The cost of dieting

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Why Eating Healthy Won't Cost You More

Two months ago, Joshua Schall, a business consultant in Austin, Texas, decided to try the ketogenic diet, keto for short, which forces the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. Schall, who used to be a fitness writer, was curious about the hype and thought he'd give it a shot. The diet, it should be noted, hasn't won over the medical profession for weight loss among the general public (though it's used medically to control epilepsy).

In any case, Schall lost nine pounds, but he also got rid of some bloat in his budget.

"I lowered my grocery bill 20 percent to about $75 a week," Schall says. "The main difference was being able to buy cheaper cuts of meat from my traditional lean cuts." He also cut down on purchasing flavored drinks and juices.

Americans spend billions of dollars a year in an effort to lose weight, but it's easy to forget that occasionally, consumers save money in their quest. Eating less food, after all, should translate into more cash.

View the 10 best diets for every budget:

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Best Diets for Every Budget
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The cost of dieting
Named U.S. News and World Report's best overall diet for four years in a row, this diet is definitely worth investigating. The DASH Diet integrates whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, low- or non-fat dairy and fish or poultry, while limiting high-fat foods, salt and red meat. While fresh fruits and vegetable will cost you, cutting most red meat from you diet will make this diet wallet-friendly.
While the Paleo diet (eating like our ancestors did) isn't usually thought to be a low-price option, there are some simple ways you can do it on the cheap. Paleo Diet Lifestyle recommends buying products like olive oil in bulk, choosing cheap cuts and buying bone-in meats and buying whole or canned fish.
Traditional Mediterranean diets are proven to be incredible for your health! Even better, according to LearnVest, if you choose an inexpensive olive oil and stay away from the pricier varieties of products like tuna steak and chardonnay, you can expect to keep your bill within reason.
People often report feeling better, mentally and physically, after giving up gluten. This diet can be affordable if you follow one rule: eat foods that are naturally free of gluten. Products made specifically for gluten-free diets are often pricey. Opt for frozen or in-season fruits and veggies to keep produce prices low.
LearnVest calls the vegan diet "a steal" if done smartly. Be sure to cook for yourself rather than buy expensive prepared vegan cuisine. You can also find tofu for just half the price of ground beef per pound.

The Atkins diet helps dieters lose weight by cutting carbs from their diets. To make this protein-rich diet budget-friendly, try underrated cuts such as chuck and sirloin, always buy whole chickens and experiment with pork.

This government-endorsed diet centers around lowering cholesterol and begins with setting calorie goals. These calorie levels and limits on dietary cholesterol should curb overeating and help keep you within your budget. Cutting fatty meats can also help your bill.
The flexitarian diet closely resembles a vegetarian diet, but when a craving for meat strikes, they indulge. Flexitarians not only weigh 15 percent less than carnivores, but they also save money by spending less on pricey meat.
Number nine on U.S. News and World Report's best overall diets, the Ornish diet focuses on the overarching way you eat, exercise and live rather than on the specifics of your diet. Since the diet is so individualized, most of the time, it can work with any budget. Still, planning ahead and buying in bulk can keep costs down.
This trusted diet can help you shed between 6 and 10 pounds in two weeks and 1 to 2 pounds each week after until you reach your goal. The diet concept is split into two concepts, "Lose It" and "Live It." Dieters are discouraged from dining out during the "Lose It" stage and encouraged to cook at home, keeping your wallet happy.
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Still, consumers probably spend more than they save. According to a recent IBISWorld report, companies that help people lose weight, like Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem, made $6.3 billion in 2015. And that doesn't include the billions that Americans also spend on dietary supplements, gym memberships, diet books and weight-loss surgery.

So how much will you save or lose if you start dieting? There's no way to say, since everyone eats, shops and lives their lives differently. But if you're going to go on a diet, you might want to think about how the change in your eating habits will affect your finances. Here, we examine three scenarios.

1. You could join a weight-loss program. The pros: You'll hopefully learn how to eat better, and in some cases, you'll be given meal plans complete with packaged meals and snacks that will help you lose weight. Bonus: Meal plans can take the stress out of designing a menu and may largely eliminate grocery shopping (at least for yourself; if you have a family to feed, then it's another story). The cons: These weight-loss programs are rarely cheap.

You might still save money in the long run if your grocery bill shrinks, and, of course, if you get the healthy results you're looking for, you may not mind spending the money.

If you give a weight-loss program a try, remember that you'll likely face a membership fee and possibly the cost of a customized meal plan and food. To give you a sense of what you might pay, here are cost breakdowns for a handful of programs.

Weight Watchers. According to its website, the cost varies, depending where you live, although after plugging in ZIP codes for several cities – Cincinnati, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Omaha – the same prices kept popping up. For those areas of the country at least, you might pay, at minimum, $3.07 a week to join the online program and $6.92 a week if you want the online program in addition to the ability to attend support meetings (this presumes that you purchase a three-month plan). Throw in personal weight-loss coaching, and you'll pay at least $8.46 a week.

