We all eat too much at one time or another… having seconds because the meal tastes so good… eating when we are no longer hungry… or believing that we are hungry when we really are just nervous or bored. You probably already have heard about the benefits of mindful eating, which involves putting aside all other tasks while you eat and fully concentrating on the sensation of eating. I have good news—by approaching the way you think about eating in a new way, you can finally stop overeating. To learn more, our editors called Jean Kristeller, PhD, professor of psychology at Indiana State University and the creator of Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT), which promotes easy-to-use tools for self-awareness that help people make healthful changes to their eating habits.

Taking charge of overeating involves paying attention to your hunger and your emotions… and remaining curious about what’s behind your eating patterns. If you are in the habit of overeating, you may be surprised to find that increasing self-awareness can help you curb that habit.

Ask yourself these questions…

1. What does full feel like?

Many people are on automatic pilot when they eat. They have forgotten how to pay attention to the cues our bodies give us about how much we eat. What to do: To regain a grip on fullness, assign a numerical value from one to 10 to your level of fullness as you eat your next meal—with 10 being a meal in which you have overeaten to the point of discomfort… and one being not full at all. At a typical meal, it is most healthful to eat to a four, five or six, which means that you are satisfied and not overly full. When you think of your hunger/fullness in terms of numbers, it is easier to consume the amount of food that leaves you feeling totally comfortable—that is your goal. There is no exact amount of food that matches a given level. Instead, each person has his/her own levels of comfort or fullness. When you become familiar with your own level of comfort, you can plan how full you want to be before eating. If you are planning to exercise after lunch, it makes sense to have a lighter meal—for example, eating to a level of two or three. If you’re dining at a great restaurant with friends, you might allow yourself to eat to a seven or eight.

2. Where did the flavor go?

We all are subject to the phenomenon known as sensory- or taste-specific satiety. It means that the flavor sensation of any food actually starts to wear off after the first few bites. As we continue to eat, we try, unsuccessfully, to recapture the pleasurable experience of those first bites. To change that response, visualize a taste meter that goes up with the initial burst of flavor. After those first bites, the taste meter may go down. When you recognize that the taste appeal is vanishing, it’s easier to stop eating.

3. Am I hungry or bored/stressed?

Are you eating because you’re really hungry, or is the impulse coming from boredom, loneliness or stress? Before you head to the kitchen, ask yourself these questions—did I eat enough at the last meal? What am I doing right now that makes me feel hungry? Is it time for a meal? If you are in the middle of a stressful or boring project and you are reaching for a snack, you might not be really hungry. You might be trying to avoid working. For some people, becoming aware of the circumstance surrounding their eating patterns helps them to make changes. Other people are helped by replacement behaviors, such as taking a walk… lighting a scented candle… or having a cup of tea when they realize that they are headed for the kitchen, even though they aren’t hungry. Observe your own patterns, and try to determine which alternatives to eating work best for you.