By Dana Leigh Smith
A lot has changed since the days when a fat belly indicated a fat wallet. Now, people pay more for the healthy stuff while the least expensive foods are often the ones packed with waist-widening calories.
But just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t lose a few pounds without breaking the bank. To prove it’s possible, we checked in with some of the nation’s leading weight loss experts and asked them how to get lean for less. The following tips are simple things that fit easily into your life, won’t empty your wallet, and can help whittle down your waistline without emptying your wallet. Once you see how affordable it is to take control of the chub, be sure to check out 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.
1. COOK IN BULK
Cook at home and cook in bulk, suggests registered dietitian Lauren Minchen. “Depending on how frequently you eat out, cooking your food at home can save you hundreds of dollars a month. And cooking in bulk is great if you’re time strapped. It saves you time while allowing you to monitor the ingredients, calories, and portions in your meals. Win win win!” Not sure what to make? Soups are super easy to make and will last you all week. These 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soups are many of our editor’s go-tos.
2. GET COMPETITIVE
Register for a race or competition. They’ll cost you anywhere from $35 to $125 dollars, but the training aspect, which can last for months, is practically free. “There’s no better way to motivate yourself to get up from your office chair than knowing you have a race coming up,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Dudash. “Plus, running is one of the cheapest sports you can do because the only special equipment you need is good pair of running shoes and a training program, which you can get online for free.” Looking for a healthy way to recover after your workouts? Whip up one of these 23 Best Protein Shake Recipes.
3. MAKE EGGS YOUR BFF
“Eggs are very inexpensive and have been shown over and over to help with weight loss,” says registered dietitian Cassie Bjork. “What’s more, eggs are considered the most bioavailable source of protein, which means your body digests, absorbs and uses the protein in eggs better than in any other food in the world.” A pricey cut of steak can’t even claim that! To learn more about eggs' magical weight loss powers, check out our exclusive report What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Eggs.
4. KNOW WHAT’S IN SEASON
“If you are going to buy fresh produce, it’s important to know what’s in season and what isn’t,” says registered dietitian Leah Kaufman. Things that are out of season will cost you far more cash than produce that’s just hitting its peak. Registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Koszyk agrees: “For the winter season, try Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, kale, turnips, persimmons, tangerines and kiwis.” Broccoli, berries, tomatoes and salad greens will be cheapest in the summer, while asparagus, cauliflower and spinach are easiest on your wallet in the spring. And if you’re curious which fruits and veggies pack the biggest nutritional punch, check out these 50 Healthiest Foods on the Planet.
5. HEAD TO THE FREEZER
“Whether you’re on a budget or not, frozen vegetables are a great buy,” says Kaufman. “They’re cheaper than fresh vegetables and contain just as many nutrients.” Wondering how stocking up on the stuff can help you slim down? “Vegetables are vital for weight loss because they’re low in calories and high in fiber. Consuming fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer so you will feel satisfied and won’t be tempted to snack.” But fair warning, not all frozen foods are created equal: If you want those last five pounds to come off quickly steer clear of these 48 Worst Frozen Foods in America!
6. DITCH THE DOLLAR MENU
Pre-made meals may save you time but they aren’t necessarily the healthiest picks and they’ll seriously cut into your budget. “By cutting back on on pre-made meals, packaged and processed snacks you’ll have a lot of room leftover in your food budget for the nourishing, real foods that fuel your body with the nutrients it needs for weight loss,” says Bjork.
7. BE PREPARED
Grabbing a quick snack, whether it be a snack bar or a piece of fruit costs far more at a coffee shop, airport or gas station than it does at a grocery store or farmer's market, warns Dudash. To avoid spending unnecessary cash when hunger strikes, she recommends building a clean eating arsenal stocked with grab-and-go pieces of fruit, like apples, pears and bananas.
8. STICK TO TAP WATER
“Don’t blow your budget on sugar-laden beverages that will only stand in the way of your weight loss goal. Instead, sip tap water. This simple swap will save you calories and cash, and supports weight loss by nourishing your cells and flushing out toxins,” explains Bjork. Can’t stand the taste of regular H20? Whip up a batch of one of these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss.
9. ADOPT A PLANT-BASED DIET
Research shows that switching to a plant-based diet not only promotes weight loss but also lowers your cholesterol, reduces hypertension and extends lifespan. There’s more good news: A meat-free diet can also save you thousands—yes, thousands—of dollars. “I recently switched from a moderate animal protein diet to a plant based diet and so far I've saved about $40 per week, which will easily add up to savings of $2,000 per year,” says the owner of Naples Personal Training, Dr. Sean M. Wells. That’s enough cash to spend on a tropical vacation! (Hawaii, anyone?) Looking for an easy-to-made addition to your plant-based diet? Consider making some of these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes.
10. MAKE MONDAYS SPECIAL
Can’t imagine giving up your favorite burgers and fillets for good? Consider adopting Meatless Mondays—the campaign that encourages people to kick off their week sans meat. “I’m an advocate for Meatless Monday for both budgeting and ethical reasons,” says personal trainer Ajia Cherry. Although there are many vegetarian and vegan sources of protein, Cherry is a big fan of beans. “Beans, especially dried black beans, are inexpensive and contain heart-healthy antioxidants, filling fiber, iron and muscle-building protein.” Nutritionist Tammy Lakatos Shames, who’s also a proponent of going meat-free once a week, likes to swap ground beef for mushrooms. “If you’re not ready for a complete swap, you can start by mixing meat with mushrooms, it will boost your meal’s fiber and stretch you dollar further,” she explains.
