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The weight loss industry is rigged with budget traps and health gimmicks at every turn, but there’s no reason to put your finances at risk for a healthier lifestyle.Just go back to basics.
That means skipping the flashy new workout equipment, sky-high gym membership and splurging on luxury foods.
We tapped a few wellness experts for simple ways you can start losing weight without blowing your budget.
With these tips, the only thing slimming down this year will be your waistline.
Going meatless one night a week is a surefire way to knock off pounds and save money, says nutritionist Rania Batayneh of Essential Nutrition for You.
Skip the butcher and look for hearty and healthy meat substitutes like beans and mushrooms.
'A can of chickpeas might cost a dollar, whereas deli meat is much more expensive,' Batayneh says.
Hint: Buying dried beans that you rehydrate yourself is a great way to save at the grocery store. You'll also knock all the added sodium that comes with canned beans.
There are pros and cons to buying in bulk, but it can be a great way to budget for long-term savings and weight loss.
For example, try buying a whole chicken.
'Buy a whole chicken and throw a portion of it together one night with steamed veggies,' says Nicole Chase, a registered and licensed dietitian. 'Throw the leftover chicken on top of a salad with light dressing the next day for a quick and healthy meal.'
At the grocery store, try getting a massive container of oatmeal rather than sugar-laden individual packs. The same goes for buying big bags of rice and frozen veggies versus individual containers.
Chase recommends shopping around the perimeter of stores as an easy way to avoid the expensive convenience foods that are usually stocked front and centre.
'Middle aisles contain packaged and processed foods which tend to be higher in sodium and have a tendency to be more expensive due to the costs associated with packaging,' Chase says.
That leaves the produce and frozen foods sections, which both offer great low-cost and healthy alternatives.
Rather than blow $10 on a swanky salad bar, load up on whole veggies while they're in season and at a lower price point, Chase says. Then dish up your own salads at home.
If you've got a hankering for butternut squash or sweet potatoes in summer, you'll still be able to find pretty affordable options in the frozen food section.
Just avoid those convenient steamer bags. You pay more for their fancy packaging and could save that cash by steaming them the old-fashioned way.
There are plenty of mobile apps available for smartphones that let you track your spending at the store.
'Plan meals ahead by taking an inventory of the fridge and pantry once a week, writing out menus for the following week, and making a grocery list of ingredients you need to pick up,' Chase recommends.
Try GroceryiQ, which lets you scan your items as you shop and sync your shopping list with friends and family. It also has a new coupon feature that lets you download deals in an instant or add them to your loyalty cards.
Weight loss has much to do with portion control, but those helpful little 100-calorie pack snacks are nothing but a budget suck.
'We have portion distortion in this nation and even though I like that (100-calorie packs) are pre-portioned, that can be a more expensive option,' Batayneh says.
Instead, keep a measuring cup in your desk drawer to scoop out perfect portions of whatever you're munching on at work (almonds, trail mix, etc.) rather than paying more for packaging.
When browsing healthy foods at the store, don't just look at the sticker price, Chase says.
The unit price tells you how much that box of whole grain cereal costs per ounce, so you can compare it to another brand of a different weight.
Not everyone can afford to see a $100-per-hour dietitian, but anyone with a smartphone could have access to a 24/7 virtual fitness coach.
There are some pretty great free apps that not only track your activity (like iMapMyRun) but also allow your family and friends to comment on your progress and cheer you on, like Endomondo Sports Tracker.
The creators of Eat this, Not That! also have an app that lets you compare what you're craving to what you should be eating instead. Give Fooducate a spin if you're stumped at the store trying to decide whether that protein bar is worth the calories.
Especially in the first few weeks of the new year, gyms will be rolling out all sorts of special offers on daily deals sites.
Take advantage of a low-cost workout class if you're on the fence and don't want to fork over hundreds of dollars for a gym membership, Batayneh says.
It'll give you a chance to sample a new routine and ditch it if it's not for you.
No, this isn't a free pass to scarf Cheetos and watch 'Basketball Wives' all day.
A lot of cable networks like Time Warner and Comcast have free exercise channels on 24-hour rotation that Batayneh says are a great way to work out on the cheap.
The library is another great option for checking out free DVDs, and we're big fans of interactive games you can play at home like Dance Central and anything on the Wii Fit.
Avoid spending money on gyms at all by carving out a wellness nook in your home.
Whether you've got a spare room to use or simply lay out a yoga mat in the living room, make it your own workout sanctuary. Then stock up on cheap workout DVDs or set up a rotation with friends so you won't get bored.
'Check eBay for used copies (of workout DVDs) and feel confident knowing that sellers rely on buyer feedback so the quality is usually top-notch,' Burnam says.
Some workouts like yoga are great low-cost options for consumers, but celebs have pretty much turned the practice into the hottest new luxury workout.
Not so, says Bradley Burnam, founder of Burn Yoga in Agoura Hills, Calif.
'Nearly every studio offers not only free trial classes, but at least one donation-based class per week,' Burnam says.
'These classes only ask for a donation but it's not public or monitored, so there is no need to feel self-conscious.'
'People don't necessarily have to buy expensive equipment to get exercise,' Chase says. 'You can just use your body.'
Try walking or biking to work if you live within a few miles. If that's not an option, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead.
Not only will you save on gas, you'll have a sure-fire way to burn calories every day ---- and it won't cost you a dime.
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