How to Eat Out at Restaurants Without Putting on the Pounds

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Mindful eating is healthful eating: If you slow down and stay aware of what you're putting into your mouth, then you won't go off track.

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In our fast-paced, immediate gratification culture, eating out is a frequent experience for many. Restaurant food is generally served in large portions and typically high in calories and fat, thus contributing to weight gain. A new study suggests that people don't have to stop eating out when trying to lose weight as long as they employ a mindful approach to eating.

The study, led by Dr. Gayle M. Timmerman of the University of Texas at Austin, involved 35 perimenopausal women between the ages of 40 and 59. This population of women tend to gain weight around the time of menopause, particularly in the abdominal area, which puts them at risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

About half of the women attended a six-week Mindful Restaurant Eating program designed to help them learn to eat out more healthfully by reducing their calorie and fat intake. The other women were in the comparison group and did not receive this training, but their eating was monitored. All of the women participated in a three-day 24-hour recall.

Women who attended the six-week intervention program learned about managing their weight, setting goals, strategies for eating out, and mindful eating meditation. Mindful eating is an approach to eating that involves paying attention to the joy of eating, such as appreciating the sight, smell, and texture of food, and being aware of feelings of hunger and fullness.

While the focus of the study was on weight maintenance, the researchers found that the women attending the six-week program lost significantly more weight, consumed fewer calories and fat, scored higher on "diet-related self-efficacy" (meaning they believed they could use diet control to accomplish what they wanted), and had fewer barriers to weight management when eating at restaurants than the women who did not receive the training.

On average the women in the intervention group lost nearly four pounds during the program. The number of times they ate out did not change significantly, but they did reduce their daily calorie intake by about 297 calories. Only about 124 of those calories could be attributed to food consumed at restaurants which meant that the women also consumed fewer calories at home, an indication that the participants learned concepts in the program that they were able to use in the home environment.

In a press release, Timmerman concluded: "Based on what we learned from this study, for those individuals who eat out frequently, developing the skills needed to eat out without gaining weight from the excess calories typically consumed at restaurants may be essential to long-term health."

Creative ways to reduce your calorie intake when eating at restaurants include:

  • Request that no chips or bread be brought to the table before you order. Instead, enjoy a calorie-free beverage while deciding what to order.
  • If you know you are going to eat out, make your other meals during the day lighter; however, don't skip meals because you may end up overeating later.
  • Read the menu carefully and be choosy about what you order. Perhaps an appetizer and a dinner salad is all you really need.
  • When dining out with someone else, consider splitting a meal and ordering an extra dinner salad.
  • Only spend calories on foods you really love. If you don't really care for a baked potato, ask that it not be brought with your meal. (This does not give you license to skip out on the veggies.)
  • Control the amount of salad dressing, sauces, butter, or gravy you eat by asking for it on the side.
  • Eat slowly and pay full attention to the sight, texture, and taste of your food. Mindful eating means truly enjoying the experience of eating.

The study was published in the January/February 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition and Education Behavior which also offers a podcast by the researchers.

Image: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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