Weight Management Strategies of Men and Women Differ When Eating Out, Nursing Researcher Says

May 5, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — When eating out, women more often use weight management strategies — such as ordering salad dressing on the side and having half of the meal packaged to go — than men do, according to a University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing researcher.

Women also more frequently share appetizers, substitute an appetizer for a meal, eat a salad for the main course and share a meal with a dining partner, said Dr. Gayle Timmerman.

Results of her study, "Strategies for and Barriers to Managing Weight When Eating in Restaurants," were published this week in the online journal Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy.

"Eating in restaurants contributes to excess caloric intake, which leads to weight gain, but little is known about strategies used to manage weight while eating out," said Timmerman, who specializes in binge eating, emotional eating and weight management. "It becomes especially important to look at weight strategies in restaurants as more Americans become overweight and more people are eating out."

Americans are 40 percent more likely to eat out at least three times a week than they were in the 1980s, often eating large portions of calorie-dense foods, Timmerman said.

Dramatic increases in the prevalence of obesity in the past 25 years are attributed to an environment that promotes excessive calorie intake, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, said Timmerman, adding that obesity increases a person's risk for developing chronic health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

"To address the obesity epidemic, we need a comprehensive understanding of what contributes to excess intake," she said in the journal article. "Knowledge about how restaurant eating contributes to weight gain and how people can combat that weight gain is needed to prevent chronic disease."

Study participants ate out an average of 3.5 times per week, and men and women did not differ in frequency of eating out. Of the 41 percent of participants who reported eating in response to emotions, most (70 percent) were women. More than half (60 percent) of the participants reported they watched what they ate to manage weight at least sometimes.

The most common weight management strategies used by participates in the study were avoiding sugar-filled drinks, choosing steamed vegetables and whole-grain foods, and stopping eating when full.

Strategies that were rarely used for both women and men were removing the bread or chip basket from the table, having a low-calorie snack before going out to eat and asking the chef to prepare a menu item in a low-calorie or low-fat manner.

"We found some differences in the weight management strategies used by men and women, but I actually thought we would find more," said Timmerman. "The leading barriers for both women and men were that a busy lifestyle results in being overly hungry when eating out, restaurant food tastes good and not wanting to waste food."

If restaurants made nutrition information available on menus, including the portion sizes served, customers could weigh the cost of consumption in terms of calories and fat, Timmerman said. Other approaches would be to provide restaurants with incentives to offer smaller portions or provide take-home containers concurrent with the meal.

"This is something that I do when going out to eat," she said. "I have half the meal boxed up to take home when it is served."

Read the research article online at "Strategies for and Barriers to Managing Weight When Eating at Restaurants."

For more information, contact: Nancy Neff; Dr. Gayle Timmerman, 512-471-9087.

7 Comments to "Weight Management Strategies of Men and Women Differ When Eating Out, Nursing Researcher Says"

1.  Scot Houlette said on May 13, 2010

Duh! Like all of this isn't common sense? And you spend money on this? That is what is wrong with America today! Wasting our money on absolutely stupid things. I could have told you everything in this article 20 years ago back in college!

2.  ssk said on May 13, 2010

It would be interesting to see what the differences in men and women's restaurant habits would be if all restaurants served smaller400-500 calorie meals. I suspect that there would be less food waste, lower prices, smaller plates, less demand for styrofoam containers and smaller waistlines!

3.  Joanna Thaler said on May 13, 2010

The results of the study do not surprise me. I think a lot of the issue is people's preoccupation with how they are perceived in company. For men--I have this debate with some of my male friends--it's perceived as un-masculine or effeminate to order a salad or grilled salmon/fish at dinner ("girl food"). For women, who might hesitate less should it be perceived "okay" for them to eat just as much as men, hesitate for the sake of preserving their "healthy" image. It's a fact that society currently holds women to a higher standard of physical fitness than it does for men, though that may change soon, due to the increasing obesity rate among Americans of both genders. However, right now, it is no surprise to me that women showed more restraint dining out than men did.

4.  Judith Camps said on May 13, 2010

Why not have half portions or small plates available at restaurants so that one does not have to take half the meal home?

5.  Sweetie said on May 13, 2010

Look at the differences between the sexes. You already do several of the things mentioned in this article. I have to do more.

6.  wendee peterson said on May 15, 2010

Everyone eats way too many calories. Dr. Donald Layman has tons of articles and a new weight management system. Thanks for making people aware. Loved the article.

7.  Ann S said on May 17, 2010

@Scot, there is a difference in "knowing" something, and having it actually borne out by research. Many doctors and nurses "know" things that are far from the truth. The nursing school believes that care should be based on evidence, not commonly held beliefs. So this is an area that was researched and can now be applied to weight management strategies.