Eating This One Meal Out Could Make You Fat

Want to lose weight? Where you spend your lunch hour could be a big factor.

Eating lunch out may be convenient, but doing that at least once a week was linked with less weight loss among women in a study. (Photo: MSW/Getty Images)

Jul 16, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

If dieting seems like a Sisyphean task, here are a few tips from a recent study that might help the battle of the bulge: don’t eat lunch out, don’t skip meals, and keep track of what you eat in a food journal.

The online study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at the link between self-monitoring, dieting and meal strategies and weight loss among 123 older women over a year to see what worked and what didn’t.

Women kept food journals about what they ate and where they ate it. Researchers found that women who ate out at least weekly lost five fewer pounds on average compared to those who ate out less often than that. When broken down by specific meals, the strongest link was seen in eating lunch out, a habit of office workers.

MORE: Kicking the Habit Packs on More Pounds Than You Think

“Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes,” the authors wrote. Although some larger chain restaurants in certain states list calorie and nutrition information on menus, those numbers are missing from many menus. Also, most restaurant portions are notoriously oversized, putting allegedly healthful salads in the 1,500-calorie range. Add breakfast and dinner to that and the pounds can easily start to pack on.

The study also found that women who kept food journals lost about six pounds more than those who didn’t keep track, and those who skipped meals lost on average almost eight pounds less than those who ate consistent meals.

“The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favorably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall,” said study co-author Dr. Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in a news release. “We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors. For instance, the lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more.”

If you brown bag it to eat more healthfully, tell us about it in the comments.

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