Despite its lack of a full complement of days, the tiny month of February (from the Roman februarius or Latin februum–to purify or atone) so kindly embraces Valentine’s Day as well as Eating Disorder Awareness Week–both emotionally-laden events. The two are not ordinarily associated and their purposes may seem disparate, but, with a little tweaking, I think that each celebration might find a friend in the other or a rationale for their coincidence.
To sort this out a little, let’s acknowledge that Valentine’s Day is a veritable Hallmark Card hootenanny, with messages cloyingly sweet and with a power so strong that it provokes the panicked purchase of chocolates and roses in hopes of successfully and sufficiently demonstrating one’s love for the “other”. While we celebrate Valentine’s Day’s High Middle Ages Chaucerian and 18th-century traditions of courtly love, the holiday has deeper, darker and rather confusing origins. It aligns on the Roman calendar with the celebration of Lupercallia and on the Christian liturgical calendar with the honoring of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus for whom several martyrdom stories were associated–only some of which were tinged with elements of romantic love.
Eating Disorder Awareness Week commands no shelf space in the greeting card aisle, passes without widespread recognition–and certainly has no such reckless exchange of confections. However, in bringing forth awareness of the prevalence of eating disorders and avenues for treatment and healing, it does have cause for celebration as well. It shines a light on these complex and misdirected eating behaviors which thrive in the vampire-esque darkness of secrecy and shame. It serves to bring support to the many who struggle alone–those who battle too in martyr-like fashion against these soul and life-threatening conditions.
Both our desire for romance and the rigid control (and lack thereof) of eating disorders express the longings of the fragile little hearts that beat within all of us. They share opposite sides of the same coin of our need for love. While Valentine’s sentiments relate to one’s love for the “other”, eating disorders expose the imbalance manifested when we lack the capacity to love the “self”. Apparently, we cannot quite master one without the other. Eating Disorder Awareness Week provides hope that one can nurture successfully and sufficiently such requisite self-love, while Valentine’s Day might (and should) remind that we can love ourselves as well as others.
A number of years ago, while I was working on a college campus–an environment where eating disorders are more widely acknowledged–I created an activity which was part of a series of events being held during Eating Disorder Awareness Week. By means of various campus communications and a distributed flyer with a banner stating, “Life is too short to waste time hating our bodies”, I brought forth “Nourish Thyself Well Day”. The name implied a broader sense of nourishment and did not distinguish between “well” as an adverb or adjective. The concept was to present a challenge to the self-limiting thoughts and behaviors regarding our diets and our bodies that rob us of our health and well-being. Believing that most of us carry around at least a handful of these, I asked people (anyone and everyone) for just one day to choose a body-affirming or nourishment-providing action that held meaning for one’s personal issues or struggles.
Recently, I came upon the flyer and the list of the suggestions I proposed at that time. They included:
I will not weigh myself today * I will eat when I feel hungry * I will not use food to cover my emotions * I will not diet today * I will not eat/use nutrient-deficient diet foods * I will ask a friend for support if I need it * I will not associate guilt or shame with eating certain foods * I will listen to my body and respond to its needs * I will enjoy hot cooked foods * I will welcome foods with fats * I will honor my right to be an eater * I will have dessert * I will eat slowly and stop when full * I will not entertain starvation throughout the day* I will not say anything negative about my body or my eating * I will not say anything negative about anyone else’s body or diet * I will not judge my value based on the scale * I will acknowledge my true value.
In revisiting this list, I recognize it has some limitations and does not fully capture the possibilities and alternatives available to us in redirecting or re-imagining how we behave around or think about these issues, but it’s a start. At the time, I could only fit so many ideas on the page and I had no mechanism for receiving any feedback. I only released it as an intention that it would seep its way through some crack or crevice and find its way to someone who might find some meaning in it for themselves. I hope it did.
And, so now, in this time between Valentine’s Day and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (which falls this year from February 22nd through 28th–with the theme, “I Had No Idea”), I send the intention of “Nourish Thyself Well Day” out on its own once again. I hope dear little February can handle another event–albeit, a made-up one–and one that is really just an extension of the others. Besides, it has been a really frigid winter, and we can all use an excuse for anything that may warm the heart–and lighten the burden.
With hand on heart, feel free to choose your own day and way to celebrate “Nourish Thyself Well Day”. Pick from the above suggestions or create your own, and welcome the experience of shifting old embedded patterns and beliefs.
In health and with much love, Elyn
My Plate Haiku (or any other poetic form)
Love is a deeper season
My Sweet One.
by e.e. cummings