The high price of weight loss - Irish Times

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The Irish Times - Monday, October 17, 2011


IF YOU SQUIRM every time you hear those Safefood ads on the radio beseeching you to measure your waist, it may be time to lose the extra weight.

But is throwing money at any of the large number of diets now on the market really the best way of doing so or is it just a way to lose your hard-earned cash?

"If people are looking to lose weight and maintain it over an extended period, it requires a habitual change in lifestyle, diet and exercise pattern," says Daniel McCarthy, lecturer and public relations officer for the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI), advising those looking to lose weight to opt for a method which provides healthy eating plans. "Crash diets don't really elicit long-term behavioural change, they have no lasting effect."

While this may be true, it doesn't stop many of us from readily parting with our cash to stump up for diets ranging from Dukan to Weightwatchers, to the South Beach and Atkins. After all, it often appears a lot more attractive to hand over your hard-earned money rather than simply cutting out treats and eating less. There is an argument that you might be more motivated to keep up with a weight loss programme if you have paid for it.

"There are various products available – but whether or not they achieve their intended effect is another thing," says McCarthy, adding that diets which involve group meetings or online forums can provide extra motivation.

"Peer support to manage diet can be a very valuable thing," he notes.

A long-time exponent of this approach is Weightwatchers, which offers a healthy-eating plan based on a daily points allowance. With Weightwatchers, you have two options; either sign up to attend meetings and pay as you go, or opt for the "at home" version, which costs €86 for an information pack. This version includes 12 weeks telephone support, as well as a shopping and eating-out guide, and a "pro points" calculator.

If you attend meetings, which are held all over the country every week, you will pay €20 (€17.50 for over 60s/under 18s) upfront, and then €10 (€8.50 for over 60s/under 18s) at each meeting.

However, if you miss more than two meetings in a six-month period, you need to pay a fee to attend again. There are discounts available. If you opt for the Smart Save option, for example, you get 12 weeks for the price of 10, or six weeks for the price of five.

Slimming World operates a similar philosophy. It is based on a "food optimising" eating plan, which doesn't exclude any food, and features weekly group sessions which involve "image therapy".

It costs €18 to join and €9 a week, but like Weightwatchers, you can get discounts by signing up for a longer period, ie, six weeks for the price of five and 12 weeks for the price of 10.

Similarly, there is also an "at home" version, Slimming World Online.

For €75 for three months for the bronze option rising to €120 for the gold option, this gives you access to over 1,200 recipes online, weight loss charts and support, as well as magazines and cookbooks on the more expensive option.

If you're looking to lose weight at the same time as earning Clubcard points, you could check out Tesco Diets. This is based around a weekly diet which is customised to you, and membership will set you back €14.95 per month; €39.95 for three months, and €59.90 for six months. The package includes a weekly shopping list, and of course given that it is offered by Tesco, you can arrange to have this delivered to your door – but unfortunately you must still do the cooking yourself!

You can also call on a personal mentor and nutritionist by phone, as well as weekly weigh-ins and e-mails with recipes and motivational tips.

Following the Middleton family's slim-line appearance at the royal wedding earlier this year, the Dukan diet, which was credited with getting them in shape, has become the diet du jour .

With this approach, you can purchase the diet book for about €10, or choose an online coaching option, to follow its four steps: attack; cruise; consolidation; and stabilisation. However, while the book itself may not be expensive, the food and supplements that are eaten while on it can add up.

While it's easy enough to control your spend on these diets, there are more expensive diets out there. Ones to watch out for include those which give you replacement food such as snack bars.

"It can be very expensive to maintain that diet long-term," says McCarthy.

Lighter Life is based around eating three "food packs" a day plus a healthy meal, for weight loss that is "fast, simple and safe". It costs €60 a week for three foodpacks a day and a one-hour group session with a counsellor.

There is also an option for those classified as clinically obese, which costs €80 a week.

Another trap many of us fall into is to opt for the "low fat", "diet" or "light" options of our favourite foods in the supermarket. Not only are many of these more expensive than their regular alternatives, but they can also be ineffective.

According to McCarthy, "low fat" must mean that the product contains less than 3g of fat per 100g. But some brands will try and get around this.

Take the example of mayonnaise. You can find "light" and "extra light" versions in the supermarket but in terms of calorie content these can still be quite high.

"It's often ambiguous and confusing for consumers," says McCarthy, noting that many "low fat" yoghurts will meet the fat requirements, but producers will add extra sugar for flavour, thus bumping up the calorie content.

Moreover, by swapping for the lower calorie alternative, you're not really changing habits – especially if you're still consuming a packet of biscuits in front of the television every evening.

"A reduced-calorie biscuit is still a biscuit," says McCarthy, suggesting you swap it for an apple or diet yoghurt.

So, for weight loss on a budget, what strategy should you adopt? "Plenty of high-fibre breakfast cereal or porridge in the morning; lots of fruits and vegetables; and keep an eye on high-calorie foods, fried food and sweets and cakes," McCarthy recommends, adding that you will also need to keep an eye on your alcohol intake.

Exercise is also important, but as with dieting, you don't have to pay over the odds to get the results you desire.

According to McCarthy, 45 minutes of brisk walking every day should help you lose weight. It might actually save you money if you walk, rather than drive or take public transport, for your daily commute.

"It's really only after 20 minutes of exercise that we burn fat," he says. And don't use a lack of funds as an excuse to keep opting for cheap fast-food.

"While healthier food is expensive, it's possible to eat healthier on a low budget," says McCarthy, adding that a bag of apples, which costs about €2.50, should keep you in snacks for a week or so.



Weightwatchers €20 to join/€10 a week

Tesco Diets €14.95 a month

Slimming World €18 (€9 on special offer) to join/€9 a week

Dukan €10 for book/extra for food/supplements

Lighter Life €60 a week, including food




What does it do: Helps you track your food intake and breaks down fat content as a guide.

Cost: Free


Lose it! 

What does it do? Works out how much food you can eat each day to reach your target weight.

Cost : free



What does it do? Designed by an Irish doctor, this is for women who want to lose 8-10 pounds in five weeks

Cost: €2.99


Good Food 

What does it do? From the BBC, this recipes guide has 175 recipes, including 35 recipes with less than 200 calories

Cost: €2.99

17 Oct, 2011

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