Thrifty Weight Loss

>> 2.24.2010

I'm not overweight, but at one point I was. During the process of losing 35 lbs, I learned a lot about how we lose and gain weight as well as how I could do so as inexpensively as possible. Unfortunately, with the "I can eat whatever I want during marathon training" attitude and plenty of holiday eating opportunities present, I fell back into my old habits and ended up gaining back a few  seven pounds*. Now, while I'm back on the weight loss track, I'd like to share how I do the weight loss thing...

*After two years of heavy focus on my eating habits and activity level, I finally got to a point where I could maintain a healthy weight without counting any calories or cutting out specific foods. I only get back on the weight loss train when I stray five pounds or more from that weight.

1. Count calories and do the math
This is the most important thing you can do if you're trying to lose weight! Each extra cracker, apple, and glass of milk counts towards your total. The last thing that you want to do is to feel hungry all of the time (it's all mental) and still not lose weight. Knowledge is power, so take back control by learning the key numbers:

A. How many calories do you burn per day without exercise (your base)? Go here or here to find out (chose the no exercise option).
This is your base number if the foods you eat are equal to this number, you'll stay the same weight. If you eat less*, you'll start to lose weight.

B. How many calories did you consume?
Create a log on an Excel sheet, in a notebook, or through a web program (here's a free one, and here's a cheap, but good one)... it might seem a little tedious at first, but not doing this is what usually gives people setbacks. Plus, knowing the nutritional information on your foods (this site should have any food you need to find) will help you once you're no longer counting.

I go the low-tech notebook way.

C. How many calories did you burn through exercise? Go here or here to find out (warning: I find that many sites over-estimate calories burned for women).
This number is all up to you. Work hard and you'll see many more benefits than you will with cutting back on food alone.

D. What is your deficit?
Take your base calories burned per day (A) and subtract the number of calories that you consumed for the day (B). Now, add that number to the number of calories you burned through exercise (C).

(A - B) + C = D (for deficit)
Don't forget your order of operations ;).

Now, you can use D (your deficit) to determine how long it will take for you to lose a pound...
1 lb weight loss = 3,500 calorie deficit
3,500/ D = Number of days to lose a pound
A. Base of 1,800 calories
B. Ate a total of 1,300  calories
C. Exercised a total of 500 calories
                     (A - B) +  C = D
      (1,800 - 1,300) + 500 = D
                                1,000 = D
                     3,500/ 1,000 = 3.5 days to lose a pound
At this rate, the example person will lose two pounds by the end of a week!
*Important note: 1,200 calories per day is the least usually recommended for a healthy weight loss program (aka eat at least 1,200!).

2. Exercise
Without exercise, it's going to be a sloooow process. Think about it: your body burns 1800 without any exercise then you cut your calories down to 1300 (which isn't fun) and you end up with a 500 per day or 3500 per week deficit. That leaves you with a weight loss of 1 lb/ week or 4 lbs/ month. Why not go jogging for an hour and make it 2 lbs/ week; 8 lbs/ month (doing the elliptical machine at the gym can be a good substitute for jogging)?
When I exercise for weight loss, I like to run (it burns top calories), walk as much as possible, and fit in a workout DVD every few days (don't hate on the Paula DVD!). Gyms make life a little easier (try saving your favorite magazine or tv show for exercise time), but I'm doing just fine without one.
Thrifty tip: Discount stores like Ross and T.J. Maxx are great for finding cheapo workout equipment and DVDs.

3. Weigh in/ measure in
You don't know if you're losing weight unless you weigh in, right? Some people warn against weighing in too often, but I like to know that I'm making progress. I'll jump on the scale as often as I want to, but stick to a weekly progress check that, you guessed it, I record in my little notebook. Weighing in also clues me into things that aren't working in my system. "Maybe that Paula workout DVD isn't burning as many calories I thought..."

*Important note: 1-2 pounds per week is the average recommendation for a healthy weight loss program.

4. Make some thrifty food choices
The diet industry is a zillion dollar business ( I don't know the real numbers, but I'm sure they're big). While I wish I had the money to buy some of the delicious alternative foods (have you had these?) or pay for one of those services that delivers fancy health food to my door, it's just not in the cards right now. Here are a few of my favorite low calorie food choices that make the most bang for your buck:

*soups (all of that liquid is really filling)
*microwave meals (really helpful for calorie counting!)
*red beans and rice
*salads with protein (always measure and dip your dressings)
*"stir-fry" using steamed brown rice and little oil

My trusty measuring cups help to keep the calorie count under control.

