As a bridesmaid in several weddings and as a dietitian who counsels clients pre-nuptials, I’ve heard from brides that they feel tremendous pressure to be at their most thin and beautiful on their special day. When it came to my own engagement, even I noticed a burgeoning anxiety.
Try to do a search for cake toppers or wedding photographers and you’ll be bombarded with articles for wedding diets and bridal exercise regimens, many of them with countdowns of a year or longer. I was disturbed to find that as soon as I changed my Facebook status to “Engaged,” the weight-loss ads started popping up on my page. Wanting to be a fit and healthy bride is one thing; the expectation that you should completely transform your body in preparation for the “big day” is another.
Feeling similar stress about looking his best, my fiance decided to start a low-carb diet. He asked for my support, emotionally and logistically, by keeping temptations out of our kitchen. We don’t keep any heavily processed foods or junk foods in the house as it is, so he was essentially asking me not to eat any carb-rich foods in front of him.
Because I eat a mostly plant-based diet, my staple foods are higher-carb choices such as fruit, beans, lentils and chickpeas, whole-grain bread, oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes. I took this request as a challenge to my own belief systems, but not necessarily an unhealthy one. I do believe that each person has their own ideal nutrition plan based on their genetics and lifestyle. Some people feel energized and get desirable results by limiting carbs for a time.
I’ve never been able to be low-carb for more than a couple of days without feeling weak and nauseated and getting migraines. But seeing my fiance so committed to a goal inspired me. I told myself we’d be stronger together; I could try anything for a couple of weeks. Plus, it would be a good nutrition experiment for me to write about and share with clients. I have to admit, my more overpowering motivation was the hope that I might slim down a bit. The idea of quick and dramatic results was incredibly alluring.
The first few days were hell. I was exhausted and miserable. I spent hours researching fun and creative ways to make meat, chicken, fish or eggs and non-starchy vegetables served with fat seem interesting. After four days I essentially lost all interest in food and was angry at everyone. I silently suffered my way through a weekend girls’ trip to a foodie city and a food-focused work trip living on salads and chicken. This from someone whose favorite part of travel is sampling the local fare and going on food adventures and tours.
After a couple of weeks I was down six pounds, but I was down, period. Not to mention all of the supplements I had to take to make up for the inadequacies in my diet, a sure sign that it’s not healthy nor sustainable.
I managed to stay on the diet for three weeks. The combination of the negative effects on my mental health and work (such as a foggy brain, listless attitude, bleak outlook and lack of productivity) with medical issues that scared me (such as aching joints, week-long headaches, feeling winded on short runs and constipation despite taking fiber supplements twice a day) told me it was quitting time. I had a heart-to-heart with my fiance and told him I was throwing in the towel.
When I told him the extent of what I was going through, my fiance was adamant that this diet was not for me. Even though I had known that and strongly believe that, I was relieved to hear him say it. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the man with whom I’m choosing to share my life. Part of me worried he’d feel like I was abandoning our dieting team of two.
I’m not proud to say that I spent the following three weeks eating everything I’d fantasized about while on that diet, and in amounts I knew would undo any of the weight loss I’d earned. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: I knew better. I wasn’t surprised that my body and mind reacted to dieting by wanting to eat everything in sight. I tell my clients all the time, “Make certain foods off limits and you’ll only want them more.” I knew my body was retaliating against deprivation, and despite some guilt, I let it have what it wanted. Then I was ready to reevaluate my wedding nutrition and exercise plan.
I can reflect back and say I’m grateful to have gone through my mini diet experiment. I’ve reaffirmed to myself that I’ve been speaking the truth all along. Dieting is an abusive relationship that we all need to end once and for all. It makes us feel horrible about ourselves. It makes us weird about food when food is one of life’s pleasures.
There are many different ways to lose weight, but experience has shown me time and time again that chasing quick results means plenty of weight regain later on. Not to mention the chipping away at your self esteem that happens each time a crash diet doesn’t deliver on its promises. We also know that losing and regaining weight frequently can be tough on your heart. How ironic that weddings, the official ceremony of love, should be inspiring us to do anything that might hurt our hearts. On every level that’s just wrong.
I still have several months left until my wedding day, and I’ve accepted that I won’t be undergoing an Instagram-worthy transformation. Like any bride, I want to be at my most beautiful, and to me, that means being healthy. Weddings are stressful enough; I don’t need to be undereating on top of everything else. Besides, that won’t exactly give me that glow I’m after.
My plan is to prepare healthy meals every Sunday that include beans and chickpeas, chicken and fish, whole grains and rainbow colors of vegetables, with healthy fats from extra-virgin olive oil and avocado. I want my hair and skin to be at their best, after all. Every couple of weeks I’ll have a meal that doesn’t fit that pattern but that I really want — and enjoy every bite.
I’m going to have fruit and a small handful of nuts any time I’m hungry between meals, and treat myself to dark chocolate or nice cream (essentially frozen bananas turned into ice cream in the food processor) when I’m wanting something sweet.
My exercise routine will be running three days a week and lifting weights twice a week. I’ll let myself rest when I need it and throw in some yoga for those days I need a little more me-time.
Oh, and there will be champagne, of course. Because this is a time to celebrate. I don’t know how I let myself forget that.