BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - If you're like most Americans concerned about diet, you're familiar with that guilty feeling when you decide to eat a second helping or have an extra-large slice of pie. But a lot of overeating can happen without us being fully aware of what we are doing, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

"Countless environmental influences can lead to this mindless form of unintentional overeating," said Lynda Johnson.

Food psychologists are researching ways to help Americans limit mindless eating by restructuring their environments. "The solution is not trying to put an end to your mindless eating. Instead, focus on tactics that will lead to mindlessly eating healthier," Johnson said, citing the 2006 book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," by Brian Wansink, executive director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Johnson offers some strategies to help you avoid unknowingly consuming unwanted calories.

Adopt habits to help you stick to sensible portions:

-Use a smaller plate. A portion of food on an 8-inch plate seems more satisfying than the same amount on a 12-inch plate.

-Apply the half-plate rule. When dining out, eat half the food on your plate and save the rest for another meal, or split an entree with a friend.

-Place one-fourth less food on your plate; make up the difference with a non-starchy vegetable.

-For snacks, place a single serving in a small bowl. Many snacks are now packaged in 100-calorie portions, but you can save money by bagging your own.

Keep high-calorie foods out of sight:

-Don't keep a dish of nuts or candy on your counter or desk.

-Place high-calorie chips and crackers on the top shelf of the pantry, not at eye level.

Be mindful and focused when eating:

-Don't be distracted. Sit down and eat at a counter or table in the kitchen or dining room.

-Turn off the TV.

-Eat slowly and savor your food.

Johnson notes that a study at the University of Rhode Island found that participants eating slowly rather than wolfing down a pasta meal consumed 70 fewer calories. "In one day, a savings of 70 calories per meal could add up to more than 200 calories. Over time this could have quite an impact on one's waistline," she said.