Catch a few TV infomercials and you’re sure to encounter the happy faces of newly-fit men and women endorsing the products that enabled them to achieve that blissfully healthy state. It’s a pretty safe bet that whatever helped them reach their weight-loss goals – a diet plan, exercise machine, program or supplement – required a hefty investment of money.

Achieving a healthy weight is certainly a worthwhile and, for most of us, necessary goal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese and, as a result, are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer and other disabling medical conditions.1

But the good news is that it’s simply not necessary to sacrifice hard-earned dollars to get in shape. By utilizing a simple mathematical calculation of calorie intake vs. expenditure you can lose weight without spending money. Counting calories is a sensible, time-tested and nutritionally sound approach to losing weight. And it’s a process that mirrors basic fiscal principles – monitoring calories is strikingly similar to budgeting financial income and expenses.

• Establish your goal weight. The CDC offers an online calculator at http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm. Plug in your height and weight to determine your BMI (Body Mass Index). The web page lists BMI ranges for Underweight, Normal, Overweight and Obese. Enter various weights to find one that falls into the Normal range for your height.

• Figure out your calorie needs and set a daily limit. Take your body weight in pounds and multiply by 10. Then add 20-40 percent more calories if you have a sedentary lifestyle, 40-60 percent for a somewhat active lifestyle, and 60-80 percent for a highly active lifestyle.2 An online calculator is available at http://www.shands.org/find/service/weight/rmr.htm. Since 3500 calories equals one pound, cutting 500 calories from your current daily needs should result in the loss of one pound each week (500 calorie reduction x 7 days = 3500 calories or one pound).

• Track daily calorie intake. Write down the number of calories you consume each time you eat and keep a running total so you know where you are versus the limit for the day. A pocket calorie guide is an inexpensive, helpful resource to have on hand. Most fast food and chain restaurants have nutritional information available on-site and/or post the information on their websites. Calories are listed on the nutrition labels for packaged grocery foods. Adjust your diet to include more low-calorie foods so you can enjoy the greatest variety, satisfaction and nutrition for the fewest calories.

• Boost your calorie outgo by increasing physical activity. Speed up weight loss by exercising to create an additional daily calorie deficit. You can lose an additional pound per week by burning off 500 calories each day. Fitness activities that don’t cost money or require extensive equipment include walking, running, hiking and biking. To get an idea of the calories you will expend in various activities, visit http://www.caloriecontrol.org/exercalc.html.

• Replace the features offered by fee-based diet programs. Diet plans that cost money provide services in exchange for the fees they charge. But with some planning and effort, you can receive the benefits of those other programs without paying the cost.