Penny Wise Pound Foolish: What Losing Weight Will Cost You

losing weight

Losing weight will more than shrink your waist measurement; it will shrink your wallet too! You’ve heard the statistics already…as Americans, we are almost three times as fat as we were in the 1960’s, and we’re spending an estimated $60+ billion to lose the weight. We know that carrying around extra tonnage puts us at risk for a ton of expensive medical problems. We also know that we’re going to either pay for a healthy lifestyle to prevent getting sick or health-care to try and make us well. And while that decision seems like it should be an easy one, it’s hard to find a weight loss program that we can stick with, and even harder to find one that won’t make us go broke in the process!  

The Scary Numbers:

Weight loss is big business! 22% of people are on a diet during any given time. The US Weight Loss and Diet Control Market is estimated to have reached over $60 billion! Losing weight is challenging, but for the focused and persistent, losing 1-2 pounds per week on most weight loss programs is average. But it’s going to cost a pretty penny–over and over again–since 83% of people regain the weight (and then some) within 2 years. In a study done by University of California at Los Angeles, researchers discovered that half of dieters weighed more than 11 pounds over their starting weight five years after their diet.  

The hidden costs of being fat:

US News & World Report stated in an article, “The annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for a woman and $2,646 for a man, according to a report released Tuesday by George Washington University researchers. Being overweight, meanwhile, costs $524 for women and $432 for men.” Sure, there are health care related costs such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, sleep apnea, infertility, etc. But there are other hidden costs not normally mentioned in the media:

  • Purchasing multiple sizes of clothing as weight increases and decreases
  • Obese people miss more work
  • Carrying around extra “junk in the trunk” lowers gas mileage
  • Extra use of products such as sunscreen, lotions, and beauty potions (more square miles of skin to cover!)
  • Wearing out shoes, furniture, and mattresses more quickly (not in the fun way).


“Why don’t we just eat healthy and exercise?”

If only it was that easy. Anyone who has tried to lose weight on their own, knows how hard it is to stick to a program long enough to get results. Time and money are the biggest battles when it comes to beating the bulge. (And if you work at FatWallet the abundance of delicious snacks are a frightening obstacle as well!)  

Healthy food isn’t cheap and cheap food isn’t healthy

Dollar menus at fast food restaurants and easy to fix processed foods are attractive to people on a tight budget and tight schedule. The University of Washington did a study of 378 foods comparing the cost of 1,000 calories of nutritious, low calorie foods to 1,000 calories of less healthy foods and found that the retail prices of healthy nutrient dense foods have increased 30% between 2004 and 2008 compared to 16% for less nutritious fatty foods, sweets, and soft drinks.  

Top objections of going to the gym: No time and no money!

That health club is going to cost you $660 per year on average. That’s fine if you can afford it and are actually using it, but since 67% of people with gym memberships don’t use them, chances are you’re not either. Let’s figure out the cost per pound with a fun story problem. (Forgive the oxymoron: I know story problems aren’t fun for most!) Facts:

Calories burned per hour by 200 lb person Calories burned per month (20 hrs) Pounds per month Cost per pound
Walking 3.5 mph 391 7,820 2.23 $24.66
Aerobics or Resistance Training 455 9,100 2.6 $21.15
Running 5 mph 755 15,100 4.31 $12.76
Running 8 mph 1,074 21,480 6.14 $8.98

If you want to figure out how much your workout at the gym costs per pound, here’s the formula.

  • (C x H) ÷ 3500 = P
  • G ÷ P = Cost per pound
  • C = Calories burned per hour (I used this chart on
  • H = # of hours you work out in a month
  • P = Pounds per month
  • G = Cost of Gym Membership per month
  • $ = Cost per pound

So if you’re like me and can’t help but laugh at the irony when you hear the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter playing as you walk into your gym after a hiatus, chances are your money could be better utilized elsewhere.  

Cost of popular weight loss programs per pound:

Weight loss programs claim that you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week on the plan, results may vary, and significant weight loss is not typical. The calculations below were for the average weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week (4-8 pounds per month).

Here’s a free document for you with all the prices of the various membership levels each of the companies below offers if you’d like more detail that what I’ve included below.


Weight Loss Programs that Don’t Include Food:

Like with most things, DIY dieting can help you save money. The cost per pound drops as the amount of personalized support each of weight loss programs offer you decreases. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish though, because with weight loss you’re more likely to be successful when you have support and accountability of a friend or coach. There’s a great article on SheKnows that explains the psychology behind it.

