When I was planning my 2011 wedding, I felt the pressure to do all I could to look my most beautiful on my wedding day. In our culture, beautiful usually means thin. Indeed, a glance at the top three national bridal magazines published this month found an abundance of weight-loss advice, including “clever ways to shed those last few pounds,” tips for choosing a low-sugar juice cleanse and lists of “bloating” foods to avoid.
But dieting is exactly what brides shouldn’t do if they want to be happy, healthy, calm and confident on their wedding day. Sure, there are plenty of great reasons to be more mindful about your diet and exercise habits, but looking like a twig for your nuptials isn’t one of them. In addition to not working 95 percent of the time, dieting makes us poor decision-makers, depletes our willpower, darkens our mood and can be toxic for our intimate relationships.
Let’s start with the most obvious issue: Diets don’t work in the long run. Numerous studies show that those who diet are more likely to gain weight in the future than they are to lose weight and keep it off. In terms of weight loss or maintenance, we’re generally better off if we never diet in the first place.
Of course, weight gain or loss isn’t the only thing at stake when dieting. Focusing obsessively on our looks makes us dumber. Psychologists have found that the human brain can do only so much at one time, and thinking self-consciously about our looks steals brainpower from other tasks.
In my favorite study on this topic, 72 men and women were required to try on a bathing suit or a V-neck sweater in a dressing room with a full-length mirror. They were then asked to take a math test. Women wearing the bathing suit had significantly lower math scores than those wearing the sweater, presumably because they were too busy thinking about their thighs to contemplate trigonometry.
Thankfully, obsessing about weight or appearance doesn’t dull our minds permanently, but it does leave us less able to perform at our mental best. Choosing a DJ and caterer who fit your budget and drawing up a seating chart are difficult enough on a full stomach, let alone a deprived one.
In a similar vein, activities that require willpower are further brain-draining. Take, for example, an experiment in which one group of college undergraduates was given a two-digit number to remember, and a second group was given a seven-digit number. The students were told to walk down a hall, where they were presented with two snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.
The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as those who were given two digits. Willpower is finite; all it takes is a few extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.