I often get asked: is dieting cheap or expensive?
Well, I lost nearly fifty pounds (twenty-two kilograms) during my 100 Day Diet Challenge with an average daily food spend of £6 (which is less than $10 in the USA). During that time, I cooked every meal from scratch.
Eating a healthy diet of nutritious, home cooked food doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
In this article, I outline the factors which are worth considering before starting a diet.
WHAT FOOD TO EAT, BROADLY
In terms of what food to choose, I’ve previously written about why I think it makes sense to eat a delicious, common sense diet of unprocessed food. Eating a wide variety of unprocessed food and limiting processed ingredients is a sensible, sustainable approach.
Eggs, vegetables and fruits are generally unprocessed, as are herbs and spices. Meat and fish can be unprocessed, too. Tread carefully though because a lot of products, like frozen burgers and fishcakes, are highly processed.
I primarily buy fish and meat fillets, breasts, thighs, steaks and so forth. I also occasionally get tinned tuna and good-quality bacon and ham.
Before starting my 100 Day Diet Challenge, I threw out all the food in my kitchen which I knew I shouldn’t eat. This removed my ability to pig out on a whim. We can’t easily eat what we don’t have in.
Others may feel less comfortable about creating food waste. There may also be cost implications depending on how much food is deemed surplus to requirements. It boils down to personal discretion and if other people living with us are dieting.
WHAT FOOD TO EAT, SPECIFICALLY
Once we have planned what we are eating, we need to consider the price of each specific item to determine how much our diet will end up costing.
Buying the best quality ingredients from high-end shops obviously costs more. Ten fresh fillets of fish from a fishmonger is pricier than a pack of ten frozen fillets in a supermarket.
There are nutritional and ethical pros and cons to buying organic vegetables, line-caught fish, grass-fed meat and so on compared with cheaper alternatives.
Ultimately, from a purely dieting perspective, the benefits of preparing our own food from scratch far outweigh the alternative of buying processed food. Whether or not the food is organic is less important.
Yes, certain organic foods probably have health and taste advantages and, long-term, we should try to gravitate towards the best quality products we can afford.
However, for a time-specific diet where weight loss is desired, it’s best not to overcomplicate it. I focused on cooking from scratch using ingredients I could afford. This is a good starting point for anyone.
Also, bear in mind that batch cooking – preparing several meals in one go, such as a curry or peri peri chicken – often reduces costs and can be a good way to use up ingredients which may otherwise end up being chucked out.
Likewise, buying frozen fruit and vegetables can work out cheaper and is great for making smoothies. I always have frozen blueberries, strawberries and mangoes in my freezer. Dried herbs also cost less than fresh herbs and, certainly if you’re new to preparing your own meals, taste good.
Dieting leads to savings in other areas of our lives. Curbing expensive habits which may derail our diet plans means cutting costs which can be factored in when working out our food budgets.
During my 100 Day Diet Challenge, I didn’t eat out in any restaurants nor drink any alcohol. Prior to that I ate out frequently so, even though my grocery costs went up, I saved money in other ways.
Whilst on the subject of eating out, it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t necessarily lead to dieting failure. Restaurants and cafés are great sources of unprocessed food for busy people, especially those who may need to eat out regularly for work.
Just bear in mind that eating out will undoubtedly be more expensive than preparing food at home. It is also much harder to control exactly what you are eating.
During both my 100 Day Diet Challenge and my subsequent weight-maintaining 100 Day Health Project, I ordered food on the internet from Ocado (an online supermarket in the UK). I topped up occasionally from other supermarkets, my local farmers market and, once or twice, a butcher.
Ocado is arguably more expensive than other supermarkets. Shopping online makes it easier (to some degree) to budget compared with doing a shop in person. However, in my experience a similar shop in a different supermarket (especially at the budget end, like Aldi) is cheaper.
However, ordering my groceries online frees up time. I already spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking in addition to exercising, writing and working (before I can even think about having a life).
Selecting my food from my desk (or while lying in bed) and having it delivered directly to my home is not just convenient from a time perspective; it also makes planning meals easier. It’s easy to forget ingredients or find that items are out of stock in a supermarket. Online, with a list of recipes in front of me, this occurs less often.
I ordered groceries for every ten day sprint of my 100 Day Diet Challenge. I was usually cooking for both myself and my wife so the amount I ordered each time reflected this. On average, each shop cost £120 (about $160 in the USA at the time of writing). That’s £60 for each of us over the ten days, or £6 per day.
Interestingly (and unintentionally), the £6 average was also consistent during my subsequent 100 Day Health Project.
The dish I prepared the most often during the one hundred day period was peri peri chicken.
Assuming we have none of the ingredients already, it may cost about £15 to buy everything at the beginning. However, apple cider vinegar (£1.25), olive oil (£2 for a small bottle), garlic (80p for four bulbs), ground ginger, smoked paprika, chilli powder and dried oregano (£1 for each) can be used time and time again once they’ve been purchased.
Let’s assume we buy a packet of twelve boneless chicken thighs (£6.50), a lemon (20p) and tomato puree (60p) every time we make a batch of peri peri chicken. That’s £7.30, so let’s round it up to £8 to take into account the small amounts of other ingredients above which we’ll need.
If we have twelve thighs, we may decide to divide that into one dinner and three lunches of three thighs each time. If we’re cooking for another person, that’s two dinners and two lunches. Either way, we’ve got four meals in total.
That’s £2 each time for a substantial portion of tasty, healthy food.
SO IS DIETING CHEAP OR EXPENSIVE?
Dieting can be cheap, or expensive, or anything in between. Eating healthy food can be done on any budget.
We all have our own parameters about what food we want to eat, whether we go for the best quality and where we purchase our food from. It is those parameters which ultimately dictate how much we spend on our food.
Read more about my 100 Day Diet Challenge and my 100 Day Health Project here:
Do You Want to Lose 48 Pounds in 100 Days? I Did it by Creating my Own 100 Day Diet Challenge. Here’s How.
My 100 Day Diet Challenge: An Introduction
10 Steps to Success
50 Days: A Review of the First Half of My 100 Day Diet Challenge
My 100 Day Health Project: An Introduction
Cooking Up a Storm About Why Publishing Recipes Is So Important to Me
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