11. See The World As Your GYM
Drop the excuses about how you can't get to the gym—you can work out anywhere, really. “Shedding pounds and getting healthy doesn’t require a gym, boutique fitness studio or a CrossFit box,” says Wells. “Join a local soccer league or walking group or do bodyweight calisthenics at home. My next door neighbor loves to use his tree for pull ups and dips. If you’re willing to get creative you can save anywhere from $50 to 300 per month—that's a car payment!” For more trim down tricks from the nation’s foremost fitness experts check out these 25 Weight Loss Tips From The World's Fittest Men.
12. PLAN AROUND SALES
Before scouring Pinterest for recipes you want to make, check your local market to see what’s on sale, suggests registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro. “After you know what the best deals are, then plan your meals for the week. Also, sign up for a bonus card at your local market. Rewards programs can save you a lot of money in the long run.”
13. DON’T TAKE SHORTCUTS
“Skip the pricey pills and detox juices. They’ll cost you an arm and a leg and most of them don’t work,” warns registered dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore. A cheaper, more effective solution? These 22 Best Teas for Weight Loss!
14. THINK LOCAL
“Not only is the food from a farmers market tastier, it’s cheaper, too,” says Schapiro. “Food bought locally doesn't have to travel long distances, so the prices tend to be lower. And if you shop at the end of the day, you may get even better deals because the farmers want to get rid of their stock. For even more cheap ways to shed the pounds, check out these 40 Ways to Lose 4 Inches of Body Fat.
15. MAKE YOUR OWN PROTEIN SHAKE
“Commercial bars and workout drinks can be very expensive. What’s worse, they offer little more to your body than what basic fruits, vegetables and nuts can provide,” says Wells. “Ounce for ounce, homemade smoothies or snacks will not only be cheaper but probably healthier for you, too.”
16. BE RESOURCEFUL
You may not have enough leftovers to squeeze out a second meal, but that doesn’t mean you should throw the food out! “Wasted food is wasted money, says Schapiro. “Leftover fruits and vegetables can always be added to a smoothie or protein shake and vegetable and grain scraps can be added to a soup, a stir-fry, or omelet.”
17. ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Love fancy coffee drinks? Learn how to make slimmed-down versions of your favorites at home, suggests Minchen. Not only will making your drinks save you thousands of dollars, it will also help keep excess fat off of your frame, too. Our Healthy Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino Copycat Recipe is a great way to get into the make-it-yourself groove!
18. TUNE INTO YOUTUBE
Celebs may pay her the big bucks to whip them into shape, but celebrity trainer Kit Rich says it’s possible to get into your skinny jeans without spending a dime. “The cheapest and easiest ways to lose weight through exercise is by doing YouTube workout videos. There are a lot of fun and effective programs available for free!” And to see the results of your sweat session shine through even faster, check out these 7 Ways to Make Your Workout 500% More Effective.
19. SLIP INTO YOUR PJS
Getting a proper night’s rest is totally free and it offers major weight loss perks. “When you don’t get enough sleep, levels of the hormone leptin drop, which increases appetite. This surge in appetite makes comfort food more appealing, which can derail weight loss efforts,” explains personal trainer to the stars Jay Cardiello. “I tell all of my celebrity and professional-athlete clients to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night.” Want to lose even more weight while you sleep? Check out these 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Get Lean.
20. ORDER AN APP
The average restaurant meal contains a whopping 1,128 calories, according to a 2013 University of Toronto study of 19 sit-down restaurant chains. And those numbers have likely increased since then! To save money and calories while dining out, registered dietitian Yasi Ansari suggests ordering a healthy appetizer (like seared scallops, mushroom caps or a salad) or splitting an entree with a friend.
Looking for more ways to lean out? Be sure to check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven't Tried.
21. MAKE A LIST
“Spend a couple of minutes each morning writing out a list of reasons you want to live a fitter and healthier life,” suggests author of the top model fitness guide, Methodology X Dan Roberts. “It won’t be conscious, but doing this exercise will help you make better decisions when choosing food and snacks throughout the day.”
22. STOP READING LABELS
Foods stamped with an "All Natural" label tend to cost more, but since the claim isn’t regulated by the FDA, it doesn’t really mean anything. "Instead, read ingredients and then decide which products are worth more of your hard-earned cash,” suggests Cardiello.
23. SAVE CASH ON SNACKS
“The average snack bar or bag of chips will cost you two dollars, but a piece of fruit will only cost you 50 cents. Stick with a piece of fruit to save calories, fat and cash on snacks,” says certified dietitian nutritionist Dana James.
24. CATCH A CAN
There’s no doubt that protein sources like chicken breasts, tuna and salmon are healthy, but they’re not the most economical. For that reason, Dudash recommends buying the canned varieties. Not convinced? Consider this: A four pack of canned tuna from Walmart is less than $4. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!
Eat This! Tip
Worried about the mercury in the tuna? Don’t be. Generally speaking, the smaller the fish, the lower the mercury level. Since canned chunk light tuna is harvested from the smallest fish, it’s safe to consume two to three times a week.
25. USE YOUR NON-DOMINATE HAND
Been a righty your entire life? Eat dinner with your left hand. “It takes roughly 15 minutes for your brain to realize that you're full,” says Cardiello. “To give your mind time to catch up to your mouth, simply switch your fork to non-dominate hand. It may be frustrating, but it's a simple and unnoticeable way to curb overeating and lose weight.” And for even more must-try slim down tricks, check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven't Tried.