We are not quite to wedding season yet but being an almost bride myself, I know there are likely a lot of ladies out there thinking about upcoming weddings. Whether you are planning your wedding, preparing to be a bridesmaid or simply attending a wedding, there are a lot of big feelings surrounding this event. As happy as this time is supposed to be, the pressure to look perfect can add or even top the list of stressors that come with wedding planning and attending.
I have to admit that I am one of those girls who has been thinking about my wedding for as long as I can remember. Heck, there were a handful of years I was a bride for halloween. Of all things, I chose to be a wife. It felt like a fairytale to think about this “perfect day”: the dress, the music, the long veil, the smiles and laughs. I have to blame Disney.
Bets on if I repeat this circa ‘01 outfit for my actual wedding?
Well, now fast forward to being engaged, life is great but it is certainly not a fairytale. There’s major pressure for your wedding to be the best day of your life and on top of it, your body should follow suit. Instead of a “Fairy Godmother” helping us we get unsolicited advice from diet culture. As dietitians, we see how common it is to make extreme nutrition and exercise goals approaching events like weddings, but common doesn’t mean normal, safe, or healthy. Being in the thick of wedding planning myself I know how palpable the pressure is, so I wanted to spend some time going through what diet culture is and how we can go into this wedding season without the pressure to diet and lose weight.
I like this quote from Robin Nohling, FNP, RD “Thinness does not equal beauty, marriage is not about the wedding, and a wedding is not about the size of your body.” A thousand times, yes.
Safely Finding Wedding Ideas
Let’s talk wedding planning. If you are like me you Google, “How to plan a wedding” and are given a book “Wedding Planning for Dummies” and still feel lost. I love hosting parties but when it comes to planning my wedding, it has been a bit more stressful than apps and wine. Wedding planning takes a ton of time and energy so it can be helpful to ask for advice and do some research on where to begin. Some of the most common wedding inspiration platforms are Pinterest, Tik Tok and Instagram. These apps monitor what you spend time looking at and give you more of similar content, unfortunately that can include some things you may not be looking for. For example, you may be looking at flower ideas and all of a sudden wedding weight loss tips and diets pop up. Without even intentionally looking for this it can take you by surprise and make you think, “Okay, wildflowers, baby’s breath, and also should I be trying to lose weight?” Even if you ignore the article, that question can still burn itself in your brain for the rest of your planning time.
We label information that promotes dieting and behavior change for weight loss that likely disregards a person’s health as diet culture. It is something we talk about a lot with our clients because it can be so subtle and normalized, with a high likelihood of leading to disordered eating behaviors and/or eating disorders. Check out this article from my colleagues for more on why we do not prioritize weight loss. Certified intuitive eating counselor and anti-diet dietitian, Christy Harrison MPH, RD, CEDS defines diet culture as the following.
A system of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue
- Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status
- Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others
- Oppresses people who do not match up with its supposed picture of health
Diet culture is an industry and industries make money. There was a 2008 study done out of Cornell University that interviewed 272 engaged women. They found that 70% of these women wanted to lose weight for their wedding day. I mention this study because although small, this is a large percentage of women who are unhappy with their bodies going into the supposed happiest day of their lives. I also want to point out that this study was done before we had Pinterest, Tik Tok and Instagram, plus a global pandemic where the rate of disordered eating and eating disorders climbed. For more information on eating disorder awareness I recommended reading this post written by one of my colleagues as well. As I was reading through some other dietitian’s blogs on weddings, I chuckled reading Alyssa Rumsey commenting on how stressful wedding planning can be and imagining wedding planning while hungry. I cannot imagine doing most things hungry so planning a wedding this way sounds like torture wrapped in flowers and a veil.
As dietitian’s we spend a lot of time talking about how the information we consume impacts our relationship to food, exercise and ourselves. This is without the added pressure of a wedding. When I started researching wedding inspo, I saw an overwhelming amount of information on how to prepare my body for this day. Timelines of when to start whitening your teeth, the best skin care routines, what to wear for all of the different events like the bridal shower vs engagement party, how to smile softly, the best hair extensions, when to start tanning and of course weight loss plans. I was absolutely overwhelmed and realized how distracting this process can be. Enter my “we should elope” phase. The pressure to look and feel perfect takes away from the reason you are getting married in the first place. I love weddings, I love love, I love it all. So yes, spend time checking off the boxes that feel important and enjoyable to you but give yourself the ability to pause, check in and breathe when it feels like a lot.
Something we recommend for our clients to do is a social media detox/deep clean. This can be especially important if your wedding searches have bombarded you with weight loss content. If certain accounts and posts increase your comparison, anxiety or negative thoughts and behaviors is it worth continuing to look at? Here are a few accounts to consider checking out:
Wedding Dress Shopping
It’s time for the dress. Shopping for your wedding dress can also bring up a lot of emotions and the pressure to find the perfect dress may feel daunting. It can also be a really fun way to get all of your favorite girls together and is honestly one of those moments where the wedding begins to feel real. The little girl in us gets very excited to play our fanciest game of dress up ever.
Let’s keep it as enjoyable as possible with some of the following tips:
- Bring people that you know will lift you up, have an honest opinion, and make it fun. We have all seen those “Say Yes To The Dress” episodes where families disagree. Maybe plan a fun lunch after to celebrate and take the edge off of the day.
