Have you ever stared in the mirror and not recognized the person staring back at you? I know I have. Our body can tell us a lot about how we are faring in our life, and it can be one of the best metaphors for introspection, interpretation and possible change.
I will never forget the day that I hardly recognized my own face. I had been staring at the same mug for well over three decades, but yet, when I looked in the bathroom mirror that winter morning, I knew I was looking at someone else. I mean, the genetic makeup was the same, but everything else seemed so different. From a girl who was fit, active and full of energy and life, I had become overweight, self-admittedly a little lazy and that sparkle in my eye seemed to fade a bit. I cried as I looked for resemblances of who I once was, behind the dark circles under my eyes, underneath the puffiness that a few (okay, more than a few) extra pounds had created. Where did she go? What happened to her? Had my new(ish) role of wife, mommy, stepmom, new business owner, and full-time laundry-and-dishes girl swallowed me up? That answer turned out to be both yes and no.
When I looked in the mirror of my current self, I could no longer see the six-pack abs that all those years playing volleyball had created. All those hours in the gym and on the court so quickly vanished behind the excess. The pearly-white smile seemed faded, after several cups of coffee each day had replaced my energy-boosting outdoor morning hikes. And the pants that once fit with a little extra room now seemed to be painted on my body like a sausage stuffed in casein. Okay, gross analogy but you get the idea.
Now some of my weight and physical appearance changes came from something blessed: the pregnancy and birth of my three beautiful children. And for that, I gladly accepted the weight gain, the c-section scar, and the extra rolls on my back. So, in some ways, what happened to the woman in the mirror was that yes, my new role as a mama and all of the responsibilities associated with that did change my physical appearance. But what I was looking at now was so much more than that. My youngest was almost two years old and although I know it takes time for baby weight to come off, in my heart I knew that I was holding on to more than post-pregnancy pounds.
It was at that time that I decided to join an intense, eight-week fitness program, where I documented every item that I put in my mouth (literally, everything), worked out at 5am four days per week, and dedicated my early mornings (and all of my meals) to getting my health (and my body) back on track. This program was incredible and I gained so much strength physically. I also gained friendships and camaraderie that I would have never experienced with a home workout program. But the weight barely fluctuated. Now of course, my weight converted from fat weight to muscle weight, but the problem was still there: the person staring at me in the mirror was more physically fit, but I still didn’t recognize her. And although she was getting stronger both physically and mentally, it still didn’t feel like me. Not yet.
So, if getting back into shape without losing much weight didn’t help me clear the fogginess from the reflection I was staring at, then could I blame all this weight and this phantom in the mirror on my roles as wife and mommy? No. Fast forward a few more years: now I feel that I clearly understand weight gain (and weight loss) as more than just a physical symptom. Our bodies, our weight, and even the sparkle in our eyes are intrinsically associated with our own internal landscape. It is associated with what we put in our bodies nutritionally, but also what we put in our minds mentally and spiritually. All those factors together can have us holding on or letting go (gaining or losing weight).
The Body as Metaphor
This year, I again began a voyage of sorts. I committed my life to self-discipline. It started with how I began my day. I dedicate my mornings to a time of prayer and devotion. It has been the best way for me to start my day with a foundation that is rooted in faith. And in this day and age, having faith has become sometimes the only thing I have left to stand on in the midst of so much uncertainty and in the middle of life’s storms.
But discipline has not just become my morning routine. I also began disciplining my mind with what I watched, listened to and spent time delving into. I spend less time perusing the internet and instead try to focus my time and energy on workshops that stretch my capacity to see what’s possible. I surround myself with others (in person or virtually) who are traveling down a similar path as my own—a path of helping more, serving more, and being more.
And then came time for discipling my body. Earlier this year, I did an intense, 5-day liquid detox, followed by a 4-month detox and anti-inflammatory nutrition program. I am currently in the final 4 weeks of the program and since beginning my nutrition journey, I have lost over 30 pounds. Now let me say that I am in no way a dieter. Until this program and its requirements, I never even owned a scale. And I began both the liquid detox and the subsequent nutrition journey as a way to get back to me. That meant making myself a priority for the first time in a long time. I gave myself permission to leave my family for six days to pursue my own health and to take care of little old me (for the first time since my kiddos were born). I gave myself permission to dedicate time and money to ridding my insides of inflammatory and toxic foods, and to say YES to my own health and well-being. And the results of that have been astounding.
But what often happens in the midst of health programs is that your mental, spiritual and emotional health is also addressed. I believe this is the unexpectedly profound sidekick to these health and nutrition programs.
Here are just some of the aha!’s I discovered as I have watched weight fall off my body and my reflection in the mirror becoming recognizable once again:
- When we commit to ridding our bodies of what’s no longer needed in our lives nutritionally, we must be prepared to also discover what we don’t need mentally or emotionally. I have shed pounds, that’s true. But I have also shed unhealthy belief systems about who I am and what my role truly is. I have shed responsibilities that I was never meant to take on and let go of situations that I had no business being a part of.
- When you let go of weight, you will often let go of so much more. Have you ever wondered if your excess weight was a metaphor for other areas of your life that you were holding on to? This one smacked me right in the face, as I had to look at that familiar face in the mirror and fess up that I have been holding on to control for WAY too long. I held on to control over so much in my life and guess what? That control seemed to manifest itself in the weight that I also held on to. When I could finally loosen the grip of control in my life, weight also seemed to melt away. It’s as if weight loss became my physical radar of what else needed to be let go of.
- Detoxing the body also detoxes the mind. My nutritional protocols were a huge factor in my weight loss over the past few months, but I also believe that my mind and emotions got a detox bath as well. What harmful emotions was I harboring? What toxic feelings of resentment or guilt was I holding on to like the excess gluten in my belly (that I happily do not have any more)? How long did I stuff my emotions down deep inside instead of voicing them? Did my stuffed emotions come out in a physical weigh-down? I think the answer is an adamant YES.
- As I began to see myself again, I realized how foggy that mirror really was. Here is the humbling yet freeing realization: when you start recognizing that person in the mirror, you are given a gift. The gift of seeing where you have been, along with the hope for where you are now. You can grieve for the time you spent living outside of your best life, but I suggest you not stay in that space too long, because that’s not where you are anymore. You have now learned the lessons that taught you how and why you got to that unfamiliar face in the mirror. You now have the tools to make sure you don’t travel down that foggy road again. In my opinion, that is a great gift!
I am the first to say that the weight on the scales is just a number. But the person in the mirror, no matter what the number on the scale reads, is one of your best gauges to see where you truly are in your life. If you find yourself struggling to recognize that physical person staring back at you, then it might be time to begin the journey back to the person you know is still in there somewhere. Your body, your face and your honest truth about where you are are powerful places to start, as they can become your metaphorical landmarks about the direction you are headed.