Best Cheap Diet Plans
The weight-loss industry is big business in the U.S. Among the millions of people searching for a fast and easy way to drop extra pounds, many are also intent on finding a cheap diet plan. Fast and easy doesn't always mean success, and even the best cheap diet plan doesn't guarantee results. The key is committing to a program that's right for you -- one that helps you lose weight, maintain a target weight, and perhaps improve your overall fitness.
Our Top Pick
Weight Watchers Review
Hundreds of Weight Watchers reviews laud this program, reporting serious and sustained weight reduction accompanied by improvements in overall well-being. At the program's core is the well-established PointsPlus system, which assigns point values to various foods and gives users a daily target based on factors such as weight, activity level, age, and gender. (Nursing mothers are allotted more points, for example.) Dieters who have posted reviews on the Diets in Review site give Weight Watchers a 75 percent approval rating for reasons ranging from never feeling food-deprived to learning to eat in moderation, making smarter food choices, relishing the "free" fruits, and being confident that the pounds won't come back. The opportunity to eat what you want, optional group meetings with other adherents that hold you accountable for diet-related decisions, and guidelines that lead to lifestyle and behavior changes are cited as some of the plan's strong suits in comments posted at Viewpoints. Weight Watchers reviews also point out that the plan is easy to follow when eating away from home but note that constantly counting points becomes wearisome if you want to stick with it long term.
The support component of Weight Watchers is critical. Participants can join Weight Watchers online (starting at $18.95/monthly membership) or choose weekly in-person meetings. Many Weight Watchers followers credit a good meeting location and supportive peers for their success and suggest trying out different meetings to find one that feels simpatico. Weight Watchers Online offers access to forums, activity trackers, workout demonstrations, more than 4,000 recipes, and other tools. The accompanying iOS and Android mobile app also allows users to quickly find recipes with the food they have in the house, decode the value of restaurant menu items, pull up “cheat sheets,” and scan items at the grocery store to find their point value.
With Weight Watchers you can eat, in moderation, from all the food groups. Its four-pronged approach involves food, exercise, behavior, and support. An article published by The Guardian reports on medical research showing that Weight Watchers has the intended effect largely because of all the support: weekly meetings with other dieters and reinforcement in the form of self-monitoring and educational materials on nutrition, meal planning, and fitness. Indeed, Weight Watchers asserts the program works because it's not a diet but a way to learn how to eat right and live healthfully.
The strong support element of Weight Watchers and the proven results, even in the maintenance stage, are points in its favor. Another plus is that no food group is completely off-limits, which saves you from passing on tempting desserts or snacks. Weight Watchers is a sound diet for a cheap price that’s founded on portion control and behavior changes, which is why it sits atop our list.
South Beach Diet Review
The South Beach Diet (starting at $7.99/book; $4/weekly online membership) helps followers stay fit and trim, trumpet the reviews. Most adherents affirm the value of the right-carbs/right-fat/high-protein approach, and many dieters who posted South Beach Diet reviews at Amazon indicate they started the plan based on a doctor's recommendation. These and other comments at Epinions, for example, tell of dieters having lost 40 pounds and more -- and then keeping it off, although sticking with the prescribed food regimen is a must. South Beach Diet reviews concede that the first couple of weeks are tough, but go on to crow that seeing it through has its rewards.
Weight loss is quite rapid during the first phase of the diet, when food intake is limited to protein such as lean meats and low-fat cheese. An endocrinologist recommended the diet to one reviewer who says a regime of mostly eggs and vegetables during the first phase caused the pounds to fall away. But some South Beach Diet reviews, including one posted by a nutritionist at Weight Loss Resources, caution about the challenges of phase 1 when the lack of popular carbs leaves some people feeling weak and hungry. Still, a number of South Beach Diet commenters extol its value as a route to rapid weight loss shortly before a big event, while others call it a life-saver for the long haul because it teaches healthy habits. This diet allows three regular meals a day plus snacks, with no limit on portion size.
