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Reducing Weight Gain for Frequent Restaurant Eaters



In the busy world we live in, it can be tough to avoid eating out because it's just so darn convenient. Unfortunately, restaurant portion sizes can be two, three or even four times standard portion sizes (or more), and you know what that means: eating too many calories, which in turn leads to weight gain. If you've been reading Dr. Gourmet for a while, you know that I feel that it's important for people to cook and eat at home. It's healthier, cheaper, and allows you to control exactly what and how much you're eating. But I also recognize that sometimes things come up that prevent that best-case scenario, which is why in my book, Just Tell Me What to Eat!, in addition to the daily recipe I also recommend a frozen convenience meal or a meal from a restaurant chain for those times that you just can't cook.

Researchers at the School of Nursing at The University of Texas wondered if those who ate out frequently could be helped to reduce the number of calories and amount of fat they ate when they did eat out. They devised a program they called "Mindful Restaurant Eating" and recruited 35 healthy, pre-menopausal women between the ages of 40 and 59 who ate out an average of more than 5 times per week (J Nutr Ed Beh 2012;44(1):22-28). These women's Body Mass Indices ranged from 22.1 (clinically normal weight) to 54.4 (clinically extremely obese).

At the start of the 6-week program, all participants responded to a food questionnaire regarding what they had eaten within the last 24 hours. They also were weighed and their height and waist circumference measured. The women were then randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group did not attend Mindful Restaurant Eating meetings and simply returned after 6 weeks to again respond to a food questionnaire as well as being weighed and have their waist circumference measured again.

The intervention group attended "Mindful Restaurant Eating," a 6-week program of 2-hour weekly meetings. These meetings included such topics as general weight management, strategies to prevent weight gain, education about proper portion sizes, strategies to improve their feelings of fullness, and strategies for making better choices in specific types of restaurants. Each week they also participated in Mindful Eating Meditations, which the researchers describe as "the intentional, nonjudgemental focus on the present eating experience." For example, they were taught to savor specific flavors, listen to their bodies' signals of fullness and satiety, and to enjoy the act of eating.

At the end of the six weeks, the researchers found that those women who had attended the Mindful Restaurant Eating program not only gained less weight than their counterparts in the control group, they actually lost weight (an average of about 3.74 pounds) even though almost 70% of the participants said at the start of the study that they were not trying to lose weight. The food questionnaires revealed that the women were eating about 300 fewer calories per day after attending the Mindful Restaurant Eating program, but most of that reduction in calories was due to foods eaten at home, not while they were eating out. (The women continued to eat out just as frequently as they had before the study.)

What this means for you

This is a very small study, but it certainly supports the idea that learning about appropriate portion size and how to make healthier choices at restaurants can help you manage your weight or even lose weight. Here are some resources to help you that are right here at DrGourmet.com:

How to choose the right portion size
How to eat healthy when eating out
How to eat healthy while traveling

First posted: January 18, 2012