The sun is beginning to emerge, the weather has warmed (a bit) and we are finally allowed the wisp of hope for spring and summer. Yes, bathing suit weather may actually soon be upon us.

This means that millions of women (and men too, despite my gender tilted language) are going to slough off winter layers, stand in front of the mirror—and be horrified. The airbrushed and photo-shopped bodies they’ve seen in magazines all winter will look nothing like their own. Panic will ensue and for many, the promise of summer will mean extreme dieting, fasting, cleansing and vomiting.

And many will ask “What’s so bad about that?
It’s temporary, the weight will come off. It’s just a phase. ”

Except for many, it won’t be.

“Just” a week of dieting, fasting and purging is always the way a severe eating disorder starts. There is never a guarantee regarding who will be okay and who won’t. It’s just too easy to do. Didn’t every two-pack-a-day smoker start with just one cigarette?

Every culture has its toxin. There’s cocaine in South America (piles of it as appetizers, I remember. I really saw that). There’s plenty of marijuana in Mexico, alcohol abuse in Indian tribal communities, cigarettes in France, food in America. It’s hard to be a human being.  We crave time out.

So is bulimia the new cigarette smoking? And if so, how do we remind our teens and our patients, that vomiting not that cool, just as dangerous (maybe more) and won’t even achieve the effects that someone wants (most people suffering from bulimia are of normal weight or above. Check the charts. Unfortunately no one wants to be of normal weight anymore. That is surely not an incentive to binge and throw up).

We like to turn to substances and the outside world to fix our weight, to fix our feelings and to fix our soul. The problem is that these solutions always work—for a minute. Then feelings, hungers, eating and distress inevitably come back. And the need to start eating, purging and dieting starts all over again. Talk to anyone caught in this battle—it’s torture.

So when the warm weather sends you into a swirl of body-obsessed panic, catch your breath. Dare to take a walk to the river and when the body torture thoughts come up, go inside, just for one moment. The sun, the warmth, the promise of spring holds the hope of good times and bared bodies. But what will you look like inside of yourself? What will give your life meaning this summer? What will your soul look like? If the sun and warmth can get you outside so that you have a moment to reflect and go inside, it will be one moment more that your body, the culture and the need to be skinny and cool are not the only things that matter. Take ten minutes away from the mirror. Take a walk outside. And take a big, long breath. Summer is about to begin.

Every year whenever March comes around, I look at my calendar to see when Passover will be that year. I have to admit that Passover is my favorite holiday because the focus of the celebration is on freedom, renewal and community. I particularly like the Seder when family and friends, young and old, come together to tell the story of Passover. This is the story of how the Israelites liberated themselves from bondage; it is the story of the struggle they went through before they reached their destination to live in freedom.

For anyone with an eating disorder, sitting at a holiday table this month, be it in celebration of Passover or Easter can, in and of itself, feel like slavery. The meals are endless, the food overflowing and the way to one’s own freedom seems difficult to contemplate. However, the story of Passover reminds us that courage is important and that fierce struggle can result in freedom. This is a story worth listening hard to.

Passover and Easter are also about renewal and rebirth. Both highlight the beginning of spring and the beginning of a new life. They focus on one’s ability to clean house and to dress up. New clothes– hats included!- are part of the holidays and one struts about looking forward to new commencements and a change in life. With renewal comes hope and excitement of the possibility of change.

Passover and Easter focus on getting together with friends and family. The holidays are about a sense of belonging and seeking out people to be with and celebrate. They are about being with people one knows and loves but they are also about making new friendships and connections. It is easy to be at a dinner table, deep in one’s thoughts and worries, with a focus on food blinding the night. No matter where you are these holidays, look up, slowly make your way around the table and think for a moment about each person who is there. Take another moment and remember the meaning of the celebration itself.

For all of us, there are moments when it can take some courage to sit through a family meal. Easter and Passover are holidays dedicated to courage, hope and renewal. Let them be, at least for a moment, the gift, not the struggle, they are meant to be.

Is there any holiday filled with more “forced-march” trepidation than Valentine’s Day? I’ve had my share of fun Valentine’s Days—but I’ve also had horrified moments of expectations not met. And i’ve certainly had “successful” Valentine’s Days that unfortunately meant sitting in a restaurant in a line of 10 couples, table to table, guys on one side, girls on the other, all playing out the protocol of what romance should look like. It all felt pretty silly and almost embarrassing at the time.So yes, there is the forced march into intimacy –but also, what about all those chocolates? if you don’t get them, that’s supposed to be a sad statement in our culture (really? maybe just bad timing. If Valentine’s Day were a month away, it could be a different story). And what if you do get those chocolates? Now what? How many do you have to eat to prove you’ve celebrated successfully?

This Valentine’s Day, how about celebrating in a new way? Can you have one moment of connection with someone you love? and as far as i’m concerned, that doesn’t have to be a cupid-arrowed partner. What about your kids? a friend? What (horror on Valentine’s Day) about yourself?

This is a holiday about connection and intimacy that has gone awry. It’s a holiday too that often has people focusing on what they DON’T have—not what they do.

So why not use this day to have one intimate connected moment with anyone, including yourself. Focus for that moment on what you DO have, not what you don’t. And in terms of those chocolates—if you are going to have them, stay present, mindful—Don’t have one unless you are ready to taste what you are eating and actually enjoy it.

This doesn’t have to be a holiday where you are robotically ushered into a pro-forma set up in a restaurant, a holiday where you are pressured to be and act close. It doesn’t have to be a wild run of a day with chocolate wrappers strewn throughout. Make it a true holiday—a day to pay attention to who is important to you, yourself included. Otherwise, you too will run the risk of being a Hallmark card run amok.

Celebrate—in a fashion that feels true to yourself and your hungers for closeness, self acceptance—and even for those chocolates.

(And, as our support group leader Jamie notes—It’s nice to give and receive love on any given day. So perhaps if we practice celebrating love (for ourselves, our family, our friends) on a more regular basis, this day might hold less of a punctuated, personal meaning? Thanks Jamie—I couldn’t agree more!)