Trying to Lose Weight? The 5 Most (and Least) Expensive Diets

man in kitchen holding help sign

A cook in need of help | iStock.com

Eating healthy and staying true to a sound diet plan is difficult. You’re consistently battling cravings for sugar or salt, perhaps feeling sluggish as you cut back on calories or caffeine, and likely irritable. And even if you manage to successfully handle all of your physical and mental obstacles, eating well enough to lose weight can be difficult for one other big reason: it’s expensive. After all, there’s a reason they call Whole Foods — a mecca of sorts for healthy, quality food — “whole paycheck.”

When you’re setting out to lose weight but also keep your budget intact, you’re going to need to look for the most cost-effective way to purchase and consume calories. That’s really the key, here: figuring out how much you’re paying for calories. This can, of course, vary wildly. There are numerous factors to take into account, including where you live, how many calories you require, and any dietary preferences.

Also, you need to keep in mind that some diets just aren’t going to work for certain people.

There are tons of different diets out there, ranging from simple preferential habits — like a vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian diet — to branded diets, like Atkins. Depending on how dedicated and serious you are about the need to lose weight, they may or may not work for you. Choosing one that works, and one that works for your budget, isn’t easy.

While there really is no way to definitively say that “diet X is going to be the cheapest,” or “diet Y will be the most effective,” we can take a broader look at some of the more popular and mainstream diets out there to get a better idea. Again — it’s all going to come down to your own personal preferences and situation. What works for you may not work for the next guy.

Broadly speaking, here are the most and least expensive diets out there.

Expensive diets

poster advertising weight loss diet for jenny Craig

Jenny Craig poster in a sindow | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you’re aiming to save money, or are on a relatively tight budget, here are five diets you’d probably want to avoid subscribing to:

1. Weight Watchers 

2. Jenny Craig 

3. All-organic diet

4. Vegan

5. Gluten-Free

Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers are obvious outliers here, as they aren’t necessarily just diets, but more like clubs that you join in order to help you lose weight. They have systems they incorporate, with diet and exercise plans as well. They are quite effective for many people, many men among them. So, if you feel like taking that route, it’s promising — but there are some big costs associated with it. Those costs will vary, but there are enrollment and monthly fees to take into consideration.

There are similar plans like these out there: Nutrisystem, and Atkins are two more examples.

In terms of an all-organic diet, just take a walk around your grocery store and do some price comparison. Food certified as organic is often marked up considerably compared to its non-organic counterparts, meaning that you’ll be shelling out a lot more cash in the check-out line. There are exceptions, though, so with some savvy shopping, you could probably make do.

The same generally holds true for those on a gluten-free diet. A lot of cheaper foods that people depend on to supply calories at a low cost contain gluten, so finding alternatives, or buying gluten-free versions (which are often more expensive) can cost you.

Going vegan can be expensive, too. Since you’re going to an entirely plant-based diet, you’ll be buying a lot of produce. Produce can be expensive, and it tends to go bad fairly quickly. That means more trips to the grocery store, and if you want vegan alternatives to your favorite foods like cheese or mayonnaise, you’ll be paying a premium.

Of course, you could try growing your own food to help with the costs. As will cooking at home, especially since most restaurants don’t have many (if any) vegan options. So that’s another opportunity for savings. Throw in a lower chance for heart disease and other health issues, and going vegan may actually end up being cheaper, all told, than many other diets.

Cheaper diets

mix of dried beans, lentils, and other legumes

Dried beans and legumes | Source: iStock

If you’re budget is on the lower end of the spectrum, then you’re going to want to stay away from subscription-based diets, or clubs like those mentioned previously. Not that those are bad systems, it’s just that you’ll end up spending more overall due to monthly dues and fees. The South Beach Diet can be considerably cheaper than Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers, if you still want to go for a club-based plan.

Truthfully, if you really want to save money, you’re going to need to learn how to cook and prepare your own food, buy in bulk (when you can), and even grow your own food. For some people, this isn’t an option — there may be a lack of space to store foods bought in bulk, or you may not have access to a yard or a place to grow vegetables. And the more flexible you are with your dietary restrictions, the more you can stretch your money.

For example, vegetarians have a little more leeway than vegans, in many respects, and can make their dollars count for more. One example would be that a vegetarian might not have an issue eating eggs — which are generally affordable — that provide some essential proteins. For vegans, that option is off the table, and finding proteins through other means might be more expensive. You could buy beans in bulk to make up for it, but you’re probably spending money on rent or a mortgage for the extra space to store them. It really depends on what you want to eat, and your own circumstances.

And if you want to go vegetarian, you could end up saving some serious coin, compared to meat-eaters. With rising food prices hitting not only households, but restaurants as well, going plant-based with your diet can be a good financial choice. Even a pescetarian diet can be fairly cost-effective, by eating fish or seafood here and there for some solid proteins.

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