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Vowing to wow on your big day? BEFORE you say ‘I do’ to an extreme bridal body plan, read this…
he countdown is on. You’ve spent months scouting venues, dithering over wedding favours, researching photographers and fretting about DJs. But there’s also a big chance you’ve embarked on Project Bridal Body. Yep, losing weight for the wedding seems to have become as traditional as tossing the bouquet. In fact, a study found that 45% of women shed a stone or more for their big day, with one in 10 shifting up to a whopping four stone.
While anything that inspires you to adopt a sensible approach to health and fitness as a permanent lifestyle change is awesome, there can be a more sinister side to the great gown slim-down. Some brides-to-be may be tempted to take up hardcore low-calorie diets, cleanses and detoxes, eliminate food groups or embark on ultra-punishing fitness regimes. Or all of the above. A few years ago in the US, there was a horrifying trend that involved dispensing with food altogether and having nasal feeding tubes inserted in a bid to drop those pounds even faster.
But an extreme bridal diet could mean the best day of your life turns into a nightmare: excessive and rapid weight loss may cause malnutrition, which can result in low mood or depression, poor concentration and feeling weak and tired all the time. How can you enjoy your wedding if you barely have the energy to walk down the aisle?
Ali Pearson, 33, an early years practitioner from London, found herself derailed by trying to live up to other people’s expectations. ‘I had always been confident about my size-10 body, and had an “I’d never do that” mentality towards fad diets,’ she explains. ‘But once I’d set the date, adopting a super-strict eating plan to squeeze into the smallest dress possible seemed like something all brides do.’
In the three months leading up to her wedding, Ali fasted, juiced and went low carb, low sugar, low everything – and lost 20lbs. ‘On my wedding day, the drastic and rapid weight loss made me look and feel awful,’ she says. ‘I was tired, spotty, irritable and frazzled. Ironically, I felt less body confident, because I’d become so preoccupied with my perceived flaws.’
In my wedding photos I see someone who looks tired, gaunt and tense – the opposite of what I wanted
This story resonates with Louise Hupe, 29, a project manager from West Sussex, who was a size 12-14 when she got stuck in the bridal compare-and-despair trap. She dropped 16lbs, going to a small size 10. ‘During the run-up, no one asked me about my plans for happily ever after,’ she recalls. ‘Instead, I fielded endless questions about how I was going to ensure I looked my best. At dress fittings, sales assistants referenced the fact that my dress would probably need to be taken in before the wedding because I’d lose weight “as all brides do” – even though I’d never said I was going to. As a result of everyone’s expectations, I started tracking my calorie input and output and doing daily 6am fitness boot camps. When I leaf through my wedding photos, I see someone who looks tired, gaunt and tense – the very opposite of what I wanted to achieve.’
Unfortunately, these women certainly aren’t the only brides-to-be who’ve indulged in OTT weight control. Dr Joanna Silver, a chartered psychologist and lead eating-disorder therapist at London’s Nightingale Hospital (nightingalehospital.co.uk), has seen the mental and physical toll it can take. ‘The pressure to lose weight can make people more anxious about food and their bodies, and may lead to restrictive habits,’ she says. ‘It can also prevent you from enjoying food and feeling your best on your big day.’
So how to get the bridal balance right? Well, if you truly want to lose weight for you, remind yourself that crash diets and restrictive meal plans are unhealthy – and often ineffective in the long term. In fact, one study found that women who were told to drop pounds pre-wedding gained significantly more weight after the nuptials, compared with participants who hadn’t been put under pressure.
But, needless to say, the ultimate bridal accessory is confidence – a dress has nothing to do with that megawatt grin from within. ‘Positive self-talk can stop you getting sucked into looks-based negativity,’ explains psychologist Emma Kenny**. ‘Think about the amazing things your body will do on your wedding day – how your strong arms will allow you to hug all your guests, how your feet will help you nail that first dance, how your smile will radiate your joy. This can help you to focus on the moments you’ll remember and cherish, and not just worry about how things look.’ And if other people’s comments are driving you to distraction (or crash diet), try Emma’s reframing technique. ‘Turn it around by thinking about why this person said the things they did,’ she says. ‘Chances are, they were trying to project their own insecurities on to you – don’t let them!’
In his book Hardwiring Happiness (Harmony), neuropsychologist Dr Rick Hanson explains that our brains are wired to focus on negative information. This means that we tend to lock on to other people’s annoying comments and obsess over them. But he has a simple tip to help stop this habit in its tracks: ‘When something positive happens (it could be as small as finally sending out all those invitations), focus on the experience of it for around six seconds, or longer,’ he explains. ‘Do this daily, five or six times a day, and your brain won’t grab on to negative comments so easily.’
The ultimate bridal accessory is confidence – a dress has nothing to do with that megawatt grin from within
It also goes without saying that you should only go shopping for your dress with friends or family members who are positive. ‘Confidence can be a by-product of security,’ explains Emma. ‘Knowing you’re safe around the people you’re with has been linked to the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone.’ You can also boost your levels by spending time with your friends, hugging or having a massage. Time to schedule a spa trip with your mates.
If wedding-photo fear is still freaking you out, try retraining your brain. After all, research has found that being exposed to images of skinny bodies for around two minutes made participants see themselves as bigger than they actually were. So switch up your social media feeds and start following body-positive accounts (we love @bodiposipanda and @selfloveclubb). It’ll help to make you less critical of your own pictures.
Above all, don’t forget your fiancé and the reason he’s marrying you. ‘I was flummoxed about why my girlfriend, Louise, thought she needed to lose weight for our wedding,’ says newlywed Brian Hupe, 35. ‘When I first met Lou 12 years ago, we were at a festival. She hadn’t showered in 72 hours and was covered from head to toe in mud, yet it was love at first sight! When I proposed, she was in bed with the flu, surrounded by snotty tissues. I love her just the way she is.’
The man speaks sense. Instead of being sucked into analysing your looks, think about what really matters: committing to be with the one you love for the rest of your life, surrounded by cherished friends and family. Say ‘I do’ to this change of thinking and your wedding really can be the happiest day of your life.
Newly married psychotherapist and mind coach Jess Henley* shares her top tips
‘Don’t lose sight of the important things and freak out about stuff – such as your weight – that has no bearing on your actual wedding or marriage.’
Forget about everyone else
‘Ask yourself why you want to lose weight. Chances are, it’s because of other people, and you’re worried what they might think. But your loved ones couldn’t care less – they just want you to be happy.’
Don’t forget you’re loved
‘Remember – your fiancé loves you unconditionally. When you see yourself through the eyes of the people who love you, you get a different viewpoint.’
Think happy, not perfect
‘Give yourself permission to be imperfect, to be relaxed. Guests will pick up on your emotions, your happiness and your smile.’
Get some cheerleaders onboard
‘Worried you might lose the diet plot? Ask a couple of trusted friends to nudge you if they think you’re overdoing it. But if you’re hiding behaviour from everyone, that’s a sign you’re taking things too far.’
If you’ve become all-consumed with thoughts about your weight and shape, it’s important to seek professional help. Talk to your GP, search for an eating-disorder specialist near you at nhs.uk, or check out beateatingdisorders.org.uk for advice.
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Words Nicola Down Photography Getty Images *Henleypsychotherapy.co.uk **ekenny.co.uk