At first, mindful eating sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. Discover how you can have weight loss success by being present in the moment.

You mean I can eat what I want, never diet, never obsess about food, lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight for life? Put a price tag on the concept, and its creator would become a multimillionaire overnight. But this is no diet gimmick. It's an ancient concept available to everyone, and it's absolutely free.

The mindful eating philosophy really can lead to long-term weight loss success.

Mindfulness means being fully aware within the present moment. When you practice mindful eating, you pay attention to your body's subtle and natural cues, specifically the ones that say "feed me" and "that's enough." It's appealing because it's a mind-set instead of a meal plan. Unlike a diet, there's no self-denial, no counting protein or carb grams, no measuring or weighing your food.

Much has been written recently about the more tedious practices of mindful eating: meticulously observing the properties of your food, slowly lifting the fork to your mouth, chewing each bite thoroughly, visualizing its journey to your stomach, etc. But even if you don't have the time (or, frankly, the inclination) to engage in this process every time you sit down to a meal or nosh, it's still possible to lose weight using some of the methods that make the approach successful. I know firsthand it works, after losing 4 pounds in two weeks simply by noticing when I was hungry, killing a craving with three cookies (instead of 10) and never eating past the point of being satisfied. As with anything else, the more you cultivate the mindful-eating habit, the more successful you will be. Remember: Concentrate on only one degree of change at a time. It's the small, manageable steps that will lead you where you want to go.

To begin your healthy weight loss, start focusing on mindful eating. Here's how.

Mindful Eating Day 1: Eat until you are about 80 percent full

Eat normally today, but make a point of paying attention to the sensation of being full. Contemplate the word satisfied; enjoy your food, without the obligation of cleaning your plate. Think comfortable, not full.

Rivka Simmons, a psychotherapist in Medford, Mass., who created a program called "Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! A Gentle Approach to Food, Your Body and Yourself" (which she teaches at universities in the Boston area), suggests visualizing a hunger meter that works like a car's gas gauge. On a scale from zero to 10 (zero being empty, 10 being Thanksgiving-dinner full), how hungry are you when you begin eating? Check in at regular intervals, and try to stop when your scale is between 6 and 8.

Scientists have determined that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to fully recognize the food in your system. So, if you eat till you're 100 percent full, you're likely to eat about 20 percent more than you need.

Mindful Eating Checklist

  1. Did you stop eating before the sensation of being full? YES/NO
  2. Did you eat less food than you normally would have? YES/NO

If you answered yes to both mindful eating questions, bravo! You're beginning to concentrate on what you eat and on your level of satisfaction. Continue with what you've learned here, and move on to day 2.

If you answered no to one or both mindful eating questions, try the suggestions here again tomorrow (and the next day, and the next, if needed), until you've answered both questions with a yes. Then move on to day 2.

[header = Healthy weight loss tips, day 2: use the 30-second pause, starting today.]

Weight loss tips for day 2 of mindful eating include imposing a 30-second pause before choosing a snack.

Mindful Eating, Day 2: Pause for 30 seconds

In addition to focusing on your level of satisfaction, today you'll be asking yourself, "What am I really hungry for?" Recognize that moderate hunger is good, a signal that you need something. But before grabbing that bag of chips, candy bar or brownie, take a moment to listen to both your body and your emotions. Is your stomach hungry, or is something else going on?

Impose a 30-second pause before jumping for a snack. If the hunger is really physical, ask yourself what would hit the spot. Something salty, sweet, crunchy? Find the food that matches this desire closest (it may be what your body needs most) and eat only until you've satisfied the hunger. If you opt for sweets, eat just two cookies or two bites of the candy bar. Then ask yourself: "Do I really want more?"

If your "hunger" isn't physical, note your emotional state. Are you bored? Depressed? Stressed? These are common triggers for overeating. "Too often, we believe that food is the answer to everything," says Alice Rosen, M.S.Ed., L.M.H.C., a psychotherapist in the Boston area specializing in body image. "We need to ask ourselves, 'What do I need?' "If you're hungry for company, or comfort, see if you can find ways to feed those needs that don't involve eating.

Mindful Eating Checklist

  1. When the impulse to eat struck, did you stop for 30 seconds to ask, "What do I need?" YES/NO
  2. Did you determine whether the hunger was really physical? YES/NO

If you answered yes to both mindful eating questions, you're on your way to recognizing true hunger, a valuable habit for both your physical and emotional well-being.

If you answered no to one or both mindful eating questions, give yourself another chance. (Be kind to yourself; this stuff takes practice.) When you can answer yes to these questions, go on to day 3.

[header = Healthy weight loss strategy, day 3: use a food diary for multiple purposes.]

One of the best mindful eating tools – and healthy weight loss strategies – is to use a food diary and write down what you eat, plus more. Read on!

