Congratulations, you’re engaged! Everyone wants to hear about the proposal, see the ring, and ask what you are planning to do to make it a ‘picture perfect’ day – including your body. Nevermind that your here-and-now body was already accepted and loved by your soon to be partner for life. Everyone from your family to the photographer, wedding boutique, and florist are all eager to discuss weight loss and ‘looking your best’ that day. Talk about an enormous amount of pressure and a trend that is causing a lot of harm for modern brides and grooms (and wedding parties, families, and guests).
The Pressure to Diet
The US wedding industry continues to grow from an annual worth of $53.4 billion dollars in 2012 to an estimated $72 billion in 2018. With increasing prices and value put on every detail of the big day, people are feeling the pressure to fit into our culture’s unrealistic expectations of thinness, fitness, and beauty. Social media plays a role in this desire to look ‘perfect’ as we want to share these important life events with 1000s of our closest friends and strangers. It’s natural to experience social comparison on these apps which can increase the stress of capturing the most instagram-worthy moments of your wedding.
There are increasing stories of brides making pacts with their bridal party to lose weight together, boutiques suggesting the couple purchase their outfits in smaller sizes to encourage weight loss, families constantly talking about dieting leading up to the event, dress and alterations businesses requiring brides and grooms to sign contracts promising they won’t gain weight, and the list goes on. People end up focusing so much on how they are going to look at the wedding that they lose sight of the purpose of the event or forget to prepare for what happens after they say “I do”.
The Costs of Dieting
During some of the most important moments in our lives, the focus can often be on how our bodies look whether it’s at graduation, pregnancy, or weddings. These are also times when eating disorders tend to emerge. Research shows 1 in 3 people who go on a diet will develop what’s considered pathological dieting, and of that number, 1 in 4 will develop an eating disorder. Whether someone is trying to lose weight for a big event or not, the risks of dieting can be staggering. Dieting is not recommended for those in recovery of an eating disorder due to high risk of relapse. Following a diet for intentional weight loss can affect individuals in a variety of ways:
Social – Our relationship with food and body tends to mirror our relationship with other parts of our lives. When we begin to restrict the type or amount of food we eat, we tend to restrict ourselves in other areas. Some become so rigid with their diet they either begin to turn down invitations to social events or they bring their own diet-approved food with them. Many end up so fixated on what they wish they could eat they are barely present in their conversation and connection with others. It’s also common to experience binge-eating episodes after a period of food restriction. These social events can turn into what feels like out of control eating. This is our body’s natural survival instinct kicking in to protect itself from famine, even when self-induced.
Mental & Emotional – We have another survival mechanism that results in thinking about food constantly if we aren’t eating enough. When someone goes on a diet it’s understandable why they find themselves often thinking about what they’re going to eat, what they wish they could have, looking up recipes, and scrolling through pictures of food. Our minds begin to focus so much on food, weight, and our body, that we may neglect other areas of our life. It’s also common to struggle with irritability, body dissatisfaction, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and mood swings when we aren’t adequately nourished. Many are surprised to find that their body image did not improve with weight loss and a large number of people find that their body image may even become worse.
Time – The amount of time it takes to research specific diets, shop for diet-approved foods, prepare the meals, measure out portions, track food intake in an app, and stick to the diet can be staggering. Many find themselves increasingly reading diet articles, looking up menus ahead of time, following weight-loss accounts on social media, talking about diets in regular conversations, excessive exercise programs, or engaging in diet focused meetings to stay “on track”. The time this takes up can cut into other important matters in your life including quality time spent with your soon-to-be spouse.
Financial – Depending on the diet, the financial cost can begin to add up to thousands of dollars. Some decide to purchase new gym memberships, meal delivery services, personal trainers, supplements, and other costly professional services capitalizing on the wedding industry. Many find that the changes to their body isn’t “enough” and may resort to more extremes, cosmetic procedures, and surgeries.
Preparing For Your Wedding Without Dieting
Body Image – We can’t control the majority of what comes to our mind. We are going to have negative thoughts about our bodies from time to time and we don’t have to take them as facts or orders. When negative body image occurs, ask yourself if this thought is helpful. If it isn’t, what would be a more helpful thought? Consider what you would say to a best friend struggling with this. Imagine your future self who has accepted their body, what can you do or say to yourself now that will get you closer to this? You don’t have to change your body to be worthy of love or to enjoy your wedding. You are enough right now as you are.
Pictures – There are going to be hundreds, if not thousands of photos taken. There will be pictures you don’t like and there will be ones that capture your love and happiness just right. Start to work on accepting this now. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like it or want it, it means you are accepting the reality that not every picture is going to be your favorite and it doesn’t mean anything bad about you. But before you delete any photos, wait a year. When you look back on them you might see them with a different perspective and change your mind.
Mindfulness – Otherwise known as staying present with awareness, curiosity, and open-mindedness. The more you can stay in the moment and soak up each memory as it happens, the more enjoyable the day will be. Many say they were so busy going to the next part of the event or getting the right pictures, that their wedding went by in a flash. Pause, notice what is around you, and breathe in this moment. Begin practicing now so it comes naturally at the wedding.
Support – It can be important to let your friends and family know you aren’t going to diet for your wedding and you would like their support. If diet talk comes up feel free to change the subject or remind them this isn’t helpful and you’re working on accepting your body as it is. Not everyone feels comfortable starting these conversations or have people in their lives that would be open to this. It can be important to find community and connection with those who understand. There are many people on social media who promote body acceptance, body positivity, and body liberation who would be supportive.
If you have been thinking about going to therapy, it can be a sign that it’s a good time to go. Even positive events in our lives can add unexpected stress. Planning a wedding and preparing for marriage can be distressing and sometimes we turn to dieting and other eating behaviors to cope. We are social beings and need each other to heal. Therapy can be a great place to process these thoughts, emotions, and stressors.
In the end, the memories from this day will outweigh the inevitable mistakes, wedding mishaps, and not so great pictures. You’re going to remember the love you felt and the joy you had with the people who matter most to you. You do not need to change your body to get married. You are lovable, you are worthy, and you are enough as you are.
Intuitive Eating – By Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Health At Every Size – By Linda Bacon
Anti Diet – By Christy Harrison
Laura Thomas Podcast – Bridal Tips w/Harri Rose
The Guardian – My Wedding was Perfect
HuffPost – To The Bride Who Thinks That She Needs To Lose Weight Before Her Wedding
Written by Molly Bahr, LMHC – 2020