The standard monthly plan (which means not buying a three-month plan) to use the website and go to meetings is $44.95.

EXPLORE MORE: Why you may want to rethink buying brand names

Jenny Craig. In this case, the bulk of your expense will come from ordering most of your food through Jenny Craig. If you follow the program, you'll be eating six times a day: three main meals and three snacks. There are two programs, All Access and As You Go. The food costs vary but typically range between $15 and $23 per day, plus shipping, according to the company. There is also a $19-a-month membership fee and the $99 enrollment fee, although sometimes the enrollment fee is discounted.

As for those shipping costs, you will likely get your food once or twice a month, and standard shipping costs range from $29 to $58 per order, depending how much food you're buying. If you go with express shipping, expect to pay more. But if there's a Jenny Craig center nearby, you can eliminate those costs by picking up your food there.

You'll also still need to buy certain staples on your own like fruit, vegetables and milk.

Nutrisystem. Like Jenny Craig, you'll receive your food in the mail through FedEx. Prices range from around $9 to $11 a day, depending what you plan you go with, and the shipping costs are free (or more accurately, the shipping costs are added into the expense of the program, so you don't have to think about them).

There is no monthly membership fee or enrollment fee. There is a cancellation fee of $30, if you terminate after your order has shipped or the food is delivered but you refuse to take it.

BistroMD. Its claim to fame is that the packaged meals are designed by a doctor (that's where the MD in BistroMD comes in). It isn't cheap, but the cost includes free, unlimited support from registered dietitians. You can get a seven-day meal plan, a five-day plan or customize it to have fewer meals, like all lunches and dinners. The seven-day meal plan, for one month, is $674.81. The five-day meal plan, for one month, is $562.31.

2. You could go on a meat-free diet. It isn't as if you have to join a weight-loss program to lose weight. You could, for instance, cut meat out of your diet, and see if you lose weight. Bonus: You probably will save money, according to Kelly Toups, the in-house dietitian for Oldways, a food and nutrition nonprofit educational organization based in Boston. Oldways has become well-known for promoting the Mediterranean diet.

"Current research backs up the notion that traditional plant-centered diets ... stand up nicely to modern food economics," says Toups, citing a 2015 study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, in which researchers calculated the cost of a seven-day meal plan using an economical version of USDA's MyPlate guidelines versus a plant-based diet with olive oil.

"They found that choosing a plant-based diet, instead of the budget MyPlate diet, could save $746.46 per person per year and provide vastly more servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains," Toups says.

3. You could stop or slow down on eating out. A few years ago, researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed menus at 19 sit-down restaurant chains. They found that the average meal contained 1,128 calories, which is quite a bit if you consider that the average daily calorie cap, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is 2,000. The same researchers found that the average fast-food meal has 881 calories. Bottom line? One meal out can cost you nearly half (or more) of your daily calorie allowance.

If you really want to lose weight, and you're going to a lot of restaurants and fast-food joints, visit your friendly neighborhood supermarket instead and become reacquainted with your stove.

After all, it's hard to argue with the success Courtney Wilson has had. Wilson, a former army engineer captain and now a graduate student and entrepreneur in Newtown Highlands, Massachusetts, says that recently, she stopped eating out.

"I'd grab lunch at the school cafe and then takeout for dinner," Wilson says. Now, she cooks her meals.

"I lost 15 pounds in two months and saved $700 a month," Wilson says. "And I'm still losing."

Losing weight and gaining money? That may be the best diet ever.

RELATED: The best money-saving online shopping hacks

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Money-saving online shopping hacks
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The cost of dieting

1. Clear your browser history

Some retailers might sneakily increase prices based on your browsing patterns and demand - so make sure to always clear your history and cookies before shopping! 

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2. Use an alternate email address

When you log in to a retailer's site with a new email address, retailers will often welcome you as a new customer with exciting new promotions and discounts. 

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3. Note price changes throughout the week

Another pro tip: Prices and deals can fluctuate based on the day of the week. For instance, if you're purchasing a flight, monitor prices for around a week to see if they take a dip on any particular day before purchasing. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

4. Let items linger in your cart

Here's a hack: Add items to your cart, but let them sit for 24 hours before purchasing. The retailer might attempt to lure you back with additional discounts.

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5. Check out multiple sites

Do some research! Don't settle for the first price you see - poke around on a search engine and find the best deal. 

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6. Bargain with customer service

Use customer service to your advantage. If you ask (politely!) about an expired coupon, you'll often find yourself pleasantly surprised by an extension or new code! 

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7. Don't purchase impulsively

Try this shopping hack - don't buy that shiny, new toy right away. Step away for a few hours, and if you find yourself itching to go back and click 'purchase', then you know you won't regret your investment!

Photo credit: FogStock

8. Avoid shipping fees

Take advantage of free shipping! If you are a few dollars below the free shipping price point, add a low-cost filler item you need anyway (like socks!) and make the math work out in your favor. 

Photo credit: Alamy

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Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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