Dieting on a budget

The other day someone emailed me asking about dieting on a budget.  She said she’d tried losing weight before but had found all the diet food to be prohibitively expensive.   Though running has helped me lose a few pounds lately,  I am no expert on dieting. But the thing that I’ve read over and over is to make lifestyle changes you intend to keep doing forever.  I think that’s where the expensive ‘diet’ food really falls down.  Yeah, you can certainly buy Lean Cuisine dinners and Weight Watchers cupcakes, and diet coke.  But in the long run I think the simplest thing to do is eat real food, the same kind you’re serving your family, but less of it.

I recently bought a food scale, which has been hugely eye-opening.  The other evening ice cream was being served and my son asked me how much I wanted.   I asked him to look at the suggested serving size on the ice cream container and use the food scale to measure out that much.  He zeroed out the scale for the weight of the bowl, then scooped a small amount into the bowl.

‘Wow!’ he said, raising an eyebrow.  That single scoop was almost double what the ice cream company considered to be a serving, and was about 300 calories. Yikes.  I opted to down-size my serving just a bit.

Another thing that has been really helpful for me is calorie counting.   I’ve been logging my calories at  The site has a great collection of food already logged into the system, making it simple to find something similar to what you ate, and estimate your serving size.  Then you click a little button that says “I ate this” and it adds that food to your calorie total for the day.  Talk about accountability.  I have found it much easier to make reasonable food choices simply because I know I’m going to be writing it all down.

On the opposite side of the equation, the site also allows you to track your exercise, which (of course) works to offset your calories for the day.  I’m a numbers kind of gal, and I’ve found the addition (and subtraction) of calories to be really interesting.  The site is simple enough to use that I can imagine actually using it long term.  It is an excellent tool.  No, it’s not easy, and I don’t win at the numbers every day.  But I’ve learned a lot from keeping track of calories.  I’ve lost some weight.  And I’ve been able to do it without spending any more at the grocery store.  That’s a win in my book.


  1. I have actually found that being on a budget and “dieting” work hand in hand. When I’m being super careful with my money, it means no splurges on things like lattes and fast food and pre-packaged snacks. That not only helps with my wallet, but my waistline as well.

  2. Hi Mary. Great tips. As someone who has fought food addiction for a long time, I can say that sometimes it’s hard to do this ALONE. So two other thoughts that might help those folks:

    One, Weight Watchers does sell foods, but the Weight Watchers program is one that anyone can do eating only “regular” food–and recently has become the most nutrition-based program available. When I needed to get back in control of my eating, I found meetings helpful (albeit expensive). My husband and I set aside the money for meetings, even though it meant pinching elsewhere and set a goal for me to get back to my lifetime weight by month 6. Lifetime members don’t pay for meetings…so that was a big motivator for me.

    Two, some folks who can’t even set aside a certain number of months $ in a budget for something like Weight Watchers but still need a community around them might find that their insurance would cover a visit to a dietician or nutritionist in a local hospital. It can be immensely helpful to have someone who is trained in nutrition and diet assist in mapping out a food plan.

    Lastly, others might find something like Overeaters Anonymous helpful. There are chapters in many communities and they are open to all. OA doesn’t provide a program of eating, but it does provide emotional support for men and women who are facing the issues they’ve been feeding.

    I hope lots of other readers have ideas too! This is a great topic, and a tough one.

  3. This topic is PERFECT! My hubby and I got back on WW for the new year and the increase in our budget is really due to an increase in fresh produce purchased. I cringe when I get through the checkout, but I figure it’s better for us and we probably are saving more by decreasing eating out. Love the post!

  4. Mary, Your book, Family Feasts, and the book and blog Real Food Has Curves, have helped me to serve quality food to my family and not make it be expensive. Serving them real food has decreased the money we spend on food and has helped my husband and I loose weight. I have fun cooking the food and even my 2 year old helps out cooking and has tried new things.

  5. Another great (free!) site to log calories and exercise is Not only that but recipes, tips, exercise videos and phenomenal support from staff and community ALL FREE!

  6. Hi, This is something that I can totally relate to I have lost 54 lb so far but to fit it into family life is so hard. on certain ‘diets’ you cant shop unless you have a points calculator – I am so aware of having 2 girls I dont want to show bad example and I dont want them seeing mummy constantly on a diet and having body issues – So I have taken this approach as well just having the same as the rest of the family and also watching portion control – which I am so guilty for – hubby is a postie and walks miles a day but I used to give us the SAME amount – I log my progess at it has a diet diary similar to livestrong but you can also log your exercise in and it takes calories burnt into account – have a look im a total convert ! x

  7. I just found a great diet! It’s called the Nos diet. No seconds, no snacks, and no sweets except for days that start with s. Budget wise it will fit in nicely as you still get to eat regular meals with your family.

  8. In August my husband and I started on a “healthy eating” and weight loss journey. We used 30 day shred, running, biking and My Plate. In about 10 weeks I lost 25 pounds and my hubby lost 35. I was pleasantly surprised that our food bill was decreased. We weren’t eating out as much and when we did we always shared something. We stopped buying all that unhealthy snack food. We ate smaller portions and alot less calories which meant needing to buy less food. I always believed that eating healthier meant costing more but after actually living it for 6 months, I’d have to say eating healthier means saving money!

  9. Do you like your food scale and would you recommend it? I have bought two scales and hated them both. 🙁 I agree with your philosophy about eating the real food and exercising self control. This also exercises another spiritual discipline for me….praying! 🙂 Enjoy your blog.


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