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Self-love and Acceptance

I’ve been thinking about love. Not romantic love. Self-love. I hate to sound simplistic, but if we love something, we lavish caring on it and if we don’t, well, we it neglect or misuse it. Of course, there are gradients between treating yourself well and poorly, but if you love yourself wholeheartedly, you can’t continue to have a destructive relationship with food because self-love and self-trashing are mutually exclusive.

Both conditional and unconditional love have evolutionary underpinnings. Because infants and children are not always likeable, the love we feel for them must be unconditional so that we’ll care for them and keep the species trucking. Alternately, adults need to be shaped in order to live in society—humane qualities need to be reinforced and inhumane ones extinguished—so the love we feel for each other is conditional. To be emotionally healthy, self-love needs to be so ingrained, so much a given, that we don’t think about it; we just know it’s there. We can’t only love ourselves if we have a perfect body or eat healthily. Self-love is a permanent, ongoing state of mind.

If you grew up being mistreated or neglected, you may not feel lovable today, but may be unaware that feeling unlovable is driving unhealthy eating. If you mistreat your body by regularly over- or undereating or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors like purging, what does that say about what you think of yourself? You may wrongly believe that if you’re good or do this or that you’ll love yourself, but exactly the opposite is true: you need that deep, abiding valuing and acceptance first. Then you’ll do right by you.

A difficult concept to grasp. Clients tell me they’re unworthy of self-love because they behave badly, hurt others, harm themselves, are lazy, and imperfect. Well, so are other people, yet they manage to love themselves in spite of these flaws. Our frailties are part and parcel of being human and are no reason not to have self-love. If you want to improve your relationship with food, you have to make a choice. Yes, I believe self-love is just that. You decide either you’re going to love yourself or not. If not, then you continue to do yourself harm with food and otherwise and are caught in a negative loop: not loving yourself, you treat yourself poorly which reinforces your bad feelings, etc.

Loving yourself colors everything, including how you eat and care for your body and triggers a positive process. Starting from the premise of self-love, you do good by you and feel more lovable which supports treating yourself better, etc. Denying yourself self-love will keep you stuck in dysregulated eating. Why not love yourself, starting now?