- It can be helpful to go in with the idea that you may not leave with a dress at all and share that with the people you bring so you do not feel pressured to decide. Get super curious about what you feel most comfortable in and have fun with it. It helps to remove any lingering judgements or pressure you may feel for something to work. The best advice I was given if I felt unsure was to leave and sleep on it. There will be a dress you can’t stop thinking about and, if not, you have permission to keep looking.
- Be prepared for measurements to be taken. It may be helpful to minimize or avoid hearing/seeing these measurements as much as possible if that information feels triggering. Designating mom or your maid of honor to be a part of the ordering conversation to support this boundary for yourself. Wedding dress sizes are also very different from any other clothing you may purchase so sizes may sound odd to begin with.
- Have a vision and be flexible. Looking up the boutique’s dress options before you go can be a helpful way to share your vision with the stylist but don’t be surprised if you end up not liking some of these and go a totally different direction. You are not supposed to force a dress to work and you never know what makes you feel the most comfortable and like you!
- Lastly, you should not feel forced to fit into a certain dress size or style. That same Cornell research study I mentioned before showed that 14% of women bought a size smaller than they were at the time of their fitting . Your body does not have to change for a dress or any piece of clothing for that matter and no one should make you feel otherwise.
- When you go in for your fitting, be prepared that your dress may not fit as expected, this is to be expected and what fittings are all about. Measurements at the time of the purchase could have been off, bodies can change in the months it takes for the dress to come in, and fluid, menstruation, and bowel movements can alter how you feel at the time of the fitting. Not to mention, your bridal assistants may not be well versed in language sensitivity around body image. What is intended to be a word of encouragement from them may end up being fuel for disordered eating. It can be helpful to request the stylist or seamstress not comment on your body positively or negatively.
The Wedding Day
We have done a lot of preparation leading up to this day and it’s finally here! Creating an environment where you can be as present as possible for your wedding will likely minimize intense body image concerns and hyper fixating on all of the small details. You want to live this day fully! The last thing we want is to mentally miss out on a day we have spent so much time planning for! Here are some tips to experiment with on your wedding day:
- Schedule in time for yourself that morning. You have a long day ahead of you so a few moments with yourself may feel blissful. This could be spending a few minutes outside with your coffee, taking a short walk, journaling or just laying in bed for a few extra minutes. Personally, I function best when I have some alone time first thing in the morning before I have to human and this was a great piece of advice recommended to me by a friend. (My fiance knows this about me as well which is likely one of the reasons we’re getting married.)
- Make sure you eat! The wedding morning itself can be absolutely chaotic with hair, makeup, mimosas, pictures etc. Not having supportive nutrition will likely lead to a hangry bride and we want to avoid this at all costs. Designate someone like your maid of honor or day of coordinator to bring you food and check in that you have eaten. Most weddings begin in the late afternoon so there’s a good chance breakfast plus another meal and possibly a snack will be helpful. Not only do we not want a hangry bride but we know mimosas can sneak up out of nowhere so let’s make sure you make it to the dance floor! This is another reason why nutrition is crucial leading up to the wedding, you don’t want to starve yourself all day just to fit into a dress and not make it to the end of the night.
- Pamper yourself in whatever way you feel most comfortable and like you! It is your wedding day so you should take part in any of these getting ready activities that you enjoy. It can be helpful to remember that this is a part of the day but not not the most important part. You are getting married! Soak in the laughs and memories you are making that morning with your favorite people.
- Lastly, consider how you want to remember feeling on this day. Again, take time to soak in all of the emotions and experiences the day brings. Someone told me to remember to pause and know every single person there wants to celebrate the life you are choosing to create and it is likely one of the only times everyone you love will be in one place.
Life Post Wedding
We did it! The wedding is over, we danced our butts off and the pressure is gone. I’ve heard some people feel so relieved it is all over and some feel a bit lost having spent so much time planning. The one thing that likely doesn’t go away is diet culture. Again, whether you were a bride or just in attendance, pursuing intentional weight loss may continue to linger because it is likely holding an empty promise. Diet culture promises confidence and happiness for the wedding day and that pressure can still be there afterwards. This may be a great time to check in and ask- are you living in alignment with your values and life goals? How pre-wedding behavior changes impacting your life? This isn’t to say any changes to your lifestyle were harmful. Let’s say you went from eating 2 servings of fruits and vegetables to 6 and you increased your physical activity by walking for 30 minutes most days. You feel great, you’re having more regular bowel movements, and you’re really enjoying the quiet time on your morning walk. Awesome! Sounds like these are goals you may want to continue after the wedding. However, if your pre-wedding behavior changes consisted of you not eating anything until you feel like you’re going to pass out and then eating a cube of cheese The Devil Wears Prada style, you’re probably grumpy, hangry, and you’re definitely not getting adequate vitamins and minerals so ask yourself- is this the quality of life you really want? What is the expense for thinness and is it worth it? How can you continue to live the best life possible without weight loss as the priority? We would love to work with you on discovering this more and supporting your best life!
If you are planning a wedding, I am secretly hoping our wedding days are not the single best day of our entire lives. It should be a blast and we should feel so special and loved but I’m hoping there are a lot of amazing days ahead as well. The best memories have nothing to do with our bodies and our wedding day is a reminder that you are choosing to spend all of your days with someone who loves you for the person you are right now. Let’s be as present as possible and celebrate the heck out of our love!
Happy wedding planning to all from the future Mrs. Lauren Thielges, MS, RD, CDN!