Who doesn’t love going out to eat? On average Americans eat out 2-3 times a week. For those in bigger cities, it's closer to 5-6 times a week.
There's lots to love about eating out, no dishes to clean up, no time spent cooking, no stress around how things taste...
But there are lots of issues with eating out too.
Restaurant food is served in large portions. Most use foods that are not organic, and meats from concentrated animal feeding operations. Many use industrial seed oils. There are exceptions but typically you don't have much control over the quantity and quality of the food.
The good news is there specific ways that you can eat out without gaining weight, increasing inflammation, and destroying gut health.
It starts with mindful eating.
In a study at the University of Texas at Austin, 35 women between the ages of 40 and 59 were shown how to approach restaurant eating mindfully. The specific group of women were in perimenopause and menopause, a time when women tend to gain weight, particularly in the belly, thereby raising the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Women enrolled in a six-week mindful eating program to learn how to manage food when eating out. After six weeks, women were eating 300 fewer calories after completing the program and lost 4 pounds, even though they weren’t trying to lose weight (the control group lost no weight). Of course, calories aren’t everything – calories matter but hormones matter too. Mindfulness helps both.
As you might imagine, the mindful eating program consisted of six weekly two-hour group sessions that reviewed the basics of weight management, planning meals at favorite restaurants, and how to visualize portion size.
Here's how to take the best tips from that program and use them to eat smart when eating out:
1. Plan for the meal during the day. Make your other meals during the day richer in vegetables so that you get plenty of fiber and your blood sugar is stable when you go out to eat. Use Daily Fiber with an All-In-One Shake to make sure you hit your fiber goals.
2. Limit meal skipping, which may lead to low blood sugar in some individuals and may cause overeating. Don't not skip meals all day when going out for dinner to save calories, ironically this will set you up to eat more.
3. Pre-plan. Many restaurants provide menus online. Read online menus to choose a restaurant that matches your needs, determine a couple of options before you arrive, and generally set the tone for your dining out experience.
4. Slow down. When the food arrives, savor each bite paying attention to the aroma, texture, and taste. This practice has been shown to increase enjoyment and satiety with smaller portion sizes.
5. Be Mindful of Portions. Control the amount of salad dressing and sauces by requesting it on the side. Salads at restaurants typically use double the dressing that you'd use at home. With dressing on the side, you can toss your salad with approximately 2 tablespoons of dressing thereby controlling the quantity without sacrificing taste.
6. Breathe More. Take two deep breaths when your food arrives. We know that people eat 40% more when dining with friends. We get distracted. Turn your attention back to the food by taking a deep inhale of the steaming food for a 4 count, hold your breath for 7 counts, and exhale for an 8 count. It only takes two breaths to switch your nervous system back to “rest and digest.” When you’re calm and present, you’re more aware of hunger, stomach fullness, and avoidance of food triggers.
The University of Texas Mindful Eating Program takes it one step further and defines mindful eating in the following way:
Experiencing the positive and nurturing benefits of food preparation and eating.
Choosing to eat food that tastes good to you and nourishes your body.
Using all your senses to explore, savor and taste each meal.
Learning to listen to physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your food choices.
Slowing down throughout your day to “check-in” to realize the benefits and effects of eating on your body and emotions.
Most of all, mindful eating means that you are fully present to the pleasure of eating. Savor it. Learn the smart way to eat out.