TUESDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- It's easy to overeat at
restaurants. But researchers from University of Texas at Austin say
they've come up with a strategy that helped a group of middle-aged
women who eat out frequently avoid gaining weight and even lose a
Calling it "Mindful Restaurant Eating," researchers taught the
women to pay close attention to what they were eating and how they
were feeling, with the goal of being satisfied with smaller
portions and putting down their forks before they felt overly
"Going out to eat has become a major part of our culture. Frequently eating out and consuming high-calorie foods in large portions at restaurants can contribute to excess calorie intake and weight gain," said study lead author Gayle Timmerman, an associate professor of nursing. "But just saying, 'Don't eat out' isn't feasible."
Nor is just telling people to eat only the low-cal options. "You
can't just say, 'Choose the steamed vegetables.' People aren't
going out to eat for steamed vegetables. They're going out to eat
for something they're not getting a home."
So people need strategies to help avoid excess calories when
they do eat out, while still being able to enjoy the
The study, published in the January/February issue of the
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, included 35 women, aged 40 to 59, who were mostly overweight or obese and ate out at least three times a week. Eating out included any meal -- breakfast, lunch, or dinner -- or even getting a pastry and a latte at Starbucks.
About half the women attended six weekly, two-hour group
sessions that focused on reducing calories and fat intake when
dining out, while the other half were wait-listed. The sessions
covered the basics of nutrition, portion size and information about
the calories and fat content of foods.
But the women also got into specific strategies to use when
dining out, such as what are the least fattening foods to order
when eating at a Mexican or Italian restaurant.
Among the tips:
For the women in the study, such techniques seemed to work.
Although the intent of the study was only to prevent them from
gaining weight, after six weeks, they'd actually lost an average of
about 3 to 4 pounds. Food diaries showed they were also eating
about 300 fewer calories daily.
That's great news, said Joy Dubost, a registered dietician and
spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Sometimes you hear in the media, or even dieticians may advise, 'If you want to lose weight, don't eat out. But you can eat out and enjoy it and with this program lose weight," she said.
The women's food diaries showed that they were also consuming
fewer calories at home, so the weight loss was probably a result of
an overall shift in eating habits, not just when they were dining
out, Dubost added.
For anyone trying similar techniques, one of the keys is
planning ahead on food choices before you get to the restaurant.
And try researching nutritional content on restaurant websites,
"You have to have a plan going in," Timmerman said. "It's too easy to consume extra calories, not even intentionally. In the food environment we have now, we can't afford to not pay attention. We will gain weight."
Prior research has shown people eat about 230 extra calories on
days they eat out, Timmerman said.
John E. Lewis, an associate professor of psychiatry and
behavioral sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine,
said targeting the social, emotional and mental aspects of
overeating makes sense.
"Mindfulness is something that is gaining in popularity for a lot of health conditions, and particularly for people who need to lose weight," he said.
And yet, people should still be reminded that too much eating
out -- whether at fast-food or restaurants with massive portions --
is part of the problem, he said. Cooking healthy meals at home is
still your best choice for the majority of your diet, he said.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has more on
making good nutritional choices when dining out.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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