This is by far, my favorite time of year. Brisk mornings with a hot cup of coffee in hand. Apple-cinnamon aroma that fills the entire house. Vibrant red and orange leaves falling from the trees. A crackling fireplace warming the living room. Christmas music and decorations just around the corner. And most importantly, family gatherings and chocolate pie.
Oh. My. Heart.
The holiday season has always had a special place in my heart. But six years ago, the joy that came with the holiday season was replaced with fear and anxiety.
Let me explain.
This story starts in August of 2009 when I was a freshman in college. You see, I was beginning my collegiate basketball career at Winona State (Go Warriors!) and couldn’t wait to embark on this new journey away from my family and hometown friends. Something about change makes me excited. I couldn’t wait to meet new friends, start new classes and play basketball “in the big league” I’d always dreamt of.
Bigger and Stronger: A College Athlete’s Body Image Dilemma
In my first day of workouts I remember getting pushed to the ground many times and laying there thinking what a different world of basketball this was. As full practices started, my coach pulled me aside and told me I needed to get bigger and stronger so I could hold my own out there.
“Bigger and stronger” became my new mantra. But “bigger and stronger” turned into the “freshman 30”, and let me tell you, it wasn’t an all muscle kind of thing. It was more like six plates of food at the cafe and pop tarts at 2:00am kind of thing. With never having weight gain or body image issues in high school, I didn’t even realize what had happened to my body, until my coach pulled me aside before our seven day Christmas break and told me that while I was home, I needed to work out every single day and watch out for all the food at family gatherings. He told me I should focus on trying to lose 10 pounds.
I stood there with tears welling up in my eyes in disbelief. I walked to my dorm and starred in the mirror and barely even recognized the girl staring back at me. How did this happen without me even realizing it? How long were others thinking how “fat” I had gotten?
I went home that Christmas break for the first time my freshman year. My excitement to see family and friends, was overshadowed by the terror of what they would think.
Who Are You?
I ran up to one of my old high school friends who graduated a year before me and gave her a big hug. She pulled away quickly, looked at me funny and said, “I’m sorry, but who are you?” When I told her, you could see her embarrassment followed by, “I didn’t even recognize you!”
That was one of the last times I came home during my college years. I stayed in Winona over the summers because I was too ashamed and embarrassed to go back home. My relationship with food, family and friends began to unravel. I started overworking my body and eating the bare minimum to survive through basketball practices. I no longer went out with my friends and I had completely lost my faith. After all, how and why would God let this happen to me if He really loved me?
Family gatherings for the next few years became a day of anxiety as I worried about how I was going to lose those 10 pounds with all the food at every meal. Instead of enjoying time with my family, I dreaded those days with every ounce of energy I had in me (which wasn’t much).
Looking back, those were the worst, but yet best years of my life. Because if it weren’t for those dark valleys and low points, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. Thanks to a close teammate who welcomed me to her church, my life was completely changed. I am now stronger in my faith than I have ever have been and I’ve learned how to have a healthier relationship with food and working out.
The Family Gathering Trigger
But I do want to tell you, even though I am down those thirty pounds and am six years wiser and stronger in faith, I still struggle every single family gathering. The fear, anxiety and pressure for perfection during those student-athlete days still haunts me. I struggle with wondering if one bad day, could turn me into that “freshman 30” girl all over again. I struggle with slowing down and soaking in those precious moments we have as a family. I struggle to remember that this life, this body, it’s not mine. It’s His. The struggle is so real. I need reminders that faith will overcome fear every single time.
I have a challenge for myself this holiday season and I want to ask you to join me. I challenge you to surrender. To let go of the calorie counting, the body shaming, the overworking out, and to instead spend your time with your loved ones thanking God for all the things you DO have. Spend time with God EVERY single day. And when you sit down and eat, CHERISH every single bite for the nourishment you are receiving.
God loves you as you are and He has a crazy-beautiful plan waiting for you when you are ready to surrender to Him. No matter where you are at in your journey. NO matter your weight. No matter your struggle. Through Him, you are enough.
Mari Wild is a 20-something year-old newlywed discovering the triumphs and struggles of marriage with the help of her savior, Jesus Christ. Located in the beautiful city of Madison, Wisconsin, she spends her time admiring the different seasons God sends her while working for the American Cancer Society to help make a difference in the fight against cancer. In her free time Mari loves garage sales, DIY projects, boxing, running and blogging over at Healthy Desires where she shares her love for God, health and a positive attitude.