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.

Group support and accountability – Organize a group of friends, church members or co-workers to meet on a regular basis for sharing experiences, successes and ideas.

Resources and information – Learn more about leading a healthy lifestyle by surveying the wide variety of related books and magazines available at the library and doing research on the Internet.

Pre-packaged foods – Create your own pre-measured servings for on-the-go packing and portion control. Make up 100-calorie snack bags and fill small plastic containers with fruits, vegetables and other foods. Divide entrees into calorie-controlled portions for the refrigerator or freezer.

One-on-one counseling – You might enjoy partnering with a friend for your weight-loss journey so that you both have someone to commiserate with. No one will understand your challenges and triumphs better than someone who is going through the same experience.

• Track your progress. Keep a diet and exercise calendar in a prominent place to keep track of how well you meet your daily goals. Each day write in your weight, the exercise you do, and what kind of eating day it was (Great, OK, Oops) based on your calorie goal. The visual reminder will keep you accountable.

• Celebrate your success. At pre-set weight-loss milestones, reward yourself with a new piece of workout gear, a scenic walk in a new location, or a massage. Some of the best rewards for building a healthier body will be increased levels of energy, strength and stamina, along with a more positive outlook on life. So start thinking about the all other goals that you’ll soon be ready to work towards – and achieve.

Sources:
1U.S. Food and Drug Administration – http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2004/304_fat.html 
2 Shands Health Care – http://www.shands.org/find/service/weight/rmr.htm

Beth Huber is a pianist, piano teacher and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in such national publications as The Dollar Stretcher, Writer's Digest, The Secret Place and Clavier Magazine. She lives in Chester County, PA and can be reached at bethhuber@att.net.