Mindful eating encourages greater satisfaction, which leads to eating less. If you’re eating while you’re talking on the phone, nibbling long into the evening hours after dinner, or reaching for office candy when you’re tired, you’re likely consuming unnecessary or unhealthy calories. “We sometimes eat when we are not physically hungry but in need of something else, such as a distraction, a reward, or quick energy,” says Fikkan. Pausing between the thought, “I want to eat” and actually eating gives you a chance to figure out if food is in fact the right choice, she says. “People make about 200 choices a day [about food] and they’re only aware of about 25,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating (Bantam, 2007). In addition to the risk of packing on pounds, “when you’re not paying attention, you can miss out on a lot of the satisfaction of eating,” says Fikkan.

Overcome it

Prepare the table. Take a moment to lay your food out and observe the setting, says Fikkan. Also “pause to appreciate the effort that went into that food being there,” she says. Finally, keep serving dishes off the table, says Wansink. This encourages you to consider whether or not you need another serving before digging in.

Be aware of the first three bites. “Pay exquisite attention to all aspects of your food—the temperature, texture, and flavor and how it tastes from beginning to end—as if you’ve never tasted it before, or as if you’re a food taster or connoisseur,” says Fikkan. Then notice when your mouth’s interest in that flavor starts to decline, she says, which means you are on your way to reaching taste satiety. Mindful eating leaves satiety up to the body, says Fikkan, but sometimes you might need to start out using an external method to determine portions such as a serving size. Go to deliciousliving.com/portioncontrol for help.

Slow down and put your utensil down between bites. Eating fast is a hard habit to break, says Fikkan, and putting your fork down helps you focus on the bite that’s in your mouth rather than simply moving on to the next one.

Watch out for liquid calories. The problem with some beverages is that you don’t get the sense of fullness that you do from food but you get all the calories, says Fikkan. When you’re thirsty, stick to water and tea.