With the start of the New Year come resolutions for many. One of the most popular is usually to lose weight. Before you cancel your restaurant reservations for the coming months here’s some good news. A study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, suggests that it’s possible to continue to eat out and still lose weight.

The study included 35 perimenopausal women between the ages of 40 and 59 years old who enjoy eating out on a regular basis. The investigation, named Mindful Restaurant Eating, lasted six weeks, aiming to prevent weight-gain and teach individuals how to eat out while reducing the number of calories they consume.

While nearly everyone can benefit from this program, perimenopausal women were the focus because they are a group that tends to experience a greater gain during these years. The excess weight can lead to greater complications than appearance alone, including an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a host of additional health issues.

Perimenopause is the stage when a woman’s body makes a shift from regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation toward permanent infertility.

Though weight maintenance was the main goal, participants discovered that they had lost a significant amount of weight while having lowered their caloric and fat intake, taken more responsibility for their diet, and learned how to balance maintaining a healthy weight while still being able to eat out.

“Although the intention of the intervention was weight maintenance and the majority of participants were not dieting with the intent to lose weight at the start of the study (69 percent), on average the intervention group lost 1.7 kg (nearly four pounds) during 6 weeks,” said Dr. Gayle Timmerman, principal investigator of the study. “The number of times that participants ate out did not significantly decrease, indicating that participants were able to successfully manage their weight while continuing their usual, frequent eating-out patterns.”

Most of the women that participated in the program had reduced their daily caloric intake by about 297 calories. Though, only a fraction of the decreased calories (about 124 calories) were attributed to the periods the women spent eating out. This likely means that the women employed what they learned in the program at home as well, eating fewer calories there too.

“Restaurants are a high risk food environment. If you don’t have a plan or strategies to manage your caloric intake when you eat out it is likely you will consume too many calories and gain weight over time. There are strategies that can be effective in helping you manage your intake when eating out and STILL enjoy eating out too,” Dr. Timmerman said.

Dr. Timmerman’s Tips for Eating Out:

  • Box up half the meal to take home before you start eating.
  • Find substitutions you like that save calories, like ordering sirloin instead of NY Strip, black beans instead of refried beans, steamed rice instead of fried rice.
  • Broth based soup may help fill you up and you may eat less during the meal.
  • Slow down while eating, pay attention and enjoy the food. Stop eating when it doesn’t taste good anymore (i.e., cold, soggy french fries).
  • Watch out for liquid calories in drinks, they don’t fill you up but will still contribute to weight gain.

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