Eat Mindfully at Your Favorite Haunts

Weight management and lower obesity risk are possible even if you eat out a lot

(RxWiki News) Avoiding restaurants because of your diet? A new study says you may not have to if you make smart, "mindful" choices.

Dr. Gayle Timmerman, PhD, RN, led a study from the University of Texas at Austin that found a group of women who said they eat out frequently reduced their daily calories by 297 after participating in a mindful eating program.

"Eat less for healthier weight management."

For the study 35 healthy women between the ages of 40 and 59 enrolled in a six-week program called Mindful Restaurant Eating, which aimed to help them learn how to reduce their calories and fat intake while eating out.

The women identified themselves as eating out regularly, and the program's goal was to prevent the women from gaining weight, not to help them lose weight.

At the start of the study, 69 percent of the participants said they were not dieting with the intent to lose weight.

However, the women did lose an average of 3.7 pounds as they succeeded in eating fewer calories and less fat. They also learned how to manage their weight better while eating out and manage their diets better overall, according to the study.

"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," Timmerman said.

Based on the participants' three reports to the researchers during the study, they did not change how frequently they ate out during the study compared to their usual habits.

Eve Pearson, a registered and licensed dietitian who owns Nutriworks Comprehensive Nutrition Consulting, said quantity usually makes a bigger difference than what a person eats when they're trying to eat smart at restaurants.

"Many people who dine out frequently go on a health kick and decide to eat salads or sandwiches because they think they're healthier when in reality a salad or sandwich can be just as bad as a Double Cheeseburger when it comes to fat grams and calories," said Pearson, who was not involved with this study.

"As mentioned in the study, one must know how to make choices to reduce calorie intake, usually more specifically fat intake, when eating at restaurants," Pearson said. "Ordering smaller portions from the appetizer or side menu could be helpful. Drinking water can be extremely helpful as well to avoid liquid calories."

By the end of the program, the women appeared to have changed their eating habits at home too. The researchers calculated that only about 124 of the 297 fewer calories they were consuming each day would have come from restaurant meals.

During the mindfulness program, participants were taught how to make the best choices at different types of restaurants, such as fast food, Italian or Mexican, for managing how many calories they ate. They were also taught how to handle common obstacles to avoiding extra calories while eating out.

The program included classes during which participants set weekly goals and completed homework to practice the skills they learned during the meetings.

Finally, the program taught the women "mindful eating," during which they became more aware of the sight, smell and texture of the food they were eating so they could enjoy eating out while feeling satisfied with smaller portions. The class also used guided meditations to help the women increase their awareness of how hungry or full they felt.

The study was funded by the North and Central Texas Clinical and Translational Science Initiative and the National Institutes of Health. It appears in the January/February issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. The authors did not state any financial conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 11, 2012