Devoted foodies, start your engines. Research shows that you can eat out at restaurants often and still lose weight—if you follow certain rules while along the way, that is.
The January 2012 study at University of Texas at Austin tracked the dining habits of 35 healthy women—all perimenopausal, all age 40-59, all restaurant lovers—over a six week period. The catch? Some of the women first participated in a Mindful Restaurant Eating program (consisting of six weekly two-hour, small group sessions), teaching them to make healthy meal choices, while the other women didn't.
“[We wanted] to determine if the intervention could be used to prevent weight gain in women who ate out frequently at restaurants,” says Gayle M. Timmerman, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher. “Restaurants are high risk food environments. Without paying attention, it is likely you would consume more calories than you need.”
After six weeks, the women not in the program saw no change, while the others lost about four pounds and cut daily calories by about 297. Only 40 percent of those calories were from restaurants too, which means they even started applying healthy habits at home.
So just what are those winning habits? Timmerman says they were three-fold: restaurant strategy (knowing what to order at, say, an Italian vs. Mexican restaurant), goal setting and homework (quizzes about those strategies) and mindful eating (portion awareness, identifying hunger signs, etc.).
The biggest trick of all is planning before you go out, she says. “Know what the better choices are so you can decide whether it’s worth the calories. Want steak? Save 180 calories and 19 grams of fat by ordering sirloin (12 oz.) instead of NY Strip. [Or] save 120 calories by ordering cooked black beans instead of refried beans.”
The big lesson: There is no need to deprive yourself if you enjoy eating out. With healthy, informed choices, and you can eat, drink and be merry!
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