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Resolutions: Lose weight without losing money

You’re finally going to lose that extra 15 pounds in 2012.

Since weight loss is one of the top resolutions after holiday indulgences, it is not surprising that so many gym and weight-loss centers are offering sign-up specials.

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But before you hand over your money, take some time to make sure your weight problem doesn’t become a financial problem.

Americans spent about $26 billion on weight loss in 2011, according to Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm. That figure, up 2 percent from 2010, includes everything from sugar substitutes to bariatric surgery. Of the total, about $20 billion was spent on health clubs, $3.4 billion on commercial weight-loss programs, and roughly $2.4 billion on diet or low-cal foods.

Here are three tips to help you get started, without losing your cash:

1. Try a trial gym membership or pay-as-you-go plan. Paying for the time you actually use can save you money. One University of California-Berkeley study found that a $70 monthly membership cost individuals about $600 more during the life of the contract than if they paid $10 per visit. That’s because customers only went to the gym an average of 4.3 times per month.

2. Read the contract before you sign. Some weight-loss programs require you to pay for every meeting, even if you don’t attend. Others automatically charge your credit card each month, even if you stop charting your meals and exercise data on their website. Most ready-to-eat meal programs charge delivery fees that may not be mentioned in their advertised prices. Make sure you understand the real costs of any program before you sign up, and know how to get out of a contract if you change your mind.

3. Search for a low-cost program. Hospitals, universities, and community organizations often offer less-expensive programs. Other alternatives include the nonprofit Tops Club Inc., www.tops.org, and Overeater’s Anonymous, www.oa.org.

Get informed: It’s also possible to build a do-it-yourself program, but to do so, you need the right information. Go to the specialists for diet and nutrition advice:

The website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org, offers fact sheets on healthy weight loss, tips for eating out, and you can also get the lowdown on fad diets and read reviews of popular smartphone applications, like Calorie Counter, Daily Burn, and Lose It!

Advice on losing weight and how to keep it off is also available on the websites of the federal Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight; the National Institutes of Health, http://health.nih.gov/topic/WeightLossDieting; and the Health and Human Services Department’s Weight-control Information Network, http://win.niddk.nih.gov/.

Eileen AJ Connelly writes for the Associated Press.
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