5 Steps to Lose Weight without Spending Money

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Step 1: Start a Food Diary

woman writing
Keeping a food diary is the ideal first step to losing weight. Image: © [2009] Jupiterimages Corporation

Lose weight without spending money? It can be done. Losing weight doesn't have to mean shelling out for special foods or signing up for a pricey weight-loss program. All it takes is some planning and sticking to a few new habits. These steps will teach you how to lose weight without spending money:

A food diary is an excellent first step to losing weight. Not only does it show you what you eat, it can also help you understand why you eat the way you do, which is often just as important when it comes to long-term weight management. (For example, if you find that you always hit the vending machine after your afternoon meeting, you may eat in response to stress.)

Simply pick up a spiral notebook that's lying around the house and record everything you eat and drink for at least one week. The most important factor in keeping an effective food diary is to keep it honest. That includes recording "tastes" and samples as well as unexpected treats (like a "free" donut from the break room!). Many of us eat and drink without being truly conscious of it. Keeping a food diary is the only way to get an accurate idea of what you take into your body.

More:
Why to Keep a Food Diary
How to Keep a Food Diary
Create Your Food Diary

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Step 2: Learn to Read Nutrition Labels

food label
An example of a nutrition label. Image: FDA.gov

The next step to lose weight without spending money is to educate yourself on how to read nutrition labels. Nutrition labels appear on packaged foods under the heading of "Nutrition Facts" in a rectangular box. These labels include information on the amount per serving of fat and calories, as well as saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and other important nutritional information. If you cannot locate a nutrition label on the packaging of a certain food, try searching online.

One of the key areas of a nutrition label is where "Serving Size" and "Servings Per Container" are listed. If you decide to start tracking your daily calorie intake, you will look at this information in conjunction with the number of calories. Only with the serving size can you accurately assess the number of calories you consume when you eat a food or drink a beverage.

Here is an example: The label on your bag of chips says they provide 160 calories per serving. Unless you take note of the fact that 14 chips constitute a serving, you might assume the number of chips you can fit into a bowl is a serving. That's probably a lot more than 14 chips, and therefore a lot more than 160 calories.

More:
How to Understand Nutrition Labels

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Step 3: Start Measuring Serving Sizes

measuring cups
Measuring portions is a key skill for long-term weight management. Image: CDC.gov

The next step to losing weight without spending money is to control portions. In the previous step, you learned about serving size (the recommended single portion of a particular food or beverage). From now on, take a moment to look at the serving size on the nutrition label and measure out (or count out if the serving is a number, such as "three pieces") controlled portions of foods and beverages.

Try this experiment: Tomorrow morning at breakfast, pour your usual bowl of cereal without any measuring (Don't add milk yet!). Then, check the nutrition label for serving size and measure out that amount with a measuring cup. Pour that portion into another bowl. Compare the two portions side by side. You may be surprised at how much more than a recommended serving you are accustomed to eating.

For a few foods, such as meat, you can't really use a measuring cup, but you don't have to buy a scale to control your portions of those foods. Picturing the size of everyday items can help you to estimate serving size. (For example, a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.)

It may seem daunting at first to measure your food, but doing so really is the only way to get a true concept of what normal servings look like. In time, when you have adjusted to seeing what standard servings really are, you will be able to "eyeball" a serving without measuring your food.

And here's a bonus for budget-watchers -- when you use smaller portions, everything you buy will last longer. That box of cereal in the example will be around days longer than it would have been if you'd continued eating oversized servings. So, controlling portions can save you major cash!

More:
"Eyeball" Portions with Everyday Items
Serving Sizes Quiz
Ways to Control Portions

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Step 4: Sign Up for a Free Calorie Count Membership

woman at desk
Calorie Count can be used at home, school, the office... even from your mobile phone!. Image: © [2009] www.clipart.com

Your next step to lose weight without spending money is to sign up for a membership at About.com's Calorie Count. Calorie Count is a free service that allows you to calculate your daily caloric needs, track your calorie intake, search the calorie count of foods, browse for nutritional information, and much more.

After you answer a few questions about yourself, you will be provided a number of calories you should eat each day if you want to lose weight at a healthy rate. The "eat meter" and "burn meter" both allow you to track your calorie use and your calorie burn.

Here's how it works: Let's use a half-cup of 2% milk as an example of a food I want to track. First, I visit Calorie Count and log into my account. Then, I will either browse the category of Dairy and Egg Products until I locate milk, or I will simply type "milk" in the search box. Using search I quickly find the entry for reduced-fat milk. Since I measured my portion, I select a half-cup from the drop down menu as my serving size. Then, I click the "Add to Food Log" button.

Since using Calorie Count means there is a record of what I have eaten, keeping my food diary becomes "automatic" and I have an accurate idea of how many calories I am consuming. Calorie Count subtracts these calories from my "Eat Meter" and I instantly see how many calories I have used throughout the day and my remaining "balance".

Simply log your food and beverages with Calorie Count, stay within your calorie goals, and get some activity in on the "burn meter" -- you are virtually guaranteed to lose weight.

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Step 5: Cut Liquid Calories

woman drinking wine
Liquid calories go down easy and add up quick. Image: © [2009] www.clipart.com

Cutting liquid calories from your diet is one of the easiest and most "painless" ways to lose weight. Once you start keeping a food diary, measuring servings, and tracking your caloric intake, you may be surprised at the number of calories you consume in the form of beverages. The good news is you may not need to cut as many food calories once you realize how many liquid calories you can cut.

And since we all want to lose weight without spending money, consider this: Buying fewer beverages can save you a lot of cash over time (especially if those beverages are coffee drinks or wine!).

Here is an example of a person's caloric intake just from beverages as recorded in her food diary:

A.M.
orange juice, 8-oz. glass = 112 calories
coffee, 2 cups, 4 packets sugar = 92 calories

Mid-Morning
mocha frappe = 230 calories

Lunch
soda, 16-oz. cup = 200 calories

Afternoon
apple juice, 8-oz. container = 117 calories

Dinner
iced tea, sweetened, 16-oz. glass = 140 calories

P.M.
white wine, two 3.5-oz. glasses = 168 calories

GRAND TOTAL = a whopping 1,059 calories

If this person cuts just half of the calories from her daily beverage intake by choosing water instead, she could lose a pound per week with no other changes! So, put down that can of soda and fill up a glass at the tap to save tons of calories and a chunk of change!

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