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Cheapism: Best diet plans for under $20

Jan. 18, 2012 at 10:47 AM ET

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Making your own food choices requires discipline, but can save you some money.

By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com

New years and resolutions to lose weight go together like ice cream and cake — er, rather salad and low-fat dressing. Not surprisingly, there are deals galore on diet plans right now. But there’s no use taking advantage of a waived sign-up fee if you ultimately can’t afford the plan itself. After all, what good is a weight-loss plan if the stress on your budget leads to emotional eating? Luckily several diet plans responsible for numerous success stories start at less than $20 per month.

Generally the low-cost options are book-based or support-only plans, as opposed to food-delivery programs like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, which send subscribers carefully calibrated meals. Making your own food choices requires more discipline, even with the help of recipes, meal plans, online tools, and support from fellow dieters. If you can handle it, however, you can save money and develop healthful habits — including an ongoing exercise routine — that will help keep your weight down even after you go off a formal plan.

Want to lose weight? Join the 25,000-pound challenge

According to an expert at Mayo Clinic, the prevailing weight-loss guideline of one to two pounds per week offers the greatest likelihood of long-term success. At that rate it may take a while to get to a point where you could hold up an old pair of pants on TV, but a slow, steady approach has proved safe and effective. Whichever weight-loss plan you choose, be sure to consult your doctor before you begin.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable diet plans.

  • Weight Watchers (online membership starting at $18.95 for 28 days) combines dietary requirements with physical activity and online or in-person support. Subscribers track what they eat using a points system that favors high-fiber, low-fat foods. Weight Watchers caps the number of points allowed each day and increases the allotment if you exercise. The program boasts multitudes of satisfied customers. (Where to buy)
  • eDiets (online membership starting at $18.95 for 28 days) offers a food-delivery service as well as a support-only option. Customers register numerous complaints about the food, from preparation to packaging and delivery. The more cost-efficient online diet plans, on the other hand, claim many admirers. The personalized plans include 24/7 online support, and members credit the program with instilling resistance to impulse buying and binge eating. (Where to buy)
  • The South Beach Diet (online membership starting at $4 per week; books starting at $7.99) places strict limits on your carb intake at the beginning, then slowly re-introduces whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. The membership includes meal plans, peer support, and online tools for tracking your progress. The latest version incorporates exercise. Adherents report that the diet yields speedy results and is easy to maintain. (Where to buy)

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