or milkshakes made from skimmed milk, fresh fruit and yogurt.
The more restricted a diet, the more likely it is to damage your health and bank balance. According to the British Dietetic Association, the following are all signs of a faddy diet:
- It promises a quick fix
- It recommends the magical fat-burning effects of foods eg grapefruit
- It promotes the avoidance or severe limitation of a whole food group, such as carbohydrate foods or dairy foods (and suggests large doses of vitamin and mineral supplements as a replacement)
- It promotes eating mainly one type of food eg cabbage soup or eggs
- It suggests easy, rapid weight loss (more than 2lbs a week)
- It recommends eating foods only in particular combinations
- It makes claims that sound 'too good to be true'
- It focuses only on your appearance rather than on health benefits
Costly calories 3: The bank workout
According to Sainsbury’s Bank, the average annual gym membership costs £372. But when we lose weight, it’s not just gym memberships we fork out on. Many of us invest in equipment that lets us exercise at home ranging from lower priced items such as fitness DVDs, resistance bands and skipping ropes to mid-priced gear like dumb bells, mini trampolines and stability balls through to expensive pieces of equipment such as exercise bikes, rowing machines and stepping machines. Then there’s the additional cost of new trainers and clothes, plus monitoring equipment such as heart rate monitors and pedometers. All in all, the amount we spend on trying to improve our fitness can quickly add up.
In reality though, it’s very easy to get fit for free. For example, walking, running and cycling (assuming you have a bike) cost nothing. And as for fitness fashion, whilst it’s worth splashing out on a decent pair of trainers, leggings or tracksuit bottoms with a t-shirt and fleece are all you need.
Meanwhile, if you own a DVD player and are a member of a library, you can borrow fitness DVDs. Whether you fancy salsa, yoga, aerobics, power walking, ballet, martial arts or pilates, you’ll find a DVD to help you do it – and won’t have to pay a thing. Swapping fitness videos and DVDs with friends is also a great way to lose the pounds from your waistline but not your wallet. And if you have a PlayStation, Wii or Xbox then there are dozens of fitness games available, which again you can often borrow from libraries.
Check out free exercise plans on the internet, too, and then create a mini gym in your own home – use stairs as steps, the edge of the bath to do tricep dips and cans or bottles of water as weights.
Finally, using leg power for your daily commute will help you get fit and save money on petrol or fares for public transport. In fact, in 30 minutes you only burn 35 calories sitting in a bus, car, tube or train, compared with 140 calories for a brisk walk and 280 for a cycle.
And if you still fancy joining a gym, there are ways to cut costs…
- Check out all the gyms in your area. Gym prices can vary considerably so do your homework. If you know the cost for each gym’s membership, you may be able to negotiate the price at your preferred one.
- See what your local leisure centre offers – many offer different types of membership and these can be a lot cheaper than private gyms.
- Try before you buy – some gyms offer a day pass or trial membership, effectively allowing you to try out the equipment and use the facilities.
- Sign up to an off-peak membership – most gyms offer a cheaper tariff if you can go at off-peak times.
Free activities to try…
|Activity||Calories Burnt in 30 Minutes|
|Walking at a moderate pace||120|
|Walking at a brisk pace||140|
|Bat and ball||140|
|Running and chasing kids||140|
|Cycling, light effort||210|
|Cycling, moderate effort||280|
|Cycling, vigorous effort||350|
Costly calories 4: The price of support
Joining slimming clubs, online clubs or buying ‘diet’ magazines can quickly put a dent in your bank balance. But these resources can be important for providing support, giving you new recipe and meal ideas and helping to keep you motivated. As a result, rather than simply dismissing them as an additional cost, it’s worth doing your homework and shopping around to see if there’s a support network that’s suits you and fits into your budget. Slimming clubs – both those where you meet each week and online services – can vary tremendously in price so spend time researching the cost and what you actually get for your money. Some also offer a free trial so you can try before you buy. Also find out what the cancellation policy is – and whether you have to sign up for a minimum time scale. With magazines, although it’s usually far cheaper to buy an annual subscription, if you’re not sure whether you want the magazine for a whole year, then stick to monthly purchases.
With some careful research and planning, it’s possible to shape up without spending a fortune – leaving you with plenty of pounds in your purse rather than around your waist!
Eating healthy on a budget is easy with WLR. See how much you could save in your pocket and on the scales - add a diet meal plan to your WLR Food Diary and see exactly what you’re eating. You can even create printable shopping lists. Try it Free for 24 hours.
Government funded initiative with useful info about cutting down on how much food you waste - helping you spend less.