The South Beach Diet replaces "bad carbs" and "bad fats" with "good carbs" and "good fats." That is, you trade out white pasta and bread for whole grain versions in addition to vegetables and fruit. Instead of foods laden with saturated fats, including certain cuts of red meat, dieters are told to opt for lean meat alternatives and fish and healthy fats like avocados and nuts. There are three phases to the plan that can be followed in book form or with a weekly online membership. Dieters who rely on the South Beach Diet book praise its simple-to-understand explanations and the plan’s underlying rationale.
The recent addition of a mobile app (for members) and the growing online community (which already counts more than 25,000 members) may help folks who start the diet to stick with it. The app lets users plan meals, quickly find recipes so they know what to buy at the grocery store, and track their weight. Another big benefit is the ability to ask nutritionists for advice in the members-only forum.
This weight-loss plan temporarily restricts certain foods and requires some focus to maintain a target weight. But if you can get past the early stages and make this diet part of your everyday routine, the chances of getting on track to a healthier lifestyle are good.
SparkPeople reviews extol the breadth and depth of the online supports designed to help members lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles, and they hold out special praise for the large and active member community. The site is associated with a book, The Spark Solution, which earns a solid four stars at Amazon, where SparkPeople reviewers report they have lost 50 pounds and more and learned to make regular exercise an ongoing habit. Moreover, adherents add, SparkPeople recipes are varied, easy, and tasty, and the online tracking tools for things like nutrition, weight, and fitness keep them informed and motivated. Reviewers also value the surprisingly simple and understandable approach that downplays the notion of dieting and boosts the concept of long-term fitness and health, all underlined with reams of information and customizable tools. Four mobile apps for iOS and Android devices let users keep tabs on their goals and find workout routines and recipes at any time or place.
Members of the online community (sign up for free) can join one of the many SparkTeams organized by criteria such as age, location, hobby, or favorite exercise regimen. Although the early stages take commitment and the transition can be tough, participants report at Diets in Review that the cheerleading, reinforcement, and advice provided by like-minded people helps them stay with it. SparkPeople members earn SparkPoints for remaining involved and completing tasks on the site, and can use the points to enter into friendly competition with others and to send electronic gifts. Although SparkPeople is really an online program, some members join offline exercise-focused meet-ups that have been facilitated by the community forums.
Basically, the SparkPeople diet plan focuses on changing daily habits in the service of a healthy lifestyle. The SparkDiet is divided into four stages: Fast Break, Healthy Diet Habits, Lifestyle Change, and Spread the Spark. The first lays the foundation -- finding achievable nutrition, fitness, and motivation goals that suit a personal profile and can be reached in two weeks. With a few good habits in place, step two involves the diet part of the plan whose core is fewer calories in than out (that is, burn off those calories); this phase comes with a recommended daily calorie limit based on the member’s personal data. There are no particular off-limit foods but the site lets users track the nutritional content of whatever they eat and stresses portion control and drinking lots of water. The third step involves incorporating the new learnings as a constant in their lives, identifying potential setbacks and how to overcome them, and finding healthy ways to reward progress. Step four asks followers to give back by providing other members with advice and encouragement.
The SparkPeople program also appears in book form. The Spark draws on members’ experiences and contains motivational techniques and food and exercise recommendations. The Spark Solution is geared toward beginners who don’t yet know how to count calories or understand how different foods affect their body. Although the books can be used on their own, they’re most effective when augmented by the SparkPeople website.
This is an online program, and the lack of face-to-face accountability may be hard for some dieters. The lack of rigid rules and the massive amount of information may also pose a challenge. Still, SparkPeople meets the needs of beginners, those who have been living a healthy lifestyle for years, and everyone in between. Its members are fervent believers. There’s no cost to join -- or to drop out if it all seems a bit much. In other words, it can’t hurt to give it a try.
