If you’re just getting started, weight loss and adopting a healthier lifestyle can seem expensive. After all, you’ll likely want to invest in new workout gear, a gym membership and a fridge full of healthy staples.
Before you stretch your budget beyond your means, “it’s important to consider which purchases make the greatest impact on your weight-loss goals,” says Eric Bowling, a certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles.
What’s more, some of the best weight-loss tools are budget-friendly or even free. Here, experts share five ways you can shed pounds without emptying your wallet:
STICK TO WHOLE FOODS
While more than $2 billion each year is spent on weight-loss supplements, little is known about whether they’re actually effective, and they can cause more harm than good for your body and budget, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“If your weight-loss plan includes pricey specialty powders or liquids designed to ‘replace’ meals, you may want to rethink your approach,” says Jackie Newgent, RD, author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.” “Stick to lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and veggies,” she says.
EAT MORE MEALS AT HOME
Eating more meals at sit-down and fast-food restaurants is associated with a higher BMI, shows one study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Instead, “audit your restaurant choices,” says Ben Tzeel, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and registered dietitian. Think about why you’re choosing these eating spots and whether their menu and serving sizes are preventing you from reaching your weight-loss goals.
Then, “try prepping healthier versions of your favorite restaurant meals at home, so you can track your portions and intake while saving calories and money,” says Tzeel. Think homemade burrito bowls, healthier kung pao chicken and high-protein, low-cal pasta dishes.
MEAL PREP FOR SNACKS, TOO
Use meal planning to trim down your grocery list. “Batch-cooking meals will not only save you time and money in the grand scheme of things, but it will also ensure you’re more consistent with your nutritional intake and not just ‘guessing,’ since you can portion out all of your meals,” says Tzeel.
And don’t forget about snack prep, adds Newgent. Rather than grazing throughout the day or eating straight out of the bag, plan snacks ahead of time to keep your metabolism revved up while also preventing overeating — and overspending — when hunger calls, she suggests.
PURCHASE BUDGET-FRIENDLY PROTEINS
Protein is key for weight loss because it helps you feel full (which can help prevent overeating), and it reduces the chance your body breaks down muscle for energy during your weight-loss period, explains Tzeel. But you don’t have to splurge on grass-fed beef and wild salmon. There are many wallet-friendly options that are high-quality like ground turkey, canned tuna and plant-based options such as beans. Try making big batches of tuna avocado egg salad or bean-based soups and stews.
EAT WITH THE SEASONS
Rather than spending money on more expensive organic produce at the grocery store, “let your local farmers market inspire your meals,” suggests Tzeel. “When you buy in-season veggies, they’ll also be at the peak of their color, flavor and nutritional value, while being at their lowest cost since they’re readily available,” explains Newgent.
What’s more, for weight loss and maintenance, “filling up half of your mealtime plates or bowls with non-starchy vegetables [like asparagus, cabbage and salad greens] can be a healthy approach, since veggies offer lots of satisfaction for very few calories.” Go for fresh zucchini and tomatoes in the summer, and Brussels sprouts and cauliflower during the colder months, she suggests.