(don't get tricked into buying expensive prepackaged foods!)
*boiled eggs
*fruit like bananas, citrus, cantaloupe
*veggies with homemade hummus

I make a running list of all of the caloric content of the ingredients in a dish and just divide that by the number of servings. I save the information in my notebook for the next time I make that dish.

*smoothies (buy fruit on sale and freeze)
*yogurt parfaits

See it's as easy as 1-2-3-4...! Okay, I know that seemed a little long-winded, but it's all important info that totally turned things around for me. Plus, there aren't any club subscriptions, gym memberships, nutritionist fees, or high-priced diet foods required!

What weight loss trick works for you?

I'm linking this post up with The 22nd Penny Pinching Party over at The Thrifty Home.
Disclaimer: Remember, these are the things that worked for me. I want you to stay healthy and safe so always talk to your doctor about what the best plan is for you!


Amanda February 24, 2010 at 12:01 PM  

I was using for a while. It lets you make a chart to track your progress, so it's really cool to watch the line dip! Also, if you have an iphone or ipod touch there are a ton of free or $1 apps out there that make it really easy to track calories and exercise on the go. Side note: training for a marathon actually makes it really hard for me to lose weight! I'm hungry all the time from all the running! It will be nice to go back to running 3 miles a day and not feeling the need to devour everything in sight.

Danielle and Clint February 24, 2010 at 12:13 PM  

When I was trying to lose weight before my wedding, what I did about 6 months before is walk for 30 minutes every day...lunch break...cut out pop, ate a little healier and went to the gym about twice a week. I dropped 20-25lbs in 6 months! It was great!

evitafjord February 24, 2010 at 12:15 PM  

I'm using's Daily Plate to track food, water, and exercise and the Couch to 5K training program for exercise plus a yoga DVD for off days and staying accountable with some friends on a blog. Down 5.6 pounds since Jan 6 (with some rough weeks in the middle) and down 2.2 this week!! Aiming for our local Komen 5k race in May and hoping to move up to a 10k with my sister in July.

Jamie Lee February 24, 2010 at 12:16 PM  

For me I just have to know my body and know my habits. The moment I declare that I'm on a diet I feel hungry all the time. It's a mind thing. I also know that I can't eat dessert often because I'm fine without it but once I have dessert I want it all the time. I'm talking cake for breakfast and chocolate after dinner. But when I stop for a few days then I don't think about sweets.

I also eat really small portions at dinner. My fiance eats *a lot* and always goes back for second (and third) helpings. I get jealous when he's eating and I'm not (Have I mentioned that I'm weird?) so I eat a lot of small portions and everything works out OK.

(P.S.-I have those same measuring cups.)

Heather @ McKinney Living February 24, 2010 at 12:18 PM  

Wonderful post, Kasey!!

Weight loss is one area where I splurge a bit. In the last 2.5 years, I've lost 70 lbs with Weight Watchers and a gym membership/DVDs. I pay $16/month for WW online, $10/month for a gym membership and ask for new DVDs for Christmas/birthday gifts. I've found that I am not yet ready to go it alone, yet!

All of your tips are awesome, and I am beyond impressed by your hand division! :)

The Brick Cottage February 24, 2010 at 12:37 PM  

Great tips! Since quitting a very physical and stressful job and moving to a city where "country cooking" (ie, extra butter and bacon grease is the only way to cook)is the norm from a city that's very health conscience, I've gained 15 pounds in the past 2and a half years. I know for me, getting physical is the way to go (plus when I'm more active, I tend to eat less naturally). How did you first motivate yourself to run? Or to stay active? I'm thinking of joining a gym (I have a free month trial coupon) but have been putting it off since January.

Audreya February 24, 2010 at 12:58 PM  

Very well-timed post! I'm really trying to eat better and exercise, well, at all. (I mentioned your marathon success as one of my inspirations in my "I'm going to run one mile or die trying" blog the other day!) I do tend to get sucked in with the "programs" and prepackaged "healthy snacks". You're right... a little effort and common sense will get the same or better results for a lot less!

Also, you may have mentioned this before, but are you a vegetarian? I noticed in this post and your soup recipe (I believe) that they were meat-free. I've significantly reduced how much meat I'm eating (numerous reasons, but partly because I like it breaded and fried and super unhealthy) and saw about a 7 pound loss just from that... and probably saved a lot of money too!

Babs February 24, 2010 at 1:05 PM  

Great post! And thank you for the helpful links on figuring out calculating our calorie burns.

