Did you used to count the valentines in your crepe paper-festooned shoebox in school? Some people consider The Day of the Cupid to be a score-keeping day. Is it true love? Jewelry or flowers -- what have I "earned" this year? Is only Mom going to send me a valentine?
What if -- instead -- you kicked off a campaign today to look better and feel better about yourself by the time Big Red rolls around?
In his book, Three Steps to Happiness!Healing Through Joy, internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, says happiness is a natural state of being -- that the body and brain want to be joyful, appreciative, and magnetic. As the Day of Love approaches:
- "Be honest with your feelings," Teitelbaum says. "Guys, especially, bury their feelings. Express them."
- Make life a no-fault system. "Don't blame yourself or anyone else," he says. "Yes, the choices you made had consequences. If you don't like the consequences, make new choices, but don't blame others or feel guilty."
- Keep your attention on what feels good. Ninety-nine percent of the world around you is good or beautiful.
- Live in the now, or maybe a few days from "now." As the poet Colette once said, "What a wonderful life I've had. I only wish I had realized it sooner."
Make a Few Eating Changes
Obviously, there is no time to lose that 50 pounds before this Valentine's Day, but at a pound a week, you could be slipping into a size 8 this time next year. All for the love of yourself -- not for the love of another! To lose a pound a week, you need to eat 500 calories less each day than you are burning.
It's easy to "take five" off a day's intake:
- Don't nibble while cooking. Figure every tablespoon of anything halfway decent you're cooking is a hundred calories. Did you know that caterers figure 12 bites per person for a party? Twelve bites while cooking constitutes a whole buffet graze!
- Never take seconds. Hard habit to break. But if you can hold out 15 minutes, the desire for more eases.
- Fill up on veggies, even if you add a dab of olive oil or even butter. The leafier and greener the better. Or fruit -- sometimes it's underrated or even disdained by carb haters, but it's low cal and filling. Eat several pieces a day.
As for what you can do now, today, beauty expert Sharon Haver advises to cut out salt for a few days before Valentine's Day. "You will lose a couple of pounds, your dress will fall better, and your shoes will fit better."
Put Your Best Face Forward
Most women have a routine of cleansing and moisturizing. Many also exfoliate. But for a quick lift, Audrey Kunin, MD, an assistant clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan., recommends a handheld microdermabrasion device and crystal cream -- items you can find in a drugstore or makeup store. "I use one myself," she says, cautioning that you must follow instructions and use it only for the prescribed few minutes.
Kunin also recommends a diamond dust callus remover to pretty up your feet for the dance floor. But diabetics should avoid this and should have their podiatrist do their foot care.
Professionally applied makeup, in a salon, is also a treat on the night-of. "Dust some metallic glitter on your shoulders," Kunin says, cautioning that some might get an itchy rash and to test first.
What about a peel? Remember that scene in Sex and the City when a peel gone bad sends Samantha under a black veil? "Deep glycolic peels should be done a month in advance," Kunin says. "You might be able to do a buffered glycolic a day or two before." (Botox also should be done no sooner than two weeks before you are going to a special function, she says.) You could probably get your lips puffed with cadaver collagen (if that isn't 'nuff said there) a day before -- or your nasal labial folds (Botox is not for below the nose anyway).
The afternoon of Feb. 14th, if your face is not too tortured at this point, you might try a mask. Haver also recommends a body scrub -- toss some kosher salt or oatmeal into a handful of liquid soap. For your face, stirred-up egg whites, applied and allowed to tighten, smooth skin before makeup. Teabags for the eye lids also reduce puffiness and make eyes sparkle as if you had a three-hour nap.
If your hair looks dry, apply a little shea butter to the ends, then rinse, Haver advises. Be sparing, the stuff is very oily.
Cover that gray, advises Victoria Moran, author of Fit From Within. "Some women look fabulous with silver hair," she says. "You'll know if you're one because you'll get compliments on it all the time. If not, find a fabulous colorist."
Moran also recommends getting a brow arch professionally done. "It's almost like a surgical eye lift," she says.
Teeth, too, can be a quick fix. Try whitening strips or gel for a week beforehand to banish a shade or two of yellowing.
No time for a facelift? How about gently pulling back some strands of hair from around your face and braiding them. "This can smooth a few millimeters of sag," Kunin says. "That's all you need." Many celebrities do this, she says.
Before you debut that new thong or lacy bra, try your outfit on over it. "Sometimes," Haver says with a laugh, "sexy lingerie does not work under clothes."
Have Great Sex
If you do have someone special you can celebrate the Day of Love the right way with a little foresight.
- You will feel sexier if you're firm. Walk, lift weights, do some kind of exercise each day.
- If you are in menopause and are having problems with vaginal dryness but don't want to take estrogen, buy a personal lubricant and use it liberally.
- Eat plenty of zinc -- that means oysters or other shellfish, pecans, or even pumpkin seeds.
- Smoking is out. It impedes blood flow.
- Reduce stress and fantasize instead. And don't keep it a secret -- share your notions with your spouse. He or she may be intrigued or may not. You will never know until you lean over and whisper.
- On Valentine's Day, get a babysitter, says Haver, who has a 4-year-old. Watch the wine and heavy sauces at dinner so as not to get drowsy.
- Laugh together -- it can lead to a rush of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals and then to other good things.
Why, before you know it, you may be happy, optimistic, healthier, more beautiful, and possessed of a secret smile of satisfaction. Think of it as your valentine to yourself.
Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.