Mindful Eating, Day 3: Write it down in a food diary

One of the best ways to keep track of how you're doing with this new approach is to keep a food diary. In addition to writing down what you eat, note how you felt physically and emotionally before and after eating, and if you stopped eating when satisfied. Also jot down the time of day you ate and any distractions.

Writing down what you eat helps you discover the emotions that lead you to oversnack or to overeat at meals. If you note in your food diary that you did overeat, ask yourself why, without being judgmental. Were you practicing the 80-percent-full and 30-second rules from days 1 and 2? What events or emotions triggered your eating?

Your journal will give you insight into potential pitfalls. Once you know what the triggers are and when an impulse to eat mindlessly may strike (perhaps you wait too long between meals), you can be equipped to disarm these when they arise again -- and they will!

Mindful Eating Checklist

  1. Was there a particular time of day when you found it the hardest to eat mindfully? YES/NO
  2. Did you discover anything new about emotions or situations that affect your food intake? YES/NO

If you answered yes to both mindful eating questions, you're on your way to winning the battle against mindless eating. Simply paying attention is your best defense, and writing an effective weapon.

If you answered no to one or both mindful eating questions, perhaps it's because you were too darned busy today. Try again tomorrow by setting aside 15 minutes at day's end to write things down.

[header = Healthy weight loss tips, day 4: focus on one snack, with no distractions.]

Discover how one woman lost 25 pounds using this mindful eating strategy.

Mindful Eating Day 4: Eat one snack without distractions

Continue with what you've learned so far: Stop eating when you're 80 percent full, examine your hunger impulse, and write it all down. Then, today focus on eating one snack or (if you're ambitious) one meal using mindfulness techniques. Although it's not practical to do this all the time, practicing regularly (start at once a day to help make it a habit) is valuable.

Here are more healthy weight loss tips to help you in this practice.

Sit alone and without any distractions (turn off that TV, put away your bills, close the newspaper) and focus your attention completely in the present moment. Whether you've chosen to eat an apple or a single chocolate kiss, concentrate on its shape, color and aroma. Then eat it slowly and savor its flavor.

When you're back in regular eating situations, remember this exercise. It will help you slow down and enjoy your meal. Even if you can't focus 100 percent of your attention on every bite, it is very important to learn to avoid distractions.

Suzanne Wills, 37, a graphic designer and mother of two from Naperville, Ill., used this approach, and she lost 25 pounds over several months. She started by examining her eating habits and discovered she often ate an entire bag of chips while reading or watching TV, yet barely remembered tasting them. So she banned herself from eating anywhere other than seated at the table. "This allows me to pay attention to how my body feels, and I enjoy my food more," she says.

Mindful Eating Checklist

  1. Were you able to keep your attention on the food you were eating? YES/NO
  2. Did you eliminate distractions? YES/NO

If you answered yes to both mindful eating questions, good job. You're learning to think of food in terms of "quality" not "quantity."

If you answered no to one or both mindful eating questions, give yourself a breather and repeat these focusing exercises tomorrow before moving on.

[header = Healthy weight loss strategy, day 5: balanced healthy meals are key.]

Mindful Eating Day 5: Take these steps to the market

By now, you're a bit more aware of how much food makes you feel full, which foods satisfy a craving, whether you're really hungry or not, and the value of writing down what you eat and how you felt at the time.

Yet another secret is making sure you have a variety of healthful foods on hand. This requires thinking ahead: snacking before going to the supermarket so that you're not hungry (and so you won't buy every gooey treat that immediately appeals), and planning your balanced healthy meals and snacks in advance and listing them all on a detailed grocery-shopping list.

Remember, this philosophy doesn't work if you don't eat balanced healthy meals, if you skip meals (you'll get ravenous and overeat later on) or if you deprive yourself. So stock up on lots of favorite fruits, veggies and healthful snacks, and splurge on something: Buy that pint of ice cream, scoop yourself a serving and savor every bite without a pang of guilt. Food is to be enjoyed, not mindlessly wolfed down in secret. Honor your right to be hungry, to enjoy eating and to feel satisfied without feeling stuffed!

Mindful Eating Checklist

  1. Did you plan out your menu for the week, featuring healthful meals and snacks? YES/NO
  2. Did you make sure to have a variety of healthful snacks on hand? YES/NO
  3. Did you allow yourself a splurge -- without any guilt? YES/NO

If you answered yes to both mindful eating questions, congratulations! You're learning how to make food decisions that make sense. Continue to observe all five mindful eating suggestions listed in this article on a daily basis. The more you practice, the easier it will be to internalize these suggestions until they become regular, healthy habits in your life.

If you answered no to one or both mindful eating questions for this day, don't give up! There is no "failure" in this plan. Think of it as a positive life change to be renewed one day, meal or snack at a time. Every day presents new opportunities to make healthy choices and to feel terrific. Good luck!

Count on Shape for the info you need about creating balanced healthy meals and for the healthy weight loss tips that really work.