Like Jamie Lee said, I don't like to "diet" because of the mental stress. So I try to eat healthy and in small portions throughout the day.

One of my secret weapons to preparing healthy and super tasty food is Ellie Krieger. I have her cookbooks "The Food You Crave" and "So Easy" and they're amazingly helpful. she includes nutritional info for each recipe so you know exactly what you're getting. my fiancé doesn't like thinking about healthy food, but he never complains when I make one of her recipes!

Sara @ Russet Street Reno February 24, 2010 at 1:22 PM  

I have used the Daily Plate in the past, but I find if I'm not really really ready to lose lbs, then no matter what I won't work out, eat well, etc.

I do spend money on a gym membership every month and go maybe once or twice a month. It's so lame, but I'm just too busy working on my house to make a sincere effort!

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog February 24, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

@The Brick Cottage~ I motivated myself to stay active based on the math of it all... I realized I could eat as much as I wanted as long as I burned it off :). As for running, I started doing that because I wanted to be a runner. Running is hard work, but it makes I feel so proud of myself for doing it. For some people, it might be rock climbing or cycling that gives them the proud feeling that keeps them going. If you're looking to keep active, I say find that thing that gives you a sense of pride.

Now, with an athletic boyfriend and social circle within the running community, there's no way I'm stopping!

@Audreya~ I'm a pescatarian, meaning I don't eat meat and do eat fish. It does help cut down on the fast food trips- I can't even eat anything at most. Usually this saves me money, but sometimes those fake meats can be expensive!

spark! (Ada-Marie) February 24, 2010 at 1:32 PM  

Great post, Kasey! I love hearing about your tips and the comments have been awesome. I just can't give up real salad dressing, so I often save calories by using a tablespoon mixed with lemon juice or vinegar to keep my calories down, but flavor up!

chacha February 24, 2010 at 1:50 PM  

Funny that you're posting this because I was having a "racing weight" discussion with a co-worker yesterday. I know that if I were closer to 105-110, I'd probably be faster, but I don't know if I want to put in the effort to drop the weight since 120 isn't that bad (though it's a good 25 pounds more than high school weight).

dolores @ "Welcome to My Humble Ablog" February 24, 2010 at 1:51 PM  

Oh, this is such a great and healthy plan to lose those extra pounds. Kudos Kasey!

I tried keeping track of all my calorie intake but I can't seem to keep it up (its like balancing my checkbook!).

I go to the gym regularly (2-3 times a week) and eat relatively healthy. I also get a lot of my exercise routines from I highly recommend their site!

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog February 24, 2010 at 1:56 PM  

@chacha~ My dad is really into that type of thing. From what he has read, each pound takes off 2 seconds per mile in time. That's why you see such skinny marathoners!

kt February 24, 2010 at 4:10 PM  

This couldn't have been a more perfect day for me to read this blog... I've been getting gym quotes all day long and just can't stomach the contracts and fees etc.
I'm going to take your advice and make it work without one... :)

Chelsea February 24, 2010 at 10:14 PM  

Wow, I love the mathematical breakdown of weight all makes sense now!! And soup is definitely key (for me anyway). It gives you that "comfort food" feeling without the comfort food calories.

PS - AWESOME Paula dvd! :)

Carmie - the Single Nester February 25, 2010 at 3:34 PM  

I was just going to hate on the Paula DVD until you told me not to.

Mrs.Dr.Shot May 18, 2010 at 6:23 PM  

Love all of your tips, and though I'm a little late on this... I can't say it loud enough. SPARKPEOPLE.COM!!!

I once paid an entire year for WW online (it was cheaper than meetings) and did well. Dropped it and eventually found SparkPeople. It's completely free, has not only charts and graphs, but free exercise videos, how to's, nutrition and physical fitness articles, a place to enter your own recipes and get calorie/nutrition counts. It's really wonderful and works like a charm.

Oh, and I have LOTS of videos and DVDs from Goodwill half off days. If I don't like them, then the $1 I paid for them wasn't really wasted.


Sammy,  August 16, 2012 at 11:40 PM  

Nice tips! I've been using a diet tracking tool called OnTarget Nutrition, Diet Tracker - Calorie Counter Have lost 15 lbs so far in about six weeks. Think the best benefit is that it does all the calorie math for me and keeps me honest about what I eat...also smaller portions have helped. Have also learned about setting SMART goals, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Reaching small realistic milestones keeps me motivated.

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