When women go on a diet, we tend to avoid our favorite restaurants because they are filled with temptations — bread, booze and desserts. But are we doomed to sit in our kitchens eating salad alone while everyone else is headed out on the town if we want to keep the weight off?
Take heart, ladies. A new study of women in their 50s and early 60s finds they could eat out and still succeed at long-term weight loss.
"What was really surprising was that eating at restaurants did not predict long-term weight change," lead researcher Bethany Barone Gibbs of the University of Pittsburgh tells us.
The study looked at predictors of weight loss at six months, and then again at four years after dieting began. Early in the dieting phase, eating at home seemed to be most effective. But as the years went by, the women who were successful at weight loss seemed able to bring their healthier eating habits to the restaurant table. They were eating out about two to three times per week, compared with the average American, who eats out four to five times a week.
So what separated the successful dieters from the not so successful? For starters, cutting back on meats and cheeses was important. And eating fewer desserts and sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda or sweetened tea were both important.
But the most powerful predictor was what the women added to their diet. "The strongest effect actually was for fruits and vegetables," says Barone Gibbs.
The study found that four years after starting a diet, the women who added in daily servings of fruits and vegetables did best. The new findings, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics fit with another study published in the same journal last year that examined strategies for losing weight and keeping it off.
So how do women manage to keep down portions and resist all those restaurant temptations? Perhaps they've adopted the slow down and savor approach. As we've reported, women who participated in a mindful eating study were eating about 300 fewer calories per day after incorporating these techniques.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now for some good news about losing weight. Many women over 50 find it a struggle to maintain a healthy weight. But a new study, published in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sheds some light on what it takes for them to succeed.
And NPR's Allison Aubrey says the strategies are not as hard to swallow as you might think.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The grumbles about the challenges of losing weight are all too familiar to Barbara Hogan. She's in her mid 60's and she hears it all the time from people her age.
BARBARA HOGAN: They say my metabolism has changed, everything I eat turns to fat, and they just say I can't seem to lose like I used to when I was younger.
AUBREY: Hogan listens politely and she's been there. But eight years ago, when she was in her late 50's she took up rowing for exercise, which she does religiously and joined Weight Watchers to jump-start a diet. Now she's lighter than she was in her 30's.
HOGAN: I would say, my childbearing years, I was, on average, between 40 to 65 pounds overweight, most of the time. And I would go on crash diets and a lot of yo-yo dieting, and especially I used diet pills back in the '70s.
AUBREY: Which, she says, never seemed to work. So what's different about the way she eats now? Well, she says it's not so much a diet as it is a new set of eating habits.
HOGAN: I have for the first time in my life have a stabilized at-goal weight.
AUBREY: And she's able to maintain it, even though she's enjoying traveling and eating out more than ever.
It may sound too good to be true, but a new study of women in their '50s and '60s suggests Barbara Hogan is not an exception. The study compares the habits of women who were successful at long-term weight loss, compared to those who were not, and finds that certain habits predict success. For starters, cutting back - but not cutting out - meats and cheeses; and significantly reducing desserts and sugary beverages, such as soda and sweet tea.
But researcher Bethany Barone Gibbs says what made the biggest difference was what women added to their diets.
BETHANY BARONE GIBBS: The strongest effect was actually for fruits and vegetables.
AUBREY: The study showed that after four years, during which the successful women lost about 22 pounds, those who added extra daily servings of fruits and vegetables did the best.
And dietician David Grotto says this adds to the evidence that one key to successful weight loss is focusing on what people can have, instead of what they need to give up.
DAVID GROTTO: This focus more on what to add in, more so than what to take a way from your diet, I think has borne out to be more successful. Adding in fruits and vegetables, adding in physical activity, adding in low-fat dairy products; lots of good research that supports that's most effective.
AUBREY: And the study also suggests that if you change your habits enough, you take them with you, even to restaurants. Bethany Barone Gibbs says the women in her study were eating out two to three times a week.
GIBBS: What was really surprising was that eating at restaurants didn't predict long-term weight change.
AUBREY: And that's important, because women in this age group - many of whom are empty-nesters - eat out and travel a lot. This is certainly true for Barbara Hogan.
HOGAN: The last three weekends we've been away, eating in restaurants in Massachusetts and Maine. And when I do eat out, I eat well.
AUBREY: But, she says...
HOGAN: I try to stay away from desserts, the rich desserts.
AUBREY: Or maybe she'll take half home with her.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.