Dieting can sometimes seem like a punishment. When grocery shopping, when at a party, when out for lunch with friends, every event in which there might be food can seem like a minefield.

Dieters are forced into the arduous task of cutting calories and focusing on those magical foods that are at once filling and nutritious, and light on calories and fat - and feeling bad and like they have horrible self-control when they instead indulge in cake or cookies. But new research suggests that, instead of limiting themselves to kale and quinoa, it is better for dieters - and those who simply want to eat more healthily - to just be more mindful of the unhealthy foods that they are eating, rather than focusing on the optimal foods.

The studies were conducted by the University of Minnesota's Joseph P. Redden and Texas A&M University's Kelly L. Haws. They conducted a series of studies in an effort to find the role between self-control and dieting.

Redden and Haws found that those who were able to adhere more closely to their diets were able to do so because they felt more satisfied, more quickly when eating. They found that dieters with poor self-control were able to improve it if they paid more attention to the amount of unhealthy food that they ate.

In one of their studies, Redden and Haws asked participants to eat either a healthy or an unhealthy snack. They asked some of the participants to count how many times they swallowed while eating. They found that, even among dieters with poor self-control, they felt satisfied more quickly when they counted the number of swallows they made. By simply monitoring their food intake, dieters with low self-control could behave like they had more self-control.

"Although self-control is typically viewed as a battle between willpower and desire, consumers can't rely entirely on willpower to control their eating. They also need to create situations that will make them lose interest in food. One way is to keep better track of the quantity of unhealthy foods they eat," they said in a statement. "Dieters should focus on the quantity of unhealthy foods but not the quantity of healthy foods. Monitoring healthy foods could actually be counterproductive to the goal of eating a healthier diet. So the secret to success is knowing when to monitor your eating."

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, but is not available online.