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How To Eat Out Without Putting On The Pounds

Eating slowly is one way to avoid overeating while dining out, a study found.
Eating slowly is one way to avoid overeating while dining out, a study found.

If your love of eating out is hampering your diet resolution, you're not alone.

We're a culture that loves to eat out. The typical American family spends 40 percent of its total food budget on foods prepared somewhere other than their own kitchen. (Some even prefer to eat out on Thanksgiving.)

But every time we choose to eat a snack or meal away from home, we add an average of 134 calories a day to our diets. Over the course of the year, these extra calories translate to a weight gain of about 2 pounds, according to an analysisfrom the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

But there's hope, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin found that women who enrolled in a six-week mindful eating program could learn to eat significantly less while dining out.

Gayle Timmerman, the study author, found that women were eating 297 fewer calories per day after completing the program. And they lost, on average, about 2.2 pounds.

"Slowing down was really key. You're paying attention to the texture [of each bite] and taste and smell," says Timmerman. "You're really kind of savoring it." Some women succeeded by eating less at home, and strategically saving the calories for dinner when they'd be dining out. Other women learned to eat less at each meal, whether home or in a restaurant.

The program used in the study was adapted from the Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training pioneered by clinical health psychologist Jean Kristeller. Mindfulness Training, or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been found to be effective as a complementary treatment for a variety of chronic health conditions. In recent years, health providers and universities includingDuke University Integrative Medicine have offered classes on mindful eating

If you're curious to know what mindful eating looks like in practice, here's one exercise, excerpted from a review written by Stephanie Vangsness of Brigham and Women's Hospital. She writes:

"Do this exercise with a friend. You will need one small slice of an apple for each person. One person reads the instructions listed below while the other person completes the exercise.

  • Take one bite of an apple slice and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet.
  • Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple.
    Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation
    going on in your mouth.
  • Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It's normal that your
    mind will want to wander off. If you notice you're paying more attention to your thinking
    than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the
    chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
  • In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can
    stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
  • As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your
    tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel
    any sensation of the food remaining.
  • Take a deep breath and exhale."
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    Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.