London - Next time you meet the girls for lunch and joke about putting the diet on hold for an hour, here’s something to bear in mind.

A scientific study suggests the joke is actually no laughing matter – because those who eat their midday meal out really do lose less weight than those who stay at home.

The researchers found that simple ideas such as avoiding restaurant meals, keeping a “food diary” and ensuring you don’t skip meals were more effective than fancy diets when it comes to successful slimming.

Dr Anne McTiernan, who led the study, said evidence from trials showed that cutting calories was more important than “diet composition such as low-fat versus low-carbohydrate”.

Her US-based team set out to “identify behaviours that supported the global goal of calorie reduction”.

They found that those who kept food journals noting down what they eat consistently lost six pounds more than slimmers who did not. And women who avoided skipping meals fared even better, losing eight pounds more.

Finally, ladies who lunched out at least once a week lost on average five pounds less than those who chose to eat at home.

Dr McTiernan, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Washington, said: “Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes.”

The analysis, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was based on data from 123 overweight-to-obese, sedentary, women, aged 50 to 75.

“Our findings are promising because they show that basic strategies such as maintaining food journals, eating out less often and eating at regular intervals are simple tools that postmenopausal women – a group commonly at greater risk for weight gain – can use to help them lose weight successfully,” Dr McTiernan said. - Daily Mail