Our environment plays an important role in our food intake and behaviour.
Eating out at restaurants is one component that has been attributed to the increased prevalence of obesity. We are more likely to consume high calorie foods in larger portions compared to when we eat at home.
So it’s unsurprising when weight management guidelines tell us to home cook our meals instead of dining out. What’s even more unsurprising is… how difficult that is to follow!
Let’s Catch Up Over Dinner on Friday!
Going out to eat is a social thing. We go out as a family, catch up with friends, colleagues and have our first dates over food. My friend and I were discussing the other day how much money we are spending just to catch up with friends these days!
For some, it’s convenience. Cooking and the subsequent clean-up can be time consuming and doesn’t always align with someone’s busy schedule. Also, I know that I’m very fortunate to have a decently sized kitchen space at home where I can make as much mess as I want to. For many who live in small apartments and one-room studios, they don’t have that luxury.
And as for us foodies, we go out to eat because we”re always excited to try new eateries (or the same eatery but new menus!) and support local businesses.
So if we can’t keep away from restaurants (or they can’t stay away from us because of UberEats and the likes!), how can we adapt our weight management goals to this?
Mindful Restaurant Eating
We can do this through something known as Mindful Restaurant Eating.
This involves learning a set of skills that can be used when eating out to reduce calorie and fat intake, preventing or minimising weight gain.
There are many strategies that we can use. For example,
- General principles of weight management: the science behind it, portion sizes, energy needs
- Goal setting: choosing a non-animal product meal, eating for a longer period of time, not ordering Coke as a drink
- Practicing mindful eating: with certain trigger foods, enjoying the eating experience
- Hunger and fullness awareness meditation: in different settings, hunger and fullness cues, what to do when one is aware
- Making mindful food choices: at certain restaurants (e.g. buffet), with dessert and drink choices
A lot of these strategies come under mindful eating. Research has shown that mindful eating is effective for weight loss intervention. However, most of these studies were conducted in controlled eating environments.
So what about when we eat out? Do these interventions work in a setting where cravings and food triggers are in abundance and self-control is low?
A pilot randomised control trial studied a group of 35 women who ate out at least 3 times per week. They split the women up into an intervention group and a control group.
The intervention group received 2-hourly small group sessions every week for 6 weeks. They were educated on ways to reduce calorie and fat intake when eating out, behavioural eating strategies and mindful eating meditation (much like what I have listed above).
At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the Mindful Restaurant Eating intervention was effective in preventing weight gain and reducing daily caloric fat intake.
The intervention group lost an average of 1.7kg over the 6 weeks. What makes this even more profound is that the goal of the study was actually to not lose weight. Rather it was to maintain weight despite continuing the participants’ usual 3-5 times per week eating out habits.
Researchers found that weekly goal setting was effective. The intervention empowered participants to be more self-responsible for their diet when eating out. It also broke down the perceived difficulty and barriers of managing weight when eating out.
The study was quite exciting to read.
Going out to eat is getting more popular more than ever with each generation. I certainly go out to eat more than my parents do and I feel like my younger cousins go out to eat more than I do! So we should adapt our recommendations and find new solutions to suit the ever-changing landscape.
Although this was a pilot study, it delivered promising results and opens up a whole new realm of research into mindful eating in a high-pressure setting.
We do encourage everyone to practice mindful eating where ever we are – at home and when we go out to eat too. Many of the concepts are similar across different settings and the more practice we do, the better we get at it.
But also, going out to eat less is still a great way to help lose weight. Your bank account will thank you for keeping it full too!
- Timmerman GM, Brown A. The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2012;44(1):22‐28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3259454/