Let’s be honest — counting calories is not the most joyous way to eat, and neither is weighing every morsel or following a watermelon or cabbage soup diet. So what’s a plump person to do to slim down and still really enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures?

Well, you could try thinking yourself thinner. Okay, it’s not quite so simple — but one new study found that it’s surprisingly close to that easy! The “imaginary diet” is one of several intriguing new mind-body approaches to weight loss. Which of these might work for you? The honest answer is, who knows, since different techniques work for different people. You’d have to give them a try to find out. Some possibilities that caught our eye here at Daily Health News…

Go on an “Imaginary” Diet

Imagine yourself eating, one at a time, 30pieces of cheese… now look at some real cheese. Hungry for it? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say it’s unlikely. People who repeatedly imagine consuming a food, one piece or serving at a time again and again, subsequently eat less of that food because they “habituate” to it — which means that their appetite for the food diminishes, explains Carey K. Morewedge, PhD, the Carnegie Mellon psychologist who led the study.

Familiarity kills cravings:Dr. Morewedge and his colleagues had study participants imagine eating two different foods — M&Ms and cheese cubes — either three or 30 times while viewing a slide show featuring images of the foods with each picture onscreen for three to five seconds. Afterward, people who had imagined eating a food 30 times ate less of it than those who had imagined consuming it just three times.

Next steps:Dr. Morewedge hopes that this technique can be adapted into a strategy that any of us could use to gain better control of our eating. For instance, say you’re going to a barbecue — shortly before you go, spend some time vividly imagining yourself biting into, chewing and swallowing 30 chicken wings, 30 ribs, 30 hot dogs or 30 hamburgers… and see whether you then eat less at the barbecue than you normally would have.

Chew… Pay Attention… Chew… Pay Attention

The practice called “mindful eating” is not a diet — it’s simply the act of paying close attention to your body, says Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of the book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. This involves focusing intently on the color, aroma, texture, flavor and temperature of every bite of everything you eat. As you do this, you also pay attention to how your body feels as you eat or drink something. When are you half full? Three-quarters full? And when you reach three-quarters full or a little more, are you really still hungry— or just eating to eat?

Avoid unconscious eating.Mindful eating isn’t hard to do, but it does require you to stop doing other things while you eat. So instead of mindlessly munching while you check your e-mail or watch TV, bring your full awareness to what is going on inside and outside your body. The truth is, if you don’t pay attention to what you’re eating, it’s almost as if you didn’t eat it. Suddenly your plate is empty — but you don’t feel satisfied. The reason is that you ate without thinking.

Your mindful eating homework.To get started, try taking the first four sips of your tea with full attention… eat one meal a week mindfully, alone and in silence… or, if you enjoy, say, reading during meals, alternate these activities. Read a page, put the book down, take a bite of food and savor it, then read another page. This will get you started toward more frequent mindful eating.

Eat Less Automatically with Yoga

Dr. Chozen Bays also told me about research suggesting that people who practice yoga eat less. According to a 2009 study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, middle-aged people who regularly do yoga gain fewer unwanted pounds than those who do not, independent of individual dietary habits and other physical activity.

Why yoga makes you eat less:Doing yoga is a natural way to bring greater awareness of your body, Dr. Chozen Bays explains. As you learn how to maintain calm and to be nonjudgmentally observant during challenging yoga poses, it teaches you to “be more present,” and it also happens that you begin to eat only when you are hungry and stop eating when you are not hungry. This is a form of “body wisdom” that very young children naturally possess — they eat just to fullness and stop. But many of us were taught to clean our plates and as we’ve grown older, we’ve kept that habit. Yoga can help you reclaim your innate wisdom and tune into your body’s natural signals about when and how much to eat. So try a class or two and see what you think.

Trick Your Mind into Eating Less

Have you heard of the infamous KFC Double Down sandwich? It’s a gluttonous offering that features two slices of bacon, two slices of cheese and a sauce that contains chicken fat all placed in between two large deep-fried pieces of chicken. (You can have the chicken grilled instead of fried, which reduces the fat content to “only” 23 grams.) From Whoppers to supersized sodas to humongous cookies, portion sizes have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years… and so have American waistlines.

Bigger is not always better.In a series of experiments at Cornell University, scientists have verified that being given bigger portions leads people to eat more. In one test, investigators served moviegoers popcorn in containers of different sizes — large buckets or medium-sized ones. All of the popcorn was stale, but even so, those given the larger portions ate 34% more. In another trial, people who ate tomato soup from “bottomless soup bowls” (which kept refilling from hidden tubes) consumed 73% more soup than those who ate from normal bowls — and rated themselves no fuller than those who ate from normal bowls.

A little bit is better:Smaller plates make portions look larger, Dr. Morewedge notes — and you can make some very easy changes to take advantage of this fact. For example, at home, eat from salad plates and drink from smaller-sized juice glasses. If you are having a snack, put out a single portion rather than eat from the full bag. If you buy economy-sized packages of foods, repackage them into single portions in small bags or containers. At restaurants, order one entrée and split it with a dining companion, asking the waiter to have it served to you on a smaller-than-normal plate. With today’s giant portions at most restaurants, you won’t go hungry.

The next time you’re feeling ravenous, picture a tower of 30 hotdogs, take a good look, a deep breath — and say to yourself, “I’m in charge here!”

Note: Learn more about mindful eating retreats offered around the country by Dr. Chozen Bays at GreatVow.org.