Oct. 28, 2010 -- Losing weight and keeping it off can tax the willpower and determination of any dieter, but the strain it can put on a dieter's wallet is a big consideration for some.
Certain medical procedures, in particular, carry a heavy price tag -- so while results are likely, and often dramatic, such approaches can lighten wallets as well.
Meanwhile, a number of new diets and regimens that involve pre-packaged food have increased in popularity. Many swear by these approaches, as their calorie-limiting benefits can translate into better bodies and better health. Still, these changes are not free -- and some wonder how they stack up to a good, old-fashioned jog in the park.
ABCNews.com looked at a number of different weight loss methods, some diet-based, others surgical, and calculated an approximate "price per pound" of losing that excess fat.
Weight loss results and pricing for diet plans and surgeries vary greatly from person to person, but the esimates on the following estimates use averages provided by doctors, clinical trials and data analyses to form a ballpark figure.
One-on-One With Jenny Craig
Bottom-Line Estimate: $237.56 per pound for one-on-one weight loss support and special food products
Jenny Craig is a weight-loss program that centers around an individualized diet plan, pre-prepared foods, and one-on-one support from a consultant either in person at one of their centers, or via phone or internet communication.
Jenny Craigers are told that they can expect an average weight loss of one to two pounds per week, a figure Jenny Craig spokesperson Cheryl Overton says is derived from third party analysis. A recent study of women on the Jenny Craig in-centre program, subjects saw a more modest average weight loss per week of about three quarters of a pound in the first six months. Soon after six months, weight loss generally plateaued but maintained over the next year and a half.
Though participants in the study received the program and food for free, lead author Cheryl Rock, professor of family and preventive medicine at University of California, San Diego, lays out the estimated cost to consumer of a year on the program: Enrollment fee for a year runs $359 plus the cost of special Jenny Craig food -- the average participant spends about $100 per week. Given an average 23.4 pounds lost over the course of a year, this works out to $237.56 per pound.
A bit pricey, but Rock points out that the program does a good job of training people in the habits that will help them maintain the weigh loss, which most study participants did over the course of two years.
Going Under the Knife: Weight Loss Surgery
Bottom-Line Estimate: for the surgery alone, anywhere from $235 to $400 per pound if paying out of pocket.
When other diet plans fail and excess weight becomes a pressing health concern, thousands of consumers a year are turning to weight loss surgery for help. These surgeries shrink the digestive track using a gastric band, which pinches off a portion of the stomach, or by removing a portion of the stomach and sometimes the small intestines. After surgery, the amount of food the patient can physically eat in one sitting will be significantly reduced.
These surgeries are only recommended for those with a BMI of 40 and above or those with a BMI of 35 and above who have health complications due to excess weight. The surgeries can run anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000 if paid out of pocket, though under many insurance policies, those that qualify for surgery will have full or partial coverage of the procedure.
The most common weight loss procedure is gastric banding. According to the website for Lap-Band, the top selling adjustable gastric band system, the procedure costs $15,000 to $20,000, and the average patients loses one and a half to two pounds per week post-op. Patients generally lose about 50 percent of his or her excess weight, says Dr. John Morton, director of Bariatric Surgery at Stanford University.
Duodenal switch is a less common but more effective procedure, according to Dr. Mitch Roslin, a bariatric surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital. The procedure involves cutting away a portion of the stomach and small intestines while preserving the duodenal valve that is the gateway between the stomach and the intestines. Roslin says that with a duodenal switch, patients lose 85 percent of excess weight by three years out.
For a 250 pound patient whose ideal weight is 150, a 50 percent excess weight loss with the band would be 50 pounds, which works out to $300 to $400 per pound. A duodenal switch is generally $20,000 to $30,000 so for a 85 percent excess weight loss in the same 250 pound patient, that would work out to $235 to $353 per pound.
Considering post-operative costs of medical care, cost of food, and varied insurance coverage, however, it's nearly impossible to assign a cost per pound for weight loss surgeries.
Liposuction: Sculpting Out Fat
Though liposuction is not a weight-loss technique by any means, it does provide a means for getting rid of fat from targeted areas. Bottom-Line Estimate: $500 per pound.
With some diets, especailly any diet that leads to more than two pounds a week, weight loss is in part the result of a loss of other things besides fat, such as water or muscle mass, says Dr. Keith Ayoob, director of the Nutrition Clinic at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. With liposuction, up to six to eight pounds of fat can be removed immediately from specific areas on the body, for the purpose of body contouring.