A portion of Nutrisystem reviews report success with this food delivery plan, but many others are quick to voice complaints. Nutrisystem reviews at Consumer Affairs and elsewhere are divided. Alongside paeans to the convenience and assertions that this diet-food delivery plan has helped users lose weight -- 14 pounds, 37 pounds, 65 pounds, and counting -- without experiencing hunger pangs while learning to like vegetables come groans about the meals’ taste and ingredients. Some reviewers describe the prepared food as unpalatable and critique the high level of preservatives and sodium. Others gripe about customer service, claiming that attempts to withdraw from the plan after trying some of the meals or experiencing delivery problems results in a hefty cancellation fee and resistance from sales agents. Another downside to diet-food delivery plans in general is that dieters don't learn portion control or how to make proper food choices because meals arrive pre-cooked and in carefully calibrated serving sizes.
Nutrisystem (starting at $229.99/28 days food delivery) is a veteran among diet-food delivery plans. Plans are tailored to your gender and can be suited to vegetarians and people with a diabetic condition. You can create a 28-day menu of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts -- or have foods pre-selected for you -- from dozens of options. Meal components range from breakfast bars and cereals to salad and soup lunches to chicken, steak, and pasta dinners. Clients are expected to supplement with fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy bought locally.
Support options with Nutrisystem include an online community, weight-loss tracker, daily fitness plan, and daily food log. A weekly online guide supplies clients with expert advice, tutorials, quizzes, video testimonials, polls, tips, and weight management information. The mobile app lets members track their weight, exercise, water consumption, body measurements, and keep a journal while on the go.
Although many dieters commend this plan, the large number of negative Nutrisystem reviews panning the cost, food quality, and customer service suggest there are better routes to losing weight.
Atkins Diet Review
The Atkins Diet (starting at $10.88/book, Amazon) is a controversial approach to losing weight. Some research, as reported in Atkins Diet reviews on sites such as Healthy Weight Forum, say the protein-rich, high-fat diet may be linked to health risks such as heart and renal disease, colon cancer, and osteoporosis. Experts also express concern about the diet's lack of sufficient nutrients and vitamins found in fruits and vegetables, which constitute a small portion of the plan, and about inadequate amounts of fiber and calcium. The rigid dietary requirements, including the near total elimination of carbohydrates, mean the body burns fat for fuel, a process that an Atkins Diet review on Weight Loss Resources says can cause dizziness, insomnia, bad breath, constipation, tiredness, and weakness. Moreover, dieters’ reviews of the Atkins approach say the absence of variety in food choices makes for a boring, one-note food regimen that can leave you craving the so-called bad stuff.
On the other hand, many consumers who posted Atkins Diet reviews report significant weight loss. At Top Diets, for example, followers write about losing weight quickly, especially in the first phase when you go cold-turkey on carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereal, rice, and even fruit. Some dieters tell of initial success but trouble staying with it; many caution that the weight returns once you depart from the prescribed food plan.
The Atkins Diet has been around since the 1970s and an updated version was released in 2010 that does a better job explaining how to incorporate the diet into your everyday life. The diet involves four phases: induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance. In each phase dieters can add tiny amounts of carbohydrates back into their meals, although the total allocation in the last phase is still less than half the average American adult's daily intake of carbs. The diet is heavy on meat, poultry, fish, eggs, some cheeses, butter, salad vegetables, and oils, which makes it appealing to men but largely useless for vegetarians. Caffeine is allowed but alcohol is banned. According to Atkins Diet reviews, you can lose up to 10 pounds in phase 1 and about three pounds a week in phase 2; after that, weight loss slows until you hit your goal. The Atkins Diet offers a free online support system.
The mixed expert and consumer reviews and the extremely limited food options are reasons to pause. This is one diet you might want to think about twice before embarking on -- and definitely consult with your doctor first.
More From Cheapism
9 Pricey Mistakes at Sam's Club
Looking to stock up on deals at Sam's Club? Find out which costly mistakes to avoid at the membership warehouse.
Wingstop Flavors, Ranked
We tried all 12 Wingstop flavors and landed on a few favorites — plus some flavors that are worth skipping.
Cheapest Fast-Food Joints
Redditors eat at these seven fast food chains when they're looking to stretch their dollar a little further.
Cheap Meats for Summer Grilling
Fire up the coals and start grilling — these budget cuts and clever, flavorful ideas for meat lovers won't disappoint.