A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior concludes you can eat out and still burn fat.

In this study, 35 healthy middle-aged women participated in a six-week program called Mindful Restaurant Eating, which teaches people how to eat out healthfully.

Now, keep in mind the goal of Mindful Restaurant Eating was to prevent weight gain in women, who fell into that perimenopausal age range where weight gain and ensuing problems like diabetes and heart disease more frequently occur.

In other words, researchers did not intend Mindful Restaurant Eating as a weight-loss program.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Researchers found these women who completed this program lost much more weight, ate fewer calories, and had fewer issues when they ate out. The program taught them how to choose healthy entrees and resist going face down in the peanut butter brownie bottom cheesecake.

You’re probably asking how these women lost weight eating out. After all, restaurant food often proves notorious for being loaded with sugar, trans fat, heavy sauces, and all kind of other things that don’t promote fat loss.

The answer is hardly groundbreaking. These women learned to make smart choices in restaurants with fewer calories and lower fat. While I’m all for reducing the gargantuan portion sizes most restaurants serve, I don’t think you need to focus so scrupulously on calories, and you need to worry even less on fat.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of those entrees at places like Cheesecake Factory have 3,000 calories and are loaded with damaged and even trans fats. You definitely need to pay attention to those things.

But rather than obsess over numbers, I want you to focus on quality foods when you eat out. Choose whole, unprocessed foods your great-grandparents might have prepared. By making smart substitutions, you can easily customize your plate in restaurants for optimal fat loss.

Employ these five strategies the next time you eat out and you’ll get similar (and maybe even better) benefits as the women did in that study:

  • Swamp the breadbasket for olives. You know as soon as your server puts down that breadbasket, you’re going to dive right in. Don’t let that happen. (If your friends insist, ask them to take one piece and ask your server to remove the rest.) Olives, raw vegetables with salsa, and even a cheese plate make far better starter options.
  • Swap the app for a salad. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed women who eat a 100-calorie salad ate less food during their meal. I’m talking a small salad here, not one of those zillion-calorie salads loaded with creamy dressing and dried fruit.
  • Swap the pasta for lean protein. A big plate of fettuccini Alfredo is a surefire way to spike and crash your blood sugar and store fat. Choose a lean protein instead such as salmon, poultry, lamb, or steak. And avoid any meat with the words “breaded” or “battered” beside it.
  • Swap the starch for another vegetable. Rather than the rice pilaf or baked potato, request sautéed spinach with garlic or whatever other vegetable sounds good. You’ll spike your nutrient quota while reducing the meal’s glycemic load. And I bet that spinach will be just as delicious as the potato.
  • Swap the sugary dessert for fresh fruit. The easiest way to undo a healthy meal is a big, gooey dessert. Ask instead for fresh berries in cream or the fruit-and-cheese plate along with a cup of green or herbal tea.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Rogue Nutritionist") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of nine books on health, healing, food and longevity including two best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and “Living Low Carb”. A frequent guest on television and radio, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and longevity. He is a past member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Men’s Health magazine, is the Nutrition Editor for Pilates Style, and is a regular contributor to AOL, Vanity Fair Online, Clean Eating Magazine, Better Nutrition, and Total Health Magazine Online.

Website: www.jonnybowden.com