Cost Per Pound Weight Loss Program
$2.19-$11.07 Weight Watchers: (Ebates Customers: Get 30% off your first month plus 6% cash back through 6/30/13!)
$5-$10 FitOrbit
$3-$6 Physician’s Weight Loss Centers
$1.58-$5 The Biggest Loser: Earn 5% Cash Back on NBC Universal Store Biggest Loser Products through FatWallet
$2-$4 Jillian Michaels
$2-$4 South Beach Diet


Diet Plans that Include Food Delivery

While they seem drastically more expensive, diet plans that include food can be a great value for people who don’t like to cook or have trouble with portion sizes. When you factor in what you normally spend on food yourself, they may not be as expensive as you think and the convenience may be worth it for you.

Cost Per Pound Weight Loss Program
$28.75-$124.51 Nutrisystem
$56.09-$163.90 Jenny Craig


Apps and websites:

If you’re a DIY kind of dieter, there is a cornucopia of cash friendly web sites and apps to help you lose weight. Many are combined with an online community to help you receive the support you need to stick with it.


Surgery & Drugs:

There are even more alternatives to losing weight, which are a bit more on the, “It’s going to cost you a freaking lot of money and pain” side: Liposuction, Lap Band Gastric Bypass Surgery and Skin Removal surgery. While they may be enticing to some people who feel they are out of options, they all will require you to eat less and move more. And then there are a myriad of diet pills and infomercial weight loss products out there. Some of them may help you to lose weight, and some of them may be healthy, but I’ve heard more than enough of “loose stools, greasy anal leakage, and increased gas” side effects disclaimers to keep me from being enticed. And I’m not even going to go into detail on the diet things that make you go, “eww!” I’m sorry, but feeding tubes, wiring your mouth shut, and surgically implanting plastic things into your tongue to make eating painful and going on a liquid diet of 800 calories are not for me.  

Proceed with caution:

Weight loss scams & fraud are rampant on the web. Before taking any magic dietary supplements, even those that claim to be “natural,” or beginning any weight loss programs check with the FDA, FTC, and Better Business Bureau to make sure they’re safe and legit.  

How to Get Paid to Get Healthy

Believe it or not, there are ways to get paid to get healthy. And No, you don’t have to be morbidly obese and get your half naked, flabby self on the scale in front of millions of people with gig on The Biggest Looser or Extreme Makeover Weightloss Edition!

  • Gadgets & Scales:

    There are tons of emerging gadgets to help you in your weight loss goals. Some of the more popular brands are Fitbit, Jawbone UP, BodyMedia, and Nike FuelBand. They all encourage you to get your rear in gear by tracking your activity and movement, letting you compete with friends, and challenge yourself to hit goals.Many of these gadgets can save you money too! BodyMedia, Fitbit, and the Withings scale all sync with Walgreens Steps with Balance Rewards program which rewards you for taking steps towards a healthier life with points, badges, free gifts, and balance rewards you can redeem for savings when you shop!

  • Bet You Can Bust Away Your Belly Blubber?

    If you’re motivated by a little competition, you will love the site, which allows you to put your money where your mouth is (literally) and compete with other dieters to win money. Dieters ante up with a bet that can lose 4% of their body weight within 28 days. Competitions run anywhere from $10 to $300 per dieter, and at the end the pool of money is divvied up between the dieters who reached the goal, based on judges that verify their weight loss. No cheating is tolerated, and winners may have to verify their weight loss at a CVS or Wallgreens for proof.

  • Insurance Incentives:

    There are also incentives and programs through many insurance companies to help you stick to your healthy lifestyle!Aetna:

    United Healthcare:

    • Fitness Reimbursement Program: “Get Reimbursed $20 per month to an annual maximum of $240 for every month you visit the fitness center or Y at least 12 times.”
    • Health Coaching: Create a personalized plan with one of the United Healthcare wellness coaches


    Anthem Cash Back Programs:

So there you have it! The whole weight loss enchilada! I hope it helps save you some time researching what weight loss programs are best for you and your budget. If you liked this post, please pass it on to your friends in social media or leave a comment here on the blog with any additional information that may be helpful to others! Be Happy, Be Healthy! :) Heather

Cash Back Resources

Additional Health Resources


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