Eating out has become a big part of our culture, but so has gaining weight, with more than half of all Australian adults overweight or obese, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
A new study has found that participants who took part in a 'Mindful Restaurant Eating' program were much better at reducing calorie intake and losing weight than those who didn't.
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In the study at the University of Texas, 35 healthy women aged between 40 to 59 years who eat out frequently were gven weekly training for six weeks to improve their restaurant eating habits.
"Restaurants are a high-risk food environment so if you don't have a strategy, it's easy to gain weight and eat more without intending to," said lead author Gayle Timmerman, a nurse who studies eating patterns and weight in women.
The course involved discussions on managing weight, setting weekly goals, eating-out strategies and meditation techniques, which involved exercises aimed at helping them appreciate the sight, smell and texture of food.
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The results, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, showed on average the intervention group lost 1.7kg over six weeks, even though the intention of the study was not weight loss but weight maintenance.
"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," Dr Timmerman concluded.
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Other tips given to participants in the study included:
Budget your calories. If you know you're going to be dining out, eat a lighter meal, but don't skip a meal. You might overeat later.
Pay attention to what you're eating and enjoy the experience. Try to chew slowly and savour it.
Avoid "unloved" calories. Do you really enjoy eating cold fries? Skip food you feel neutral about. But that doesn't mean you can pass on your veggies.
Order salad dressings, sauces and gravy on the side. That way you control how much you put on your food.
Ask that half of your meal be boxed up "to go" before you start eating, and also look up calorie information on restaurants' websites before dining.
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