Cool Ideas

How to Save on Diet Programs

by Stephanie Nelson

Americans spend about $50 billion per year on weight loss programs, products, diet foods and beverages. A more disturbing statistic was that 97% of people who lose weight gain it back.

Now I am not a dieting expert, but it seems to me that we're losing more from our wallets than from our waists! I agree that we have to keep trying to improve our health and lose weight if necessary, but I suggest we take advantage of the many free diet programs and helpful resources available before we contribute to that $50 billion statistic.

Most diet programs provide an assessment, recommended meal plans, nutrition tracking systems, weight loss logs, exercise logs, and direction from the diet program counselors. Both traditional diet programs (that meet at a facility) and the new online diet programs provide all of these elements.

Programs that provide personal counseling or group support at a local facility, such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, are the first to come to mind when we talk about diet programs. These programs typically cost between $6 and $15 per week (plus the cost of food). Some programs require no time commitment and members pay by the week, and others offer attractive discounts if you commit to longer time periods. Fortunately, you can find good coupons and discounts for these programs when they are available on the coupon code sites you prefer.

Other dieters prefer one of the new online diet programs that provide assessment tools, meal plans, tracking tools, and online counseling by email. Even Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig now provide an online version of their diet programs. Online diet programs typically cost between $3 and $5 per week (plus the cost of food). Read the fine print, however, because most plans require a minimum time commitment, so your actual cash outlay will range between $36 and $65 for a 13-week period, depending on the program you choose.

If you are interested in using an online diet program, you may find that the free resources available on the Internet provide similar features as online programs do, at no cost. Interactive tools on various websites can help you assess your current weight and fitness, determine a reasonable level of calories, help set a weight loss goal, create a healthy meal plan, and track your meals' calories and nutrition. Take a look at these sources for useful links and tools before you decide to spend money on a diet program.

  • Women's magazine websites have great "diet and fitness" sections that provide tools, articles, and perhaps even have diet experts available to answer questions.
  • Health insurance companies have tools, articles, and programs in their "healthy living," "wellness" or "diet and fitness" sections. In some cases you do not have to be a client to access the free tools.
  • Some food companies have very useful tools, diet programs, articles, healthy recipes, and even special savings offers on diet foods. Look in the "healthy living" section at, the "Special K Challenge" at, and similar programs at and, to name a few. Explore your favorite healthy food websites to see what you can learn! Importantly, many of the food company sites will have pre-set meal plans in their nutrition trackers, but you can delete those and add your own meal preferences.
  • Some online diet programs offer access to many assessment tools and interactive tracking tools to registered users (meaning you do not have to pay a fee for their free membership level, but you do need to provide basic personal information to register with their site). In fact, the free membership level at is as comprehensive as online diet programs that require a fee.
  • The government agencies that promote health and wellness have an abundance of helpful articles, studies, interactive tools, and more. We have already paid for these with your tax dollars so we should use them! I found a great diet program section from one National Institute of Health (NIH) agency through this link.

If you decide to use a diet program that has a fee, you will save by shopping around for the lowest available rate. Although they all advertise various promotions throughout the year, you may be able to save even more than the advertised promotions if you know where to look.

  • Check the diet program websites to see if they have any "Internet Only" offers. Sign up for their email newsletter to be sent information about future promotions. Take advantage of free resources on the diet program sites like articles, recipes, or assessment tools.
  • Check coupon code websites to see if there are any special coupons or discounts available by using a special code. Enter the name of the diet program and the words "coupon code" or "discount" in a search engine to see what you can find.
  • Call the program's local facility and inquire about special promotions, free trial offers, free trial meetings, or value-added offers (such as a free cookbook if you join that month).
  • Check with your employer's human resources department to see if they have a specially negotiated rate with any diet programs. These corporate rates are becoming more common as employers expand their wellness programs. Have your spouse check to see if their employer has any negotiated rates.
  • Check with your health insurance carrier to see if they have any specially negotiated rates with diet programs. You will find information in your member benefits booklet, on the insurance company's website, or by calling their member services phone number. If your insurer has negotiated rates with a diet program, they will most likely be the lowest price you will find.
  • Ask these suggested questions from the National Institute of Health to help evaluate a weight loss program:
    • What does the weight-loss program consist of?
    • What are the staff qualifications?
    • Does the product or program carry any risks?
    • How much does the program cost?
    • What results do participants typically have?

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' Good Morning America. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at Copyright 2006 © Stephanie Nelson.