Dine out and lose weight with 'mindful eating' techniquesDining out is known for being a surefire way to sabotage diets with menus offering deep-fried, butter-soaked fare, but a new study suggests that eating out and successfully managing your weight is just a case of mind over matter.

In a study published in the January edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers found that after their subjects took part in a six-week meditative program called “Mindful Restaurant Eating,” the female participants lost weight while dining out.

It was an unintended consequence of the program, researchers added, as the focus of the experiment was weight maintenance, not weight loss.

Overall, 35 perimenopausal women aged 40 to 59 years of age were studied. On average, the intervention group lost 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs) during six weeks while eating out one to two times a week.

They also reduced their daily caloric intake by about 297 calories after completing the intervention, indicating that they applied the methods learned in their daily eating routine.

“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,” said study co-author Gayle Timmerman of the University of Texas in a release.

Researchers focused specifically on women in this age range as increasing abdominal waist circumference can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

For six weeks, the intervention group underwent a series of workshops and exercises that included setting personal weekly goals. They learned to pre-plan before eating out, calculating the fat and calorie counts of meals at their favorite restaurants, while meditative exercises involved focusing on the sight, smell and texture of the food they ate to maximize enjoyment, as well as focusing on their hunger, satiety and eating triggers.

Meanwhile, the practice of mindful eating is the subject of a series of self-help books, including Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance Through Mindful Eating by Donald Altman, which is pitched as a guide for people who have an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Jan Chozen Bays’s book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food also teaches readers how to tune into the body’s signals, eat less while feeling fully satisfied, and identify food patterns.