I love cake, but I rarely eat it. This is not because I think I shouldn’t. I don’t even believe in the word “shouldn’t” when it comes to food. I prefer “choose to” or “choose not to.” I see no point in eating cake that isn’t outstanding, defined (by me) as homemade, delicate, and not too sweet.
This past weekend, I had two opportunities to eat cake, and both cakes were incredible. My experiences with both turned out to be interesting and (I thought) worth sharing, since so many of us have trouble stopping when food feels hard to resist. The hopeful message is that by paying attention and being truly present, whatever we do will at least be a conscious choice.
Insights from Cake #1: The first cake was served after a barbecue dinner. It was chocolate with dark chocolate frosting. Homemade? Check. Delicate? Oh yea! Not too sweet? Yes, perfectly sweet.
I ate the whole piece, somewhat mindfully. I was aware enough to know it was really good, and I was also aware that I could have easily had another piece or 2 without feeling too full. When I finished eating it, I wanted more. Is that so interesting? I think not. Does it really surprise anyone when they want more of something good?
Does that mean eating more is the only option? Of course not. In my case, as I cleared the cake away, I grabbed one more teeny weeny little bite off the plate and decided more would just be that . . . more. I think it is important to acknowledge that there is no right amount, just a choice of how much to have.
With no consequences (i.e. health, wearing larger clothes, etc.), it would make sense to eat tasty food right up to the point of avoiding physical discomfort, but there are long-term consequences that make this kind of habitual eating less than healthy.
With that in mind, what sometimes works for me is remembering that it will be at least a little hard to stop regardless of when that is, unless I am uncomfortably full. Since I can eat quite a lot before I’m uncomfortable, stopping prior to that point with pleasure foods like cake is a very, very good idea! If I’m mindful, I can decide when it’s time to end the eating pleasure and find something else enjoyable or useful to do. When I’m not so mindful, oh well. It’s not my habit to eat pleasure foods mindlessly. My logic: Why would I eat pleasure foods mindlessly if I truly want the maximum pleasure from the experience?
Insights from Cake #2: The second cake . . . ahhh, that was a wonderful cake! It was a perfectly light and fluffy white cake with a light frosting and filling that reminded me of whipped cream. This is actually my favorite kind of cake. Having eaten a hefty amount of chocolate cake the day before, not to mention all of the yummy BBQ food, I was even more tuned in to the taste. I wanted to make sure it was worth it.
Oh yes, it was! So I ate it slowly and savored each bite. The surprise to me was that by eating it very slowly, I had more time to consider whether or not I wanted more. No different than the chocolate cake, or any other pleasure food, I could easily have enjoyed eating about 3-4 pieces without physical discomfort, but by considering what that would really be – simply more cake, not necessarily more pleasure – I could consider my long-term health as well. Halfway through the piece, I put my fork down and enjoyed the company of those around me, and within a few minutes the server cleared my plate.
Mindfulness truly helps. By continuing to make more mindful choices, habits become healthier over time, without deprivation. In fact, the beauty of practicing moderate, kind eating – however you define it – is that it gets easier and actually is what we all truly want.
Note: Very delicious treats like cake, ice cream, or donuts ARE difficult to resist for most people. That is a good reason to limit over-the-top temptations on a daily basis. Keeping these foods at home may make them too hard to resist, so why challenge yourself that way? No one says you can’t eat whatever you want – your choice! – but enjoyment is actually enhanced when a food is truly a treat and not always available in unlimited quantities.