Whether they're shaping up for a summer holiday or made a New Year’s resolution to shed a few pounds, people across the country are determined to lose weight, and many will join slimming clubs to do it. Memberships to well-known groups can cost around £20 each month, and if you include the cost of extras such as snacks, cook books and restaurant guides, it can soon tot up. Figures from Weight Watchers show that the sales of its range of products, including food, magazines and calculators, accounted for 13% of its revenues in 2016. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Slimming World magazine is now the fourth most actively purchased magazine and the UK’s best-selling glossy magazine. It has 645,719 readers (July-December 2016) – a higher circulation than Vogue and Cosmopolitan combined.
But if you think that a slimming club isn’t for you or don’t want the financial commitment of joining a gym, there are plenty of free or low-cost alternatives that can help you lose weight and get fit without breaking the bank. Here are five to get you started:
1 Make the most of free apps and resources
“There are phenomenal free resources these days,” said Jacqui Cleaver, founder of New You Boot Camp. “MyFitnessPal is a great smartphone app with some really good blogs. You can start to live a healthier lifestyle by downloading the app and logging your exercise.”
It’s always a good idea to see your GP before starting a diet or exercise program – as well as assessing your general health to see if any conditions are making you gain weight, your GP or practice nurse can discuss a plan to help you lose weight. They might ask you to keep a food diary and use a pedometer to measure activity levels, then set you goals and see you for follow-up appointments to assess your progress. Your GP might even be able to refer you to a weight loss group or exercise classes – find out more at nhs.uk.
2 Weight-loss programmes on a shoestring
Forget the ‘lose-weight-quick’ schemes that a Google search brings up – they can be costly and not great for your health. However, the good news is that the internet does have some excellent free advice on offer. The NHS, for instance, offers a 12-week weight loss programme that’s entirely free to use and very safe, while charities such as Diabetes UK and British Heart Foundation have guides to healthy weight loss that you can download for free.
3 Swap superfoods
“Diets simply don’t work,” says Dr Sally Norton, an NHS weight loss consultant and surgeon. “Research shows that if you try to cut out foods you love, it just leaves you obsessing about them – wanting them even more.” Instead she advises simply cutting back – allowing yourself a little bit of what you fancy will stop you from feeling as though you’re depriving yourself – or swapping the foods you love for healthier versions.
A common myth is that healthy food is often more expensive that junk food. However, data published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), found healthier foods bought in supermarkets tend to have a smaller price tag than their unhealthier counterparts.
The study revealed that £1 – the cost of a cheeseburger – could also buy a kilo of sweet potatoes, two kilos of carrots or 10 apples, and that the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day could cost as little as 30p.
What’s more, if you swap just five superfoods for cheaper alternatives, you could save you a small fortune, according to consumer group Which? Shoppers who want more polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA often buy fresh salmon (£12.70/kg at the fish counter in Tesco); but buying fresh sardines (£3/kg) instead will reduce your spend by £9.70 a week – a saving of more than £500 a year.
Getting more vitamins C and K in your diet doesn’t have to cost as much as you would think, as switching from blueberries (£2.65 for 400g at Tesco) to kiwi fruit (six for just 51p) can save you £2.14 a week or £111 annually. Anyone who buys dried goji berries (£2 for 100g) to stock up on vitamins A, B2 and C plus iron, can save a bundle by replacing them with spinach (£1 for 200g), saving you £1 a week or £52 over 12 months.
4 Choose frozen foods
Many of us assume that buying fresh fruit and vegetables is better for our health – but buying frozen is a win-win situation. Frozen fruit and veg can cost a fraction of their fresh equivalents and the flash-freezing process means that the produce is often fresher and lasts longer, which reduces food waste. Another bonus is that the frozen equivalents are often pre-prepared, so it takes less time to get your meal onto the table.
5 Plan your meals
If you want to start cooking healthier meals, check out recipes online before shelling out for new cook books. Worth a look is the NHS Change 4 Life meal planner which offers easy and cheap recipes via a free app for iOS and Android devices – it even creates a handy shopping list to use next time you’re at the supermarket.
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