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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neilson, MDA RD LD

How to Approach Valentine’s Day in Eating Disorder Recovery

Any holiday in eating disorder recovery can be straight up HARD. With Valentine’s Day here that means most of you are likely wondering what the day will bring.

Chocolate treats? School or work parties? Loneliness? Dinner out? Doubt in your beauty? Cupcakes? Intrusive thoughts? Surprises? Comparison? Gifts? Cookies?

You may love this holiday, despise it, or maybe you’re just simply neutral.

Still, a day that has potential to veer from your normal routine or throw in a couple curve balls like this one, filled with candy grams and pink hearts, can raise challenges.

In light of those challenges, stepping away from diet culture means that you get to participate in the day in a positive and healthy way.

You are in control now, not the eating disorder, so you get to decide how your day goes!

Thoughts, Tips, and Suggestions for Your Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Food

Do you dread the fact that almost every holiday there’s more food around? Like seriously, you just went through Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas - can’t they give you a break?

As scary as it may seem, the good news is that it’s another day to practice normalizing food.

The more you embrace opportunities to disobey your eating disorder, the more those experiences and situations change from intimidating and new to familiar and somewhat expected.

After repeated exposure to holidays in recovery, there will come a time when you just roll with it!

Handling the Food Scene

Most likely there will be a slew of treats, even if it’s just passing the overly decorated candy aisle in the grocery store or a bowl of chocolate kisses on your coworker’s desk. Maybe you’ll go out to a fun dinner with your partner or group of friends.

Instead of thinking you will resort to an extreme (restrict or binge), challenge the food police and give yourself unconditional permission to eat utilizing the principles of intuitive eating.

Telling yourself “no” will only backfire into uncontrollable cravings and the “last supper” mentality.

Go ahead and eat those Valentine’s treats. You’re allowed.

Here are some thoughtful reminders to keep in your back pocket:

  • One food, one meal, or one day will not make or break your health.

  • Eat your regular meals and snacks. You do not need to “save up” for dinner out or dessert.

  • It’s ok to eat a Valentine’s treat (or more!) even if you are not physically hungry but still want to just because it’s fun. Intuitive eating also means eating what YOU want for enjoyment and celebration.

  • Chocolate is available on Valentine’s Day and every day before and after that. It’s not going anywhere.

  • The body is amazingly designed to handle food, even food (or extra food) on holidays. If you feel like you ate more than usual, your digestive system knows how to take care of it.

It’s common to feel stressed and anxious about eating food that shows up on holidays and is not always around.

People without eating disorders can sometimes get thrown off guard too, you are not alone. With trial and error you will discover what feels best to you and your body!

One food, one meal, or one day will not make or break your health.

Dealing With Feelings and Emotions

Single or not, Valentine’s Day is difficult in recovery. This day about “love” can bring up emotions that dig into thoughts about body image and self worth.

If you are single it’s easy to think “Nobody will ever love me” and if you have a partner it’s just as easy to say “I don’t deserve this love.”

The common factor is that it’s difficult to receive love from yourself. And often tough emotions result in urges and compulsions.

Did you know that women who have low levels of self-love and self-acceptance have a higher chance of experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder?

This day can bring up unpleasant thoughts related to body image and society’s unrealistic expectations about beauty. Focus on what you know is true.

You are worthy because you are you, not because of what your body looks like.

Your eating disorder will not send you a love letter this Valentine’s Day (I know, cliché, but it’s true and you know it!) so you need to take care of loving yourself.

Plan ahead on what you need for support, especially when feelings and emotions heighten.

  • Have a close and trusted friend or relative you can reach out to that feels safe.

  • Communicate and share your boundaries with loved ones (request there be no talk about the amount of sugar, no conversations about singleness, etc.).

  • Call or text helplines and support services if you need someone outside of your circle.

  • Journal your thoughts about what’s going on to gain some clarity before acting out of emotion.

Give yourself grace and compassion.

If you feel anxious about Valentine’s Day, give yourself grace and compassion. Holidays often mean change in routine, uncomfortable feelings, and facing your fears.

Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Whether you are going out to dinner with a partner or having a girls sleepover, focus on what matters most. Make plans with friends like a game night, or treat it like any other Sunday and finish homework or go for an evening walk!

Consider this too, usually we wait to get invited to an event or for someone to give us a Valentine’s Day gift, but it can lift our spirits when feeling low to help someone else having a hard time by sending them a gift or inviting them to watch a movie.

It’s not about being in a relationship, but enjoying our relationships. It’s about friendships, the people you love, and about loving yourself.

If you need something to turn to during the day, here are some simple ideas:

  • Pamper yourself with a bubble bath and face mask

  • Watch a TV show you need to catch up on

  • Enjoy a podcast while going on a walk

  • Finish that good book you started

  • Grab supplies to make a DIY craft for your bedroom

  • Facetime a friend

  • Organize your closet while listening to music

Society can make you think that something’s wrong if you are not celebrating, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another day.

As you approach Valentine’s Day make sure you spend the day how you want to!

There’s an entire eating disorder community cheering you on! Eat the food that will feel best to you, physically and mentally. Care for yourself by having a support system ready to go, and spend the day enjoying plans, focusing on what matters most.

Working with a virtual anti-diet dietitian can be the best decision in helping you win back your life from your eating disorder or disordered eating. I would love to help you! Let's get in touch so we can chat!

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