A few weeks back I went to meet my partner Justin for lunch at his office. He works at one of those tech companies that provides a lavish lunch each day and he’s allowed to have me join him from time to time.
This particular day we met up during the peak of the lunchtime rush. After unsuccessfully scanning the cafeteria for an empty table Justin spotted a co-worker with two empty seats at his table. “Can we join you?” Justin said. “Sure” he replied moving two bowls of food out of the way. “It’s my dinner” he said referring to the two bowls, each topped with another bowl that served as a lid, “I have to eat before 6 pm.”
We nodded, not really listening, attempting a lunch date for two at this table for four.
I was able to get a few bites in before I noticed this co-worker take out a digital scale (You know, the kind a baker might use to measure flour). He then placed both of his dinner bowls on the scale, one at a time, and jotted down their weight in a small, spiral bound notebook.
We’ve got a dieter in our midst, I thought to myself.
I truly didn’t want to engage. I just wanted a nice lunch date with my guy. But, the co-worker asked me what I do (“I’m a life coach”) and then who I work with (“Women, around hunger”) and we were off to the races before I knew it.
After hearing that I work in the realm of hungers he says “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry.”
“Yeah” I nod knowingly, having experienced the same thing when starved myself “the body prioritizes getting enough to eat over getting sleep.”
“My body just really likes to be *** pounds so I really have to starve myself to get it lower.”
“Why? Why do all this? What’s this about?” Justin inquires.
“Vanity” he chirps matter-of-factly back with a nervous smile.
No. Nope, I think to myself, this isn’t a result of vanity.
This is a result of anxiety.
This is a result of not feeling like you’re enough, just as you are.
This is a result of a fractured relationship with your body.
Vanity is an easy scapegoat. Kind of like when we stay in bed all day and call ourselves “lazy” when what’s really going on is something much wiser, deeper, and nuanced.
Vanity is a scapegoat and I’d argue that it’s never once caused someone to go on a diet or fall prey to an eating disorder (a line this particular co-worker was teetering).
We use these behaviors to soothe our worrisome minds and to falsely bring us closer to feeling as though we are enough.
As lunch was winding down he said “I think I have that leptin disorder—the one where your brain doesn’t signal when you’re full. That’s why I have to limit my intake.”
Not able to help myself I replied: “Well, it sounds like you have a history of overriding your body’s cues and keeping your weight below what your body prefers…”
“No, this diet is recent. Before this I was just paleo.” he innocently replies.
I sigh and think to myself, What do you think eating paleo is if not a diet?, but not wanting to engage any more I just said “Well, sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and you should probably get tested for that leptin thing” and we went on our way.
I’m sharing this story because I want to challenge you to think about how you might be mislabeling your behavior. Do you think of yourself as irresponsible with money? Materialistic or vain? What about lazy or undisciplined? Selfish? Wasteful?
Instead of so quickly dismissing your actions with these labels and instead of looking upon yourself with judgement, inquire about what’s really happening.
If you think you’re dieting because your vain, could it be that you’re anxious and dieting (or losing weight or being a certain size) is soothing? Could it be that you’re living in a world gone mad, one that tells you there is no fate worse than being fat, and you don’t yet know how to be at home in your skin?
If you think that you’re careless with money, could it be that you’re afraid that you won’t have (or be) enough, and shopping (temporarily) alleviates that feeling of scarcity? or that you haven’t discovered a more soulful way of relating to your finances?
If you view yourself as lazy, could it be that you’re simply tired? or disconnected from your spark? or expecting yourself to be super-human?
Bottomline: In my experience, what we call vanity, is almost always just anxiety and the hunger to feel enough. We’re too quick to slap a one-word judgement on ourselves. In reality our behavior, when met with compassion, is rich with information about what we’re truly hungry for.