Cheapism: Best budget diet plans for 2014

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Trying to stick with that New Year's resolution? Cheapism looks at three budget programs.

Well, we’re two weeks into the new year. How’s that resolution to lose weight holding up? It’s one thing to make generic vows to “eat better” and “exercise more.” It’s another to have a concrete plan to help you achieve those goals. Some diet plans charge hundreds of dollars for branded, ready-made foods that may or may not bring about the number you want to see on the scale. Other popular plans provide guidance and support for far less, or even for free.

Here are three top picks from

Weight Watchers has attracted an army of members who like having permission to eat what they please within certain quotas, rather than try to resist favorite treats altogether. Membership starts at $18.95 a month for the online plan. That provides access to digital tools and mobile apps, such as a barcode scanner that shows how many points a product will contribute to the user’s daily allotment. (A promotion going on now eliminates the $29.95 sign-up fee.) A monthly pass to Weight Watchers meetings costs more than twice as much as the online-only option, but many members consider the extra accountability vital to their weight-loss efforts. (Where to buy)

More From Today: How to Lose 10 Pounds in a Month

SparkPeople features an active online community, mobile apps (for Android, Apple, and BlackBerry devices), and other online tools such as nutrition and fitness trackers — no membership fee required. Positive reviews point to the emphasis on exercise and the customizable meal plans. Members say the program has helped them develop healthful, sustainable habits. (Where to buy

The South Beach Diet takes the form of a library of books (starting at $7.99) and a suite of online weight-loss tools (with access starting at $4 per week). This plan starts with a two-week phase that emphasizes lean protein and forbids sugar and starch. Adherents report significant weight loss right off the bat. From there the diet expands into whole grains, fruit and starchy vegetables and eventually allows all foods in moderation, but only once you reach your target weight. (Where to buy

Before choosing a diet plan, consider how it will fit you and your lifestyle. Do you crave variety? You may feel hemmed in by the restrictions of the South Beach Diet. Do you have the motivation to stick with a program? Dieters have found moral support at Weight Watchers meetings, but you might want to try one of SparkPeople’s (free) SparkTeams before springing for a paid membership.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds Biggest Loser wannabes that a low-calorie diet is only half the equation. If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. That makes exercise a key component of any good diet plan, including the three recommended here.

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