Cultivating Self-Love in Eating Disorder Recovery 

By Alexa Rivera

The Importance of Self-Love 

Self-love is having regard for our own well-being and contentment. Self-love is often expressed through the ability to prioritize yourself, nurture yourself, treat yourself with respect and acknowledge your intrinsic worth. Self-love can impact thoughts, behaviors and decisions positively or negatively.  

The relationship you cultivate with yourself is the foundation for all other relationships in your life. The absence of self-love can make one prone to perfectionism, self-criticism, self-loathing or people pleasing. In turn, it can make it difficult to form healthy relationships with others or understand one’s worth in a relationship. Many individuals with eating disorders suffer from low self-love, which can make treatment and recovery more difficult. 

The Difference Between Self-Love, Body Image and Self Esteem 

There are a lot of terms that describe the relationship you have with yourself, but what do they all mean? 

Self-Love and Body Image 

Unlike body image, self-love encompasses the entire self. Body image is what you see in the mirror or picture in your mind, while self-love encompasses acceptance of the entire self, not just what’s seen in the mirror.  

While self-love and body image aren’t the same, they can be interconnected. Negative body image can degrade self-love, and vice versa. It’s common for people to place high emphasis on the way they look or are perceived by others, and this can impact the ability to express self-love, accept yourself as you are or acknowledge your worth. 

However, this isn’t always the case. Some people have low self-love and a positive body image, while others may have high self-love and a negative body image. 

Self-Love and Self-Esteem 

Self-love and self-esteem might seem like they mean the same thing, but the main difference is at the source. Self-love is internal. It comes from within, based on an intrinsic sense of worth and acceptance. On the other hand, self-esteem involves external elements, like evaluating one's worth based on achievements, outside perception and feedback from others. 

Self-Love in Action 

Since self-love is an abstract concept, it can be difficult to think of how to cultivate it in your daily life. Here are five ways to practice self-love. 

Prioritize Your Health and Wellbeing 

Your physical health and mental health are connected. Caring for your body and cultivating balanced health habits can improve your wellbeing. This includes eating a well-rounded diet, incorporating movement, getting adequate sleep, managing physical and psychiatric illness, taking proactive health measures and reducing stress. For some, prioritizing health and wellbeing might mean re-entering eating disorder treatment. Prioritizing your health and wellbeing is a way to show that you deserve nurturing and a better quality of life.  

Set Boundaries 

Boundaries are an important element of self-love. Expressing self-love can mean exerting your autonomy and showing that you deserve respect. Setting boundaries prioritizes your values and defines how you’re treated and spoken to. Without boundaries, you're unable to separate yourself from others, which can make you prone to people pleasing, doing things you’re uncomfortable with or losing your own voice.  

Some examples of boundaries include: 

  • Dictating who, how and when people can touch you 
  • Determining what you feel comfortable sharing with others 
  • Deciding what topics you won’t engage with 
  • Choosing what types of activities fill your time 

Practice Self-Compassion 

Self-compassion is the ability to help and accept yourself when faced with difficulty, inadequacy or failure. Being able to exhibit self-compassion is the acknowledgement that you deserve to make mistakes, learn, make changes and forgive yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to love yourself. No one is perfect, and in the same way you would help and console a friend during a difficult time, you also deserve that same compassion from yourself. Difficulty and failure are a part of the shared human experience; they're a part of how you’re able to grow and learn. 

Build a Support System 

Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Rid yourself of relationships that are abusive, toxic or one-sided. You deserve relationships where you are treated with love, kindness and respect. You want to fortify yourself by embracing people who want to uplift you, help you become your best self and support your recovery. A diverse set of relationships through (chosen) family, friends, community and romantic partners can provide you with different types of support, insight and understanding you can’t have just by yourself. 

Try Positive Affirmations 

Affirmations are a tool many people use to reinforce feelings of self-love. They can be a daily ritual as you start your day or saved for moments when you’re struggling. Here are a few examples of positive affirmations to try: 

  • Today I will be committed to personal growth. 
  • I am enough. 
  • I deserve contentment, joy and peace. 
  • I have a lot to offer the world. 
  • I'm not broken, I'm human. 



ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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