The average cost of procedure runs around $4,000 and up depending on which areas are worked on. Given a low price estimate, that works out to $500 per pound.
The downsides of liposuction, as compared to losing weight naturally, are many. While the fat removal takes place in one sitting, the full results of the procedure take months to see.
"Most patients will see 90 percent of their ultimate liposuction results with in one to three months after surgery. For the first few weeks after surgery there is postoperative swelling. When the surgeon closes the incisions with stitches, swelling usually resolves within 8 to 12 weeks," according to Liposuction.com, a consumer information website.
Patients can also be left with an irregular skin surface or dimpling following the procedure and as with any surgery, there are medical risks such as blood clot and in rare cases, death, associated with going under the knife.
Non-prescription Weigh Loss Aids -- Adding Oomph to A Diet
Bottom-Line Estimate: $173 per pound when paired with low-fat diet.
When paired with a calorie-restricted diet and exercise, some diet pills can boost weight loss. Unfortuantely, most of the diet pills on the market have not been evaluated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, the only FDA-approved over-the-counter diet drug at this time is GlaxoSmithKline's Alli, a lower-dose version of the prescription weight loss drug Xenical.
Orlistat, the chemical name for the active ingredient in both Xenical and Alli, works by attaching itself to enzymes in the digestive tract to stop about 25 percent of the fat intake from each meal. That fat later passes through the body undigested, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea.
At its prescription strength, clinical trials show that Orlistat helped those on a fat-restricted diet lost 13.4 pounds over the course of a year compared with 5.8 pounds in those who only dieted. That makes for twice the weight loss, but only a real increase in loss of about eight pounds. Non-prescription strength Alli provides half the dose of Xenical, but comparable results with those using the product experiencing a similar doubling in weight loss compared to those on placebo.
Alli costs about $1.20 per pill, or $1,314 a year if taken with every main meal. Given given Orlistat's 7.6 pound average increase in weight loss in a year, that works out to $172.90 a pound.
Alli's side effects should be taken into consideration: users can experience "gas with oily spotting", "loose stools", "difficulty controlling bowel movements" according to the product website. A recent FDA safety review has also found that Orlistat can lead to severe liver damage in rare cases. The company advises that those who experience yellow eyes or skin, dark urine or loss of appetite should stop taking Alli because of possible liver damage.
Alli and Xenical also absorb some necessary fat soluble vitamins from each meal, which can result in nutritional deficiency.
Kickin' It Old School
Bottom-Line Estimate: You SAVE $12.50 per pound you lose.
Losing weight the old fashioned way, by just eating less, is the cheapest "diet plan" yet. Though most diet plans are geared towards limiting certain foods and boosting other, healthier options, you can also lose weight by simply eating a bit less of what you already eat, diet experts say.
Nutritionist Mark Haub, an associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State University, proved this point recently when he experimented with limiting his caloric intake while incorporating snack cakes such as Twinkies and Nutter Butters in his daily fare. Even with two to three sweet treats a day alongside things like steak, whole milk, fruits and veggies, he made sure to eat only 1,800 calories a day and he lost 15 pounds in a month.
That's not to say that "simply" eating less is a simple feat, but if you can manage it, you could actually save money by dieting. Haub's Twinkie-heavy dietis not recommended, but as long as you cut back on what you normally eat by about 25 percent, you can expect to lose about a pound a week, says Ayoob.
"A pound of fat is 3,500 calories so to lose a pound of week, you'd need to trim off 500 calories a day from what you eat. Based on the standard 2,000 calorie intake per day, that would amount to a 25 percent decrease in caloric intake overall," Ayoob says.
While you may choose to eat healthier food, which could make your grocery bill a little higher, if you're cooking at home as opposed to eating out and overall buying less food, this would be the cheapest diet yet, he adds. In fact, that diet could actually pay you to be on it.
For a rough estimate: The Consumer Expidenture Survey estimates that the average U.S. consumer spends about $50 a week on food. So if you cut your caloric intake by 25 percent, you could be spending about 25 percent less on food in general (if you're buying less of the same stuff), so you could save $12.50 a week, or $650 a year! If you stick to the plan and lose a pound a week, this works out to being paid $12.50 per pound you lose.