Jan. 10, 2012 -- Focusing on the eating experience and the food in front of you may be one key to losing weight while eating out frequently at restaurants.
A new study shows that older women who practiced mindful restaurant eating lost an average of nearly 4 pounds in six weeks, even though they were only trying to maintain their weight.
Women who practiced mindful eating at restaurants also ate fewer calories and fat grams per day and were better able to stick to their weight management goals.
Researchers say preventing weight gain that can lead to obesity, especially around the waistline, is important in reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes in older women as they approach menopause, when these risks increase.
“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,” says researcher Gayle M. Timmerman, PhD, RN, of the University of Texas at Austin, in a news release.
New Tools to Lose Weight While Eating Out
In the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers looked at the effects of a mindful restaurant-eating program on weight among women 40 to 59 years old who ate out at least three times a week. About half of the 35 women in the study participated in a six-week mindful eating trial focused on preventing weight gain, and the other half acted as a comparison group.
The mindful eating program consisted of six weekly, two-hour small group sessions that included:
- Discussion of general principles of weight management
- Working out weekly personal weight goals
- Planning meals at favorite restaurants using calorie and fat information
- Learning how to visualize portion sizes
The women were also instructed in the practice of mindful eating meditation. The two key aspects were:
- Focusing on awareness of the sight, smell, and texture of the eating experience to maximize enjoyment and increase satisfaction with smaller portion sizes.
- A series of guided mindfulness meditations to foster relaxation and focus awareness on hunger, taste, stomach fullness, and eating triggers. For example, one meditation had participants explore their fullness before and after drinking a bottle of water.
Mind Over Matter?
At the end of the six-week study, the women who practiced mindful eating lost an average of 3.7 pounds, while the comparison group didn’t have any significant weight loss.
In addition, the mindful eating group reduced their daily calorie intake by about 297 calories. But researchers say only about 124 of that calorie reduction was accounted for during eating out, which indicates fewer calories were also eaten at home.
Researchers say the number of times that the women ate out at restaurants did not change during the study. That means the women who practiced mindful eating were able to better manage their weight while continuing their usual eating out habits.
They say the study highlights the importance of developing creative solutions to preventing weight gain by learning skills to manage calorie intake in the high-risk restaurant environment.