Many women have fantasized about their wedding day since they were 5-years-old, playing Disney Princess dress-up. This is supposed to be The Happiest Day of Your Life! It’s also supposed to be the Prettiest Day of Your Life, and for many women, this translates to The Skinniest Day of Your Life.
From Martha Stewart’s 21-Day Pre-Wedding diet to Atkin’s Low-Carb Pre-Wedding Plan, plenty of experts will tell you exactly how to shed weight prior to the big day. Between booking the band, mailing the invitations and tasting the salmon, the bride-to-be is also expected to be cutting carbs, doubling up on spin class and toning her abs.
It’s enough to make any woman Body Obsessed. But if you’re recovering from an eating disorder, the pressures surrounding your wedding make this an especially challenging time. Bombarded by a hyper-focus on weight-loss, how are you supposed to survive with your health and sanity intact?
I’ve helped many recovering women through the challenges surrounding weddings, including some whose eating disorders were triggered by the high-pressure run up to the event. It can take months and even years to repair the damage from the insanity surrounding that one special day. In this three-part blog series, I’m offering some helpful tips so you can thrive ~ not just survive~ during this exciting life transition. Even if you are in recovery, you can launch this chapter of your life from a solid foundation of health and wellness. But first, let’s start with three key assumptions:
- You’re actively engaged in recovery. If you are still struggling, consider postponing such a triggering life event until you are in a more balanced place.
- You’ve been open with your fiancé about your eating disorder. If your struggle is private, consider opening up since your partner can be a key support person.
- Your fiancé is supportive of your recovery. If they are indifferent, have their own eating disorder or are actively sabotaging your recovery, you may want to re-consider making such a commitment at this time.
(At times in these articles, I’ll refer to the eating disorder as “ED,” a seductive but ultimately abusive lover who lives in your brain. He recruits you with lies and promises, then beats you mercilessly.)
The Run Up to The Big Day
If you are like most brides, your mother may have her own fantasy of how her daughter’s wedding should look. Often the folks helping foot the bill feel entitled to their two cents (or hundred cents!) Women in recovery typically suffer from the need to please. Saying “No” at the risk of disappointing a loved one can be extremely anxiety-producing.
Often the urge to binge, purge or restrict (ED’s voice) is triggered by the internal conflict between accommodating someone else’s agenda (dilled salmon, fine china, the country club) and following your own desires (fish tacos, food truck, an open field).
Rather than squelching your preferences in order to keep the peace, listen to your gut. While some decisions are not worth the fight (blue vs. black ink on the invitations) others will be more important to you (band vs. DJ). When your ED-voice pops up, take heed. It may be a sign that you are not being true to yourself. Speak with your fiancé about your dilemma and role-play expressing your preferences out loud. It is Your Wedding after all!
Discounting and disconnecting from strong needs and desires requires disconnecting from signals in your body. This is a set-up for a relapse. Another added benefit of speaking up: setting clear boundaries now is good practice. Once you’re married, your roles and allegiances naturally shift from Daughter to Wife. Planning the wedding is a good time for you and your family to start adjusting to your new status.
A true-ism about women with eating disorders is that they are highly sensitive to and influenced by their environment. This is why it’s vitally important to be conscious about your social interactions. If your maid of honor is trying raw vegan and your sister is going Paleo to fit into their bridesmaids dress, it will be extra challenging to stay centered on your bigger goal (an ED-Free Wedding, remember?).
You can always try this little trick that I suggested to one bride-to-be. She told her bridesmaids, “I’m on the ‘Listen to Your Body’ Diet. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. It’s the latest rage…” Her friends were curious and fascinated by this radical new concept.
Just smile to yourself…it’ll be our little secret.
I’ve heard a “Bridezilla” defined as someone so focused on getting what she wants that she makes herself and everyone around her miserable. You may find yourself locked in a rigid mindset about something relatively trivial; you may need an outsider’s perspective to help shift your viewpoint and hence your emotional reactions. If you find yourself feeling stuck, ask a friend you trust, “How important is this?” (e.g. If the caterer substitutes asparagus for brussel sprouts, no one will notice or care!) Letting go and allowing things to be “imperfect” are important life skills for women recovering from eating disorders.
Which leads to my next point…
There is simply no way around it: planning a wedding is a stressful life event. Remember, an eating disorder is an attempt to manage anxiety and stress. Thus, it’s imperative during the run up to your wedding to utilize healthy coping skills. Take long walks, attend a yoga class, meditate, be in nature, journal, listen to music, play with your cat. Whatever lowers your blood pressure, slows down your heart rate and calms your racing mind, do it daily.
If you are in therapy, don’t skip your sessions. If you need therapy, get it!
It’s vital to fuel your body adequately, pre-wedding. This means having the fortitude to ignore the diet blogs and block out the pre-wedding slim-down messaging from family and friends. If you’ve been working with a dietitian, continue these sessions to be certain you don’t skip snacks or skimp on meals. Be sure to either follow your food plan or listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals if you’ve graduated to intuitive eating.
A well-fueled body means a well-fueled brain, and this will help you manage stress. Eating well will prevent binge eating or weight loss that can trigger obsessive thinking. Be open with your fiancé if you are struggling; consider inviting him to your therapy sessions so he can learn the most helpful ways to support your recovery.
It’s Not About the Dress
Some Perspective: Weddings are meaningful rituals honoring family, community, and connection. Your wedding is a celebration of the love and commitment between you and your partner.
A wedding is NOT a contest where you are trying to win the title “Skinniest Bride in the Land.” Unfortunately, The Dress can take on a monolithic degree of importance. Remember, the loved ones in attendance want you to be happy, radiant, healthy and energized. They do not wish for you to be under-weight, body-obsessed, emotionally disconnected and anxious.
It would be a tragedy for you to miss your wedding because you were Not Present. The goal should be staying connected to your body, your feelings, your fiancé and your family and friends. If you spend the day obsessed with how you look in your dress, you’ll miss out on the juicy, delicious, meaningful parts of the experience.
Buy a dress that feels good and fits well. Do not get a dress three months before the wedding that is two sizes too small, requiring you to starve or purge or exercise your way into it. This is a Recipe for Relapse! If you are getting alterations, be honest with your seamstress; explain that trying on a too-tight dress the week before your wedding will be highly triggering. Request seams that can be easily altered to eliminate the need to drop weight to fit into your dress at the last minute.
…the day arrives. Decisions have been made. Plans are in place.It’s Go Time.
Next, we’ll address how to have an ED-Free Wedding Day!