Among the tips:
- When you order, request a “to-go box” delivered along with the meal, then slide half of the meal into it before you even start eating. “Research shows when you have less on your plate you eat more slowly, and that helps you feel fuller,” Timmerman said. “If you wait to put the food in the to-go box, you tend to encroach. Then you say, ‘Well, I don’t want to waste it.’ ” Before you know it, you’ve got a clean plate.
- Order a la carte. If you don’t really want three tacos, rice and beans, pick and choose. Perhaps just order two tacos and call it a day. Also, “ask for gravy, butter and dressing on the side to make sure you’re not getting calories you didn’t intend or you didn’t even necessarily want,” Timmerman said.
- If you can take it or leave it, leave it. “I like focusing on choosing ‘loved’ calories, and avoiding ‘unloved’ calories,” Timmerman said. “Eat the foods you love, and skip foods you feel neutral about. I’m neutral about rice, so when I eat out, I ask them to not even bring the rice. A lot of time we are eating the ‘unloved’ calories, we’re not particularly enjoying them and we don’t even really want them.” The exception, she added, are foods that are highly nutritious. You may be neutral about broccoli, but eat it anyway.
- Share. Split a main course, a basket of fries or dessert.
- Be mindful about what you’re eating and savor each bite. “Let’s say you get those fries,” Timmerman said. “Eat each one slowly and pay attention to the enjoyment you’re getting out of the texture, the smell, the taste. Then you can ask, ‘Do I really need to eat a whole basket of them in order to be satisfied, or can I eat a handful?’ Focus on the pleasure you’re getting from them.”
- Focus on how you feel. It takes the body about 20 minutes to figure out that you’re full, and research has shown that eating more slowly can prevent over-eating by allowing the brain that time to register feelings of satiety. Even chewing food more can help you slow down and feel more full, Timmerman said.
- At a Chinese restaurant, choosing steamed over fried rice can save 100 calories or so. At a steak place, sirloin is one of the leanest cuts of beef. When eating Italian, marinara or clam sauce is a better choice than creamy alfredos. And eggplant parmesan? Don’t let the vegetable fool you. Eggplant soaks up oil and is often a very high-calorie dish. When eating pizza, sausage and pepperoni pack on the calories. A veggie pizza is, of course, a good choice, but if you can’t stand broccoli and mushrooms on your pie, even Canadian bacon is lower in calories than other meats.
For the women in the study, such techniques seemed to work. Although the intent of the study was only to prevent them from gaining weight, after six weeks, they’d actually lost an average of about 3 to 4 pounds. Food diaries showed they were also eating about 300 fewer calories daily.
The women’s food diaries showed that they were also consuming fewer calories at home, so the weight loss was probably a result of an overall shift in eating habits, not just when they were dining out, Dubost added.
For anyone trying similar techniques, one of the keys is planning ahead on food choices before you get to the restaurant. And try researching nutritional content on restaurant websites, Timmerman said.
“You have to have a plan going in,” Timmerman said. “It’s too easy to consume extra calories, not even intentionally. In the food environment we have now, we can’t afford to not pay attention. We will gain weight.”
Prior research has shown people eat about 230 extra calories on days they eat out, Timmerman said.
“Mindfulness is something that is gaining in popularity for a lot of health conditions, and particularly for people who need to lose weight,” he said.