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The low-cost ways to lose a pound of flesh (or 10)

The cost of ... losing 10 poundsThe holiday feasts of turkey, ham, chocolates and pies have already hit your waist, and diet is on your lips as you greet the new year. Now what?

You'd almost think Alan Greenspan would get involved here, somewhere. After all, the basic issue in weight loss sounds a lot like a well-known principle of economics: supply and demand. Supply less food than your activity demands and your body burns its reserves and shucks pounds.

Whether you want to drop 10 pounds to make that bathing suit fit just right or you need to drop 100 to take the stress off a pair of weary knees, the drill is the same. It is only the time frame that changes.

That is, if you take the healthy approach. The Federal Trade Commission warns not to depend on the instant fix trumpeted on diet supplement bottle labels.

"Claims that you can eat all you want and lose weight effortlessly are not true," the agency proclaims. "To lose weight, you must lower your calorie intake or increase your calorie use through exercise. Most experts recommend doing both."

The basic tools
The things you need most to lose weight are real bargains: Determination and patience are free.

But there can be other costs. Organizations that supply moral support along with guidance on food and diet charge fees for their services. Some also charge for special, prepackaged foods that form the core of their weight-loss systems.

If you are an independent sort, you may be able to take a cheaper path. A trip to the public library can supply all the nutrition and calorie-counting information you need to get started. Once you've read up on the subject, plan. Use your imagination.

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Eat things you like, but concentrate on the items with the fewest calories and the easiest preparation methods. Bulk up your meals with fruits and vegetables. Consider portion sizes. Mayonnaise is not evil by definition, but too much of it will kill you -- or at least make you resemble Elvis (the later years).

Eat everything in moderation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admonishes.

If you don't have time for all this thinking and planning, consider joining one of the diet organizations. The people there will lay the groundwork for you. All you have to do is fall in step.

Speaking of steps ...

The more you move, the more you can safely eat. It's all part of that supply and demand thing.

Exercise can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. That length of rope slung over the rafters in the garage might make a good -- free -- jump rope. And a nearby swimming hole won't charge admission. Neither will your buddies if you egg them into a game of flag football.

If you enjoy team sports, many cities and towns offer low-cost recreation programs. Municipal swimming pools will usually let you in without draining off your last dollar.

A good pair of walking shoes will cost some money, but will pay off over the months you use them. At the higher end, fitness clubs and community organizations like the YMCA offer membership that give you rights to use their exercise equipment.

Just as you won't lose weight by trying to force yourself to eat foods you hate, you won't get exercise by trying to do things that bore you. Choose something you like. If you don't like anything you've tried, try something new.

Experts say frequent, moderate exercise is the way to go. So you have a lot of time to find something you can live with.

What next?
Reaching your weight goal can be an exhilarating experience, but if you don't continue to pay attention you won't stay there.

Eating well and being good to your body have to be lifelong endeavors, experts say. But the rewards are tremendous. And just think of the money you will save when you no longer have to buy a succession of new wardrobes because your weight is climbing.

It just might be enough money to pay for that annual gym membership.

Sample pricing information for diet organizations and exercise gear and memberships
Anaheim, Calif.: Free registration and starts from $9.95 a week
Chicago, Ill.: Free registration and starts from $9.95 a week
Online Weight Loss Program: Free membership and counseling; $54.95 plus shipping and handling/week for food. Contact no. (800) 891 3381
Reebok versaport DMX max, women's walking shoe: $69.99
New Balance MW755, men's walking shoe: $79.99
Weslo Pursuit 719 Recumbert Bike: $147.77
Icon Image 15.0 Q Treadmill: $398.22
Editor's note: Inclusion in this list is not meant to endorse any particular product or service, but simply to give consumers an idea of availability and costs. The prices, culled from the organizations' and vendors Web sites, can change at any time. Visit the Web sites for additional information or options.

-- Updated: Jan. 3, 2003

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See Also
Healthy hobbies
No-sweat guide to home exercise
Saving money at the gym

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