The typical vision of Valentine’s Day is one that’s filled with chocolates, flowers, love, and romance. Gone are the days of elementary school Valentine card exchanges. Celebrations in recent years have probably consisted of dinner with a romantic partner, brunch with friends, or a solo adventure by taking yourself out or going on a shopping spree. Valentine’s Day planning in the COVID-19 era will likely look far different from our traditional plans because of limits on where we can go out and who we can meet with in person. Along with the other holidays lately, it may feel like a lonely day for many, and those who struggle with an eating disorder are even more likely to feel the effects of this.

Eating disorders thrive in isolation, whether actual or perceived. When a person has an eating disorder, they will often be led to believe that they are alone due to their own inadequacies in relation to food and body. The disorder may convince you that you are unworthy of having a companion, whether it’s a romantic or platonic relationship, until you’ve achieved the impossible goals set out by the disorder. Enter Valentine’s Day: a day dedicated to connecting with others through love and friendship. When you have an eating disorder, you are more likely to feel a heightened degree of isolation, believing you are unable to have these connections and falling deeper into the disordered thought patterns that surround this.

If you’re struggling with disordered eating to any degree, this particular holiday can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be – learn how you can be your own Valentine and show yourself the love you deserve. Part of recovering from an eating disorder is learning to distinguish disordered thoughts from reality. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and connection just the way you are – this can be a powerful statement during the process. We’ve got a few suggestions to help you practice self-love this year on Valentine’s Day:

1. Plan a day of foods that nourish your body and soul.

Is there a certain food you’ve always associated with love and comfort? Make or purchase that food for yourself! Maybe there’s a special brownie recipe you loved as a kid or a comforting casserole that your mom used to make when you needed cheering up. You are deserving of any food that brings you joy and happiness, regardless of what a disorder may have you think.

2. Connect with friends or family virtually.

Maybe you live with family, friends or a partner already and can have in-person connection this Valentine’s Day. However, if you’re living alone then COVID-19 has likely taken away this option. Set up a virtual gathering with supportive friends or family to foster feelings of love and closeness with others. Have a virtual “Galentine’s Day” with your friends, inviting everyone to bring drinks and snacks of choice. Or organize a virtual “bake-off” where everyone attending bakes the same recipe while on a video call.

3. Show your body kindness and respect.

Anyone with an eating disorder can attest to the heightened level of negativity and discomfort they feel around their body. On a day that’s dedicated to love, how can you show love to the body that gives you strength, mobility and life? Think of things that feel good for your body – maybe that means engaging in some type of joyful movement; or setting up a nice relaxing bath with bath bombs and candles; or even just allowing your body to rest on the couch with comfortable clothes and a cozy blanket.

4. Get outside for a change of scenery.

Depending on where you live, there may be many or few outdoor options for exploration and adventure. Sometimes a change in scenery can be refreshing and welcome, especially when you’ve been stuck in your home due to COVID-19. If movement would bring joy and comfort to your body and mind, then consider going for a hike or a walk in a nearby park. If your body would prefer rest and relaxation, put together a small picnic for yourself and bring a comfy chair or blanket to a park or grassy area to enjoy.

5. Engage in something you love or want to learn.

There’s no time like the present to check something off your wish list to learn or do. Gift yourself an experience that you’ve always wanted to have, or the opportunity to take a class or webinar in a subject you’ve been interested in. Have you always felt drawn to painting with watercolors? Or learning to knit? Maybe you’ve been thinking about how peaceful bird watching would be or dreamt of learning a new language for travel. There are so many options, both virtual and in-person to explore.

On a day dedicated to love, don’t forget to show love for yourself and your body. Disordered thoughts may creep in, and that’s OK – choose not to listen to them and continue to engage in things you enjoy while taking care of yourself physically and emotionally.

If you still find yourself or a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, contact Center for Discovery to get help.

Madeline Radigan Langham is a registered dietitian who works with adolescents in mental health residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.

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