The pressure to lose weight before your wedding is harmful at the best of times - here’s why now, more than ever, bridal crash dieting culture should be forgotten.
Photo by Zoe Graham
With a huge number of couples needing to postpone weddings, rethink hen and stag dos and cancel honeymoons, the impact of COVID-19 on worldwide weddings, as in every other area of life, is staggering.
Combine this with job insecurity, the daily challenges of living in lockdown and uncertainty about our future and it’s fair to say that most of us have a lot on our plate of late right now. The global pandemic has temporarily upended life as we know it and most of us are simply trying our utmost to keep calm and carry on, quite possibly with a home-made banana bread on the go and a Zoom pub quiz to get to! Managing to forget about the Coronavirus crisis for five minutes should be considered a major achievement, yet there’s a strange urgency hanging in the air (and emanating from our social media feeds), urging us to use our time in lockdown ‘wisely’.
Why We’re Feeling the Pressure to Be Toned in Quarantine
Popular ways of whiling away the hours thus far involve whipping up a home-made cocktails, nursing a sourdough starter or starting your mornings doing exercise with Joe Wicks, all of which are highly commendable and can provide some light relief in this often dystopian-feeling period. When the scales quite literally tip, however, this drive to ‘achieve’ can become overwhelming, particularly where diet, exercise and body image are concerned.
Nutritional therapist, and no stranger to burnout Wilma MacDonald argues that pushing self-improvement or urging reflection regarding weight gain in lockdown (even if it’s a ‘funny’ meme doing the rounds) can make a tense time, all the more difficult: 'There’s considerable pressure on us to be hugely productive at this time and to emerge from quarantine a toned, energetic, more highly evolved person than when we went into it. This doesn’t take into consideration the immense pressures we’re already under and how our body is reacting by going into fight or flight mode watching the news roll in.'
There’s immense pressure on us all to emerge from quarantine a toned, energetic, more highly evolved person than when we went into it. 'Add in the stress and potential heartache of cancelling or rescheduling a wedding and your cortisol and adrenaline levels will already be elevated – throwing intense exercise regimes and/or dieting into the mix will cause our cortisol levels to soar even more.'
A little bit of cortisol gets us going in the morning but consistently high levels can lead to chronic stress and exhaustion, two states of being that are especially sub-optimal during a time of strife. Not to mention ironic when brought about by a routine meant to bring about ‘wellness’. An emphasis on using the duration of your lockdown to become toned in quarantine is vexing when most of us are simply trying to protect ourselves and our families. It has an extra sting in the tail for brides, who often face outdated societal pressure to lose weight before their wedding day.
Photo by Jennifer Burk
The Slippery Slope of Pre-Wedding Weight Loss
Casual assumptions that you’re planning to downsize before your wedding can emanate almost unconsciously from everyone: friends, total strangers, your seamstress (the vast majority are thankfully entirely non-judgemental and will ensure that they tailor a wedding dress to fit you, rather than the other way around). The idea of crash dieting and quick-fix weight loss ‘hacks’ are thankfully, and not before time, losing traction thanks to body positivity and body neutrality movements, planning a wedding can unearth unhealthy ideas and expectations around weight loss. As with most appearance based ‘norms’, it tends to be women that are required to measure up. Prospective grooms are rarely asked about their pre-wedding strategy to slim into a suit...!
Not that you shouldn’t be aiming to eat well and include some movement in your day at the moment – bursts of exercise and a healthy diet have been shown to enhance mental as well as physical health whilst strengthening our immune systems. It’s when the pressure mounts, the motivation becomes toxic, your ability to go to the gym or buy the food you're told to eat, that a health kick morphs from self-care into something damaging.
Alex Ruani, UCL Doctoral Researcher and Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy, highlights why it’s key to remove the psychological burden from anticipation around the area of weddings at the present time in particular: 'Dreams of looking ‘perfect’ on our wedding day are only natural, but when they become obsessive this kind of pressure can put a lot of unnecessary strain on brides-to-be, sometimes leading to episodes of disordered eating that can linger long after you’ve walked down the aisle. 'Crash dieting is never a healthy solution and especially during a period of lockdown. It carries numerous health risks, from developing severe nutrient deficiencies which can weaken your immune system to hormonal fluctuations that can dramatically affect your mood at a time when many of us are already struggling.'
Alex recommends focusing on your health and well-being in ways that feel good and removing worries such as fitting into a certain outfit from your mind. So what if your wedding dress has already been fitted? Seamstresses and tailors are incredibly good at their jobs, not to mention understanding given the current circumstances - so don't let that fear damage your mental or physical health.
Photo by Omar Lopez
Release the Pressure
Preparing for your wedding day and using social media can often lead to unrealistic comparison making, while easing off it can be all the more tricky given that our phones are still our main or only route to connection with others at the moment, aim to curate your feed to make you feel as calm and positive as possible.
Keep the content that gives you a lift; cull or mute the accounts that trigger guilt or shame. By all means crack on with your wedding admin, try new recipes and experiment with a fitness plan if you want to, but don’t get bogged down by it or panic that you’re not hitting some kind of lockdown barometer of success. This isn’t a game show and you are competing against nobody, not even yourself.
Use this time to rest, relax when you can and plan for your wedding day at your own pace. If life gets a bit off-balance for a bit, no worries. Things are set to be weird for quite a while, so prioritise joy over punishment and focus on just how elated you’ll feel when you arrive at the ceremony after the pandemic has passed.