By Shannon Gierl
I got married two weeks ago (I can't believe it's been that long already!) and it was, like they say, the Best. Day. Ever. I honestly loved every minute of it. The dancing, the picture sessions, sitting with my best girlfriends sipping wine and laughing before the ceremony, seeing our reception barn all lit up with lights and the smiling faces of our closest family and friends. Ahhh, I'm getting a bit teary eyed again even thinking about it! It was truly a magical night. It's a day I will always look back on, filled with sweet memories.
But the past year leading up to that perfect day was filled with some, um, surprises. I hadn't spent a lot of time up until I got engaged thinking about weddings or what I wanted my wedding to be like. I only really wanted two things: everyone to have fun, and for my sweet grandma to see me walk down the aisle. I got both of these things in the end, but let me tell you: they did not come without a whole lotta extra not-so-fun stuff I didn't bargain for.
Great Expectations of a Bride-to-Be
There are so many expectations that surround a wedding in this day in age: built on years and years of tradition, a long list of proper etiquette, should-dos and should-not-dos. One of these engrained expectations in Western weddings is that the bride should be at her most beautiful on her wedding day. The skinniest and most radiant she's ever been. A perfect vision in white, to be forever captured in photographs and over-priced videography.
Blah. What a shitty expectation to place on a bride! She's already overwhelmed with trying to create the perfect day and perfect party for everyone to enjoy, but then on top of that, she's expected to diet, juice-fast, and exercise like a maniac in the months leading up to her wedding. No wonder the term "bridezilla" came about!
I first experienced a taste of this piece of wedding tradition over a year before my wedding date. An acquaintance had just learned of my engagement, and in what (I expect) was trying to make friendly conversation, she asked if I had "started dieting yet?" I didn't really know how to answer that question because it assumed two things: one, that I needed to diet and two, that I should be dieting for the entire year leading up to my wedding. Um, whaa?!
I guess I shouldn't have been that shocked by my friend's question. More than 70% of brides want to lose weight for their big day, according to a study by Cornell University. And nearly half the brides in that study were willing to adopt extreme measures like taking pills, skipping meals, or doing liquid diets to lose the weight. Those percentages are substantially higher than in the general female population of the same age (those that are already married or single).
Now I'm not going to say that I don't get it. Because I do. I totally get it. Women have been watching their figures for generations. The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar gold mine. And with the advent of Facebook, Instagram, and all other social media methods of plastering photos everywhere at all times, there's an added pressure to look good on your wedding day. Because not only will your close friends, family, and maybe your children one day in pictures see you on that day - but so will your old high school/college frenemies (who didn't get an invite), your ex-boyfriends, and everyone else for that matter.
Why I Just Couldn't Get Behind the Bridal Diet Hype
I'm not going to say that I'm entirely different from the other crazy bridezillas out there. I wanted to look good on my wedding day, for sure. Like, really good. But (here's the big BUT) for many reasons, I don't believe in crash dieting. Being a Holistic Health Coach, it is against all things I stand for. I preach slow, gradual and sustainable lifestyle change to my clients. I have a method for helping them actually achieve that. And extremes just don't fit into a healthy lifestyle, for anyone (even bridezillas).
One reason that I didn't really "diet" before the big day was because I wasn't willing to compromise everything else going on in my life, nor alienate my husband-to-be. I know how I am when I'm hungry. Saying I'm unpleasant can be a gross understatement. (More power to you all who can fast for days on end and still operate like human beings - I am not one of them). And I teach hot yoga. Heaven forbid I pass out mid-tree pose in front of a class full of students. Oh, and I was planning a huge party with the help of my selfless mother, and it was a BIG job for two ladies even on a full stomach. I don't want to know what would have happened if we were both starving (National-Geographic-like images of large female wild catfights are popping up in my head right now).
Another reason I would tell future brides-to-be to shy away from drastic dieting measures is that many of them are actually happy with their weight before they get engaged. If you were happy with your weight then, chances are you'll be happy with being that same weight on your big day when you look back in pictures. Because it's all downhill after you pop out that first kid, ladies. (Kidding. I have no idea about popping out babies. Just working on the marriage thing now). But really, why fix what isn't broken?
Say No To Extremes, Say Hell Yes to This
'Oh, that's nice and convenient', you're thinking. Sure, easy for the less-round ladies to just not diet. So yes, the truth is many brides may have been wanting to lose weight for years. And some may need to, for their future health and happiness. If getting married is that kick-in-the-bigger-booty they need, then I say AWESOME. Capitalize on that. But not with extreme dieting, pills, and liquid fasts.
Choose one habit at a time (no, not two weeks before the wedding; for this you will actually need to start a little farther out). Drink more water first. Then start a basic exercise regimen, or up your current one. Get rid of that one food in your house you can't resist. Small, methodological steps that can be sustained not just through your wedding day, but for your lifetime. Because there will always be an occasion after your marriage you want to look good for. The honeymoon. Future friends' weddings. Your future daughter's wedding. Wouldn't it be nice to already be there?
Don't treat your wedding day like the apocalypse. It will come and go, like every other day (actually way, way too quickly). What you're left with is still you. And a new partner in life, someone you hopefully want to be your best for and look your best for every day.
The Truth of What I Did Do To Look My Best on My Wedding Day
So I've told you a lot about what I didn't do leading up to my wedding, and why I recommend future brides (and really anybody!) avoid these social pressures and extreme methods. But I haven't told you what I did do. I won't say I did nothing at all to get radiant for my big day, because I'd be lying.
What I did do was fairly simple. For one, I cut back on alcoholic beverages in the month before my wedding. I'm not even saying I didn't drink - I did. But just a glass of wine one night or so a week. This cut back on extra calories I didn't need, and also kept me on my game so I didn't give in to 20oz servings of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt (which I have been known to do). But I didn't avoid all desserts! I just tried most nights to make sure they were small and satisfying - mostly dark chocolate.
And finally, I saw the documentary "Fed UP" about a month before my wedding. It was a huge wake-up call that made me pay more attention to any sugar I was consuming. My diet is definitely "low-sugar" compared to the Standard American Diet, but I was actually still over the daily recommended levels suggested by the World Health Organization (6 teaspoons a day for women). I started looking at the grams of sugar in any packaged foods I was buying, including sauces and gluten-free breads. I also changed what I ate for breakfast most days as a result.
These were small sacrifices that I made, and I plan to sustain especially the lower-sugar path now that the wedding hoopla has died down. They were choices I could live with, and still thrive in my day-to-day routine. I'm not perfect, but so far I like the wedding day pictures the photographers have sent my way - and really the only thing I see is my smile.
Are you a bride? Were you a bride? I want to hear your experience!! Leave a comment below and tell me how you feel or felt about the expectations around your wedding day!