And then there's eating while pretending to do something else. You walk by a cake. You see that some thoughtless person has taken a crooked slice. Now it's up to you to even things out. You edge one side and eat the thin, leftover shaving. Then you see that the other side is crooked too. Conscious of your responsibility to cake aesthetics, you edge that side and eat the shaving. Before long, half the cake is gone. But you never really decided to cut yourself a slice, so it doesn't count as eating.
This is no way to treat cake. If you dearly love food, why do you rob yourself of all the delight and satisfaction it brings you by not paying attention to how it tastes and feels? Why do you doom yourself to want more, more, more of something when you could have been pleased with less, if only you'd been present for it?
In my workshops, we do an exercise on paying real attention to food. Everyone gets a small cup containing two raisins, a corn chip, and a small piece of chocolate. Everyone looks at the cup. They look at me. They look back at the cup. "One corn chip? Are you kidding? I ate more than this when I was 2 days old," said a woman at one workshop.
Giggles and snickers.
"OK," I say, "I know this is a very small amount of food, but let me ask you: Do you remember the last time you actually tasted one raisin?"
One woman says, "I've never eaten just one raisin. Raisins are meant to be eaten in bulk."
Everyone nods their heads. Then we proceed with the exercise.
First they pick up the corn chip. They smell it. They look at it closely. They take a small bite and notice what the chip feels like in their mouths. Then I ask them to comment on their experiences.
Most of them say things like: "Oh my God, I've been eating corn chips for 20 years and I never ever realized I didn't like them." Or "Wow! What I really want is the salt. The rest tastes like cardboard." We move on to the raisins, but we eat only one. People say that they usually eat a hundred of them. A box of them. Several handfuls of them. But if you are eating raisins by the handful, how do you know when you have had enough? How do you even know what a raisin tastes like if you are eating 90 of them at once? At this point, it's the bulk you are enjoying, not the taste of the raisin.