Eating out and consuming high calorie foods in large portions at restaurants may contribute to weight gain but researchers have found that people can continue to eat out and still lose weight.

A new study by The University of Texas at Austin used 35 healthy, perimenopausal women ages 40 to 59 who eat out frequently. Perimenopause refers to premenopause or early menopause.

Researchers had the women take part in a 6-week program called Mindful Restaurant Eating, a weight-gain prevention intervention that helps develop the skills needed to reduce caloric and fat intake when eating out.

While the focus of the study was on preventing weight gain, the researchers found that there was a significant amount of weight loss in participants.

The participants also had a lower average daily caloric and fat intake, had increased diet related self-efficacy, and had fewer barriers to weight management when eating out.

The researchers said that it’s important to prevent weight gain in this population as increasing abdominal waist circumference from weight gain is greater during the perimenopausal years, which in turn increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

On average the intervention group lost 1.7 kg during 6 weeks.

“The number of times that participants ate out, as captured in the 3-day 24-hour recalls, did not significantly decrease from time 1 to time 2, indicating that participants were able to successfully manage their weight while continuing their usual, frequent eating-out patterns,” said Dr. Gayle M. Timmerman, PhD, RN lead author on the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Overall, the participants in the intervention group reduced their daily caloric intake by about 297 calories after completing the intervention, which would explain their weight loss, said Timmerman.

"Based on what we learned from this study, for those individuals who eat out frequently, developing the skills needed to eat out without gaining weight from the excess calories typically consumed at restaurants may be essential to long-term health," Timmerman said.