Worth the weight (loss)? Counting the cost of diet plans

With two-thirds of Australia’s adult population overweight, there are plenty of people looking for ways to trim their waistline and get back into shape. And there is no shortage of commercial organisations looking to profit from your weight loss goals.

Research conducted by the University of South Australia shows that the cost of trimming your waistline can vary dramatically, depending on the weight-loss plan you choose.

The researchers evaluated the affordability of five popular diets, comparing them to the recommendations in the Australian Guide to Health Eating and the Mediterranean diet. They found that the costs of cutting your calories can vary by up to $300 per week.

Read: Is your metabolism actually the reason you struggle to lose weight?

That’s quite a range. The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report the average weekly adult full-time earnings as $1813, so the variation in those costs represents a hefty 17 per cent of pre-tax earnings.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Karen Murphy said: “In our research, we assessed the weekly costs of seven different meal plans and found that weekly grocery shopping of entire product units cost between $345 and $625, which is substantially higher than what the average Australian spends on groceries each week.”

So, does spending more on a diet plan than food itself deliver the results weight-loss wannabes are after?

That is somewhat of a vexed question in itself. Of the myriad commercial weight-loss plans offered in Australia, many do deliver what they promise, in terms of measurable drops in weight, waistlines and clothing size – at least in the short term.

Read: Men blame work and kids for ‘middle-aged’ spread, research finds

But not all – if in fact any – provide the consumer with a plan that delivers sustained, long-term weight loss. Short-term gain – which in this case is actually loss (of weight) – is often followed by long-term pain (as in weight gain) for many who try to get healthier through commercial diets.

Dr Nick Fuller, research program lead at the University of Sydney’s faculty of medicine and health, says most ‘diets’ are doomed to failure because they are based on the concept of “calorie counting, following set meal plans, scouring the supermarket or health food store for obscure ingredients and following militant exercise regimes”.

Dr Fuller continues: “These are unsustainable and unnecessary approaches. You can’t stay on a six, eight or 12-week plan forever!”

Certainly, the evidence suggests that many commercial weight-loss plans are not delivering on their promises over the long term.

“While most diets were invented from the 1980s onwards, obesity rates have trebled since then,” says Dr Fuller.

He advocates an incremental approach – lose two kilograms of weight over a month, then maintain that weight for a month before losing more weight in the next month. Continue, month-on month-off, until the goal weight is achieved.

Read: ‘Detox’ or ‘juice’ diets are risky for heart health, experts say

Dr Fuller says that approach has proven to be far more effective in achieving weight-loss goals and maintaining them over the long term.

Also, it may ultimately be far cheaper than some of the diet plans on offer.

The SA University study showed that the most expensive diet plans typically restricted multiple food groups and included premium products such as organic produce, protein supplements, low-carbohydrate replacements and high-protein bread.

Its research showed that the most cost-effective diet was modelled from the Australian Guide to Health Eating and adapted for weight loss through calorie restriction. That meal plan included all five core food groups, none of which have to break the bank.

Prof. Murphy said: “There tends to be a misconception that consuming a healthy diet made up of the five key food groups, like the [Australian Guide to Healthy Eating] is too expensive, which it’s really not.”

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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