Thursday, January 21, 2010

Get a light body on a tight budget.(LIFE)(losing weight).


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If you want to lose weight in 2009 without spending a fortune, consider embracing the theme of USA TODAY's sixth annual Weight-Loss Challenge: Dieting on a Dime.

Everyone is painfully aware of the cost of eating out -- not to mention the expense of buying fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fresh fish and many other healthful foods at the grocery store. It's difficult to lose weight under the best of circumstances, and now many Americans' budgets are stretched so thin they may be tempted by cheaper foods that are not as healthful.

But it's possible to melt down physically without melting down financially, according to many of the successful readers who have been profiled in the diet series. The challenge was created in 2004 to offer nutrition and fitness guidance in the newspaper and at

"I'm all about eating on a budget," says Kelly Rhoads, 50, of Bowie, Md., who weighs 165 pounds, down from 330 pounds. She walks regularly and follows the Weight Watchers program religiously.

She estimates she and her husband, Chip, spend $400 a month on groceries, including toiletries. "I go through the grocery store circulars and look for what's on sale, and that's what we eat. My husband and I set a budget every year, and we try to stick with it. The cost of a lot things has really gone up, and I am trying to cut corners on food."

The key for Rhoads and many others is making nutritious, cost-effective changes.

*Heather Burczynski, 33, of Nashville, who weighs 148 pounds, down from 280, cooks more than she used to and has found ways to stretch her dollars. "An easy meatloaf recipe can last me for a few days. I like getting frozen veggies because fresh ones tend to go bad before I have a chance to use them."

She also watches her portions at home and at restaurants. "I tend to choose side dishes for meals when I do go out to eat -- a side salad and a side item work well. Of course, there are times to splurge, but I just do it wisely."

*Tory Thomas, 31, of Lewisville, Texas, who weighs 130 pounds, down from 155, cooks frequently and packs her lunch for work rather than dining out often. "If I go out, I always order water with my entree. I went somewhere recently and paid $2.99 for a glass of tea. I could buy a box of tea for that."

*Lee Claypoole, 43, head pastor at a new church in Lexington, Ky., weighs 184 pounds, down from 284, after following a high-protein, high-fiber plan of 1,800 to 1,900 calories a day and working out at the gym regularly. He likes organic foods, but they can be expensive, so he shops for deals and buys in bulk. "My wife uses coupons, and we're continually looking for specials and buy-one-get-one-free deals."

Keeping home-cooked meals effortless is key. "We do a lot of baked and grilled foods. We almost never eat fried foods. We are simple cooks."

Claypoole says he and his wife split entrees when they dine out. "There's plenty enough food for both of us, and it's half the cost."

Plan meals to save

About 75% of meals are made at home, but about half of all food dollars are spent on dining out or takeout, according to data from the NPD Group, a market research firm. On average, people eat about five meals outside their home each week, either dining in a restaurant or buying takeout foods, NPD says.

And no matter where you eat, food prices climbed 4% in 2007, the biggest annual increase since 1990, and prices were projected to rise 5% to 6% in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So to lose weight on a budget, most people have to take a hard to look at all their meals.

On the home front, if you dedicate some time to planning and cooking, it goes a long way toward saving you money while cutting calories, says Patti Geil, a registered dietitian in Lexington, Ky., and co-author or Diabetes Meals on $7 a Day -- or Less with Tami Ross. The authors found that a dieter can eat healthfully for less than $7 a day.

You must organize your meals in advance and work around the specials offered at your local grocery stores. When chicken breasts are on sale, stock up, Geil says. That way chicken can be the center of several meals.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago, agrees that eating nutritiously does not have to be costly. The government says a family of four can eat a healthful diet for about $180 a week, she says. Many family dinner recipes can be made for about $10, she says.

Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, recommends going to the grocery store at least once a week to keep your home stocked with nutritious foods. Do a cart check before you get in line. About 50% of your purchases should be produce, 25% whole grains and 25% lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods.

It doesn't have to be expensive if you shop wisely, she says. Buy fresh produce in season because it is less expensive. If fresh produce tends to spoil on you, then consider buying more frozen produce, which has a longer shelf life (about six months).

Watch for the best deals on lean meat and go meat-free occasionally, she says. Swap canned beans for some of your meat. Beans are a good source of protein and iron and are about three to four times less expensive than meat, she says.

Portion foods yourself. Instead of buying small packages of almonds, whole-grain crackers and carrots, buy larger bags and portion them yourself to save money, she says.

If you're dining out or getting takeout, figure out a way to do it cost-effectively. Split entrees with someone or take half home, Blatner says. Opt for an appetizer and salad or soup instead of main courses. Avoid ordering appetizers, drinks, dessert and all the extras that add calories and cost.

Buy smart, then stretch food

Rhoads already does much of what the experts recommend. She buys family packs of chicken breasts and 93% fat-free hamburger on sale and then freezes meal-size portions. She uses store-brand products, buys fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season, or uses frozen produce when it's cheaper.

"Part of sticking with a budget is not just eating something because you want it but waiting until it goes on sale," she says.

When she prepare meals, she tries to make enough for a couple of lunches, too. In the winter, she make a lot of soups, including bean soup and chili.

She and her husband dine out about twice a month. They also often share an entree or order an appetizer instead. "If I have my own entree, I automatically (divide it in) half, and then I get two meals out of it."

Rhoads does all this while trying to keep hunger at bay so she doesn't overeat. She has five small meals a day, about every three hours. "Most of my meals and snacks have protein or whole grains in them," she says.

Her snack ideas: celery and salsa; fat-free plain yogurt with fruit (cooked apple, pineapple, berries in season and on sale); baked apple with cinnamon and Splenda; warmed low-fat cheese (Laughing Cow wedges) with a light, toasted English muffin.

"I've learned to differentiate hunger from appetite. Sometimes, when I think I'm hungry, I drink a glass of water or a non-caffeinated drink, and usually I stop feeling hungry."

Rhoads keeps money in mind when it comes to fitness. Her exercise plan is bargain-basement. "I walk. Walking is the best exercise there is, and it's inexpensive. I also do two different exercise DVDs that I like. Between the two of them, I think I spent $20. I have 10-pound weights that I work out with now."

She eats practically no processed foods because she has learned the price is too high in both money and calories.

"Something may look cheap, like a boxed macaroni, but what's the cost really in your health?" Rhoads asks. "Cooking nutritious and tasty foods not only improves my health, it trims my waistline."


Kelly Rhoads

Age: 50

City: Bowie, Md.

Occupation: Controller for a construction company

Height: 5-foot-6

Highest weight:

330 pounds in November 2000

Current weight: 165 pounds

Program: Follows Weight Watchers, walks regularly, does a combination of aerobics, toning with weights, Pilates and yoga five days a week using DVDs

Share your experience

If you have lost at least 25 pounds without spending a lot of money, tell us your story. The Weight-Loss Challenge will continue on March 30, publishing profiles of selected dieters for eight weeks. Send your name, address and day and evening phone numbers to:

Send e-mail to:

Or write to:

Nanci Hellmich


7950 Jones Branch Drive

McLean, VA 22108

Before and after photos are encouraged. Please let us know if you are willing to

be interviewed for a story.


PHOTO, Color; PHOTO, Color; PHOTO, Color; PHOTO, Color, Matt Goins for USA TODAY; PHOTO, B/W, Lisa Nipp for USA TODAY; PHOTO, B/W

Source Citation
Hellmich, Nanci. "Get a light body on a tight budget." USA Today 5 Jan. 2009: 1D. General OneFile. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. .

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