By David E. Williams
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(CNN) -- Dieting often is viewed as an epic battle between willpower and temptation.
So it may be a surprise to learn that many dieticians say the best way to win may be to give in.
"The fact is that anyone who loves chocolate can tell you that in some cases a sweet fruit just won't fill the void of that wonderful taste of chocolate," said Cathy Nonas, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who works with obese patients.
But that doesn't mean that it's OK to pound down an entire bag of potato chips, a king-size Baby Ruth or a big piece of chocolate cake (or all three).
Nonas recommends that people set rules for themselves before reaching for that treat.
"So maybe they only have it on Friday nights," she said. "Maybe they have it when they're out to dinner and they haven't had any bread or wine, they can have dessert, or maybe they only have dessert when they can share it with three or four other people."
But don't try to trick yourself, warns "Dieting for Dummies" author Jane Kirby.
"It won't work and, in the end, it will backfire," she said. "A celery stick isn't going to work if what you really want is a bag of potato chips."
Kirby said that people who tend to try to eat around a craving -- having a piece of fruit instead of chocolate -- often end up eating more calories but still are not satisfied.
Slow down, pay attention, enjoy
Once you decide that you're going to give in to a craving, take time to enjoy it, instead of just wolfing down that candy bar on the way back from the vending machine. (How eating habits have changed)
"You can be satisfied with less," said Roberta Larson Duyff, a nutritional consultant and author of the "American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide."
"Let us savor a good quality piece of chocolate or whatever and just learn not to eat as much of it," she said. "Learn to stop at that one good bite that delivers everything that we want."
People also tend to eat more when they're not paying attention.
"Whatever you do, don't eat it in front of the television set," Nonas said. "Eat it when you can maintain a focus, when you can taste the food, when you can taste whether it's delicious. Don't stand and eat, put it on a plate."
She also suggests buying single serving packages or dividing food into portions once you get it home so you won't be tempted to overindulge. (Quiz: Guess the portion size)
Good quality equals good health
Kirby, who also runs the Vermont Cooking School and Farm, said dieters should eat the freshest, highest-quality food they can get, instead of focusing on calories, fat and cholesterol.
"We're essential beings who respond to food, not numbers," she said. "We respond to flavor, textures, smells, visual cues, and if you can get yourself to learn more about food and search out the best quality food as opposed to eating by the numbers, you're going to be teaching yourself something and forming lifelong eating habits."
She said that better-tasting food is more satisfying, so you don't have to eat as much. For example, a few slivers of freshly shaved Parmesan cheese usually have more flavor than the powdered stuff that comes in a can.
Kirby said that every weight loss program should focus on exercise, rather than on deprivation.
"Whenever you have to give up a food that you normally love, you're going to obsess about it."
She said instead of going on and off of diets, people should focus on eating healthfully all the time "so you won't have to do this ever again."
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