By Leslie Goldman
Updated September 10, 2001

"Eating can be an automatic behavior, almost like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes, so it's important to focus all of your attention on it" instead of just gobbling, says Susan Albers, PsyD, an Ohio-based clinical psychologist and mindful-eating expert. First, before you even pick up that chip, slow down and ask yourself these six questions.

Are you really hungry? Figure out if your craving is from the neck-up or shoulders-down, Albers says. In other words, is it emotionally-driven or true hunger? Do you obsess over chocolate all afternoon or seek comfort in a pint of Chubby Hubby? Distract yourself from emotional eating by calling a friend or polishing your nails. If you hear your stomach rumbling or feel low on energy, then thats actual hunger, so dig in. See the hunger meter, and use it to stop automatic munching.

Do you spend at least 20 minutes on every meal? That's the amount of time it takes for your brain to recognize satiety, says George Blackburn, MD, PhD, associate director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard University Medical School and author of Break Through Your Set Point: How to Finally Lose the Weight You Want and Keep It Off. Most of us wolf down our food faster than that and keep on eating, because we can't tell how full we actually are. The more slowly you eat, the more you'll enjoy your food, and the more satisfied you'll feel.

Do you use all of your senses when you eat? Mindful eating means being fully aware of a foods tastes and textures—even the sounds around you—to help you naturally slow down and get more pleasure from your meal. Close your eyes for a moment to enjoy flavors without anything interfering, Albers says.

Do you multitask at meals? Eating while driving, munching during Lost, or chowing down at your desk limits your ability to truly pay attention to whats going in your mouth, Albers explains.

Do you listen to your body's natural "stop-eating" signals? Just as you would think about when to start eating, tune in to when you should stop. You should feel satisfied but not completely full, Albers says. Try pausing after half your food is gone. Use the hunger-meter test. And watch portion sizes—keep them small if you need visual cues so you know when to quit.

Want some chocolate? Go for it! Ditch the diet mentality and make peace with previously off-limits foods. Giving yourself permission to indulge can help intense cravings dwindle—but set boundaries for yourself. Blackburn suggests using individually packaged servings like a single, wrapped piece of chocolate to stay on track. If you buy a giant sugar cookie, immediately divvy it up into quarters and put all but one portion away before the whole thing disappears.