Walking Through Fire

“If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.” –Moliere

Over the past two years, I’ve gained and lost the same 25 pounds twice.  Each time, I tried to approach it with more self-awareness, but obviously I haven’t yet reached the core. This time I won’t look for a new exercise regimen or eating plan. I already know what to do; spending time reading about the latest fitness trend will only delay the inevitable.

Instead of focusing on these external distractions, I’ve created a metaphor to give me strength and new insights as I face the emotions underlying self-sabotage. This struggle is much larger than just weight loss (no pun intended), so I’ve settled on a visual that speaks to personal transformation. I also believe this will be a more compassionate path, something that was missing in past attempts to “whip myself into shape.”

The phoenix (as the story goes in various cultures) is a beautiful bird that lives 500 years. Once prepared to die, it creates a nest, which bursts into flames. From the ashes, a new phoenix emerges.  In keeping with its method of regeneration, the phoenix is often depicted in bright warm colors like red, orange and yellow.

How does the phoenix relate to my physical transformation? I began to see many interesting parallels when I examined what happens to the body when you lose weight.

Untapped Potential
In very simplistic terms, your body’s fat cells are reservoirs of energy, waiting for release. When more exercise or reduced calories generate a need for more energy, the fat cells release triglyceride components into the bloodstream, shrinking the size of the fat cell.

I love the idea that I have huge reserves of energy and potential — ready for action! I imagine the triglyceride components as tinder for the fire — fluffy and flammable. Right now, the tinder sits in my cells, taking up space and not serving any purpose. However, once released, it will quickly catch fire and ensure that the fire continues burning.

It also occurred to me that muscle is often hidden under expanded fat cells. In order to build upon that secret strength, I must break down muscle (create that fiery nest) so it can grow back stronger. Once the fat cells reduce, my muscles will emerge.

The Same, Yet Different
After several biochemical changes, the released triglyceride components eventually provide energy for the body to carry out essential processes like breathing, blood flow and moving muscles. The heat generated helps regulate the body at 98.6 degrees.

This made me think about how “renewable” my body is. Just like the ashes of the phoenix, energy is changing its form to meet the needs of my body. It doesn’t dissipate into nothingness. Rather, it creates something new from the self that already exists. That’s powerful — I don’t need to look outside myself in order to transform. It’s all within.

Pain in Transformation
I imagine there must be immense pain for the mythical phoenix when it bursts into flames. I know that the same will be true for me in this process. My weak body will rail against the introduction of exercise; my mind will invent countless reasons why chocolate is the only thing that will ease my depression. Discomfort and sadness are a given, but the outcome will be worth the pain.

I haven’t decided exactly how I will use this metaphor to push through obstacles in my journey, but the symbolism seems ripe for investigation. I will see how it plays out…First step – find a beautiful phoenix picture for my new home.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson


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