June 05, 2014
Why You Should Think Again Before You Lose Weight For Your Wedding Day
While I am not engaged and in the flurry of wedding planning, I do know what it is like to feel the need to lose weight for a holiday, special event or just because you think this is the year to get that ultimate body. So many women diet before their wedding day; I suppose its the 'all eyes on you' pressure that makes you feel you must look your best, and then you've got those photos that last-you-a-lifetime thing. But with so much stress mounting in planning this best day of your life, what does dieting add to that burden? Features editor Jessica Knoll at Self Magazine wrote about her life-changing wedding-diet disaster. Her uncensored version of the truth behind her motivations and desires for being thin really made me think about why any girl wants to be thinner. Read this honest account of a woman in the throes of a thin obsession.
My top three priorities when I started planning my wedding: book a venue with outdoor space, find an '80s cover band, and get ridiculously skinny. My husband's friends were all at the marrying stage, and I must have attended 20 weddings between the time I started dating him, at 23, and when we got engaged, one week shy of my 28th birthday. Each celebration had been more lavish than the last—the location grander, the dress chicer, the bride hungrier. But I began to notice that one thing was always the same: All the female guests stared at the bride with a look I've dubbed the Girl Gaze. You know: the awe and jealousy that fuse in a woman's eyes as she realizes, Hey, she lost weight. A competitive murmur began to hum in my ears, and by the time I got engaged, it had escalated to a full-blown battle cry. Now it's my turn, said a strange Gollum-like voice in my head. Feelings of inadequacy from my early 20s only fueled my weight loss bloodlust. Before I met my husband, I'd always been the single friend. So when I became the second in my group to get engaged, I couldn't help feeling smug, especially toward the friend who insisted she would be next. Walking down that aisle, a whippet in white, would show her. It would show them all! (Cue supervillain laugh.)
I didn't have much to lose. Except for a few dark semesters in college, I've always weighed about 120 pounds. I'm short (just shy of 5 foot 3) and busty. I was already an avid exerciser—a typical cardio queen who believed the longer I ran, the thinner I'd be. That, combined with a healthy-ish diet on weekdays (plus whatever—and I do mean whatever—I wanted on the weekends), kept me comfortable in my size 27 jeans. I knew that to lose weight, I'd have to stop eating and drinking like a king two days a week. I really didn't want to give up the fun, so I decided to experiment with my workouts. I threw down for a pricey membership at a barre studio, and after three months I had tightened up. But I still wasn't closing in on 110 pounds, the weight I'd determined would incite a riot of Girl Gazes.
Six weeks before the big day, I wasn't thinking about seating arrangements; I was thinking about the scale. Hovering around 118 pounds, I started the Attack Phase of the Dukan Diet, rumored to be the diet de rigueur of Kate Middleton (all hail). I went five days eating nothing but lean protein and fat-free dairy. When it required Herculean effort to walk down the block, I caved and ate broccoli (quelle horreur!). After that, I had one hard-boiled egg for breakfast, a big salad for lunch and more eggs for dinner. I also upped my barre workouts to seven days a week and logged extra cardio.
I was consumed by food fantasies, envisioning my postwedding feast. In the meantime, I filled the gaping hole of hunger with black coffee. A starving bridezilla hopped up on too much caffeine—I was a peach. My fiancé knew the torture was temporary and for the most part just accepted my madness. One night, he came home with a "surprise"—takeout from the restaurant where we had our first date, along with an expensive bottle of wine. I blinked back tears of fury. If I refused the gesture, I'd be a bitch, and if I accepted, I worried my daily report from the scale would suffer. I chose to be a bitch. I felt like a monster as he put the wine bottle on a shelf and said, "OK, after the wedding, I guess." A monster!
The worst thing about my sad little diet wasn't even the hunger, so vicious it kept me wide awake at night. It was that I had to be antisocial. There were no more boozy brunches with friends, no splitting dessert with my fiancé (who always gave me more than half, aw), no after-work drinks with my cubemates. This was a celebratory time in my life, and friends wanted to toast me and get excited with me, but I shut everyone out. It seemed worth it at the time.
In the end, I got down to 106 pounds. I had a physical before my wedding, and the results of my bloodwork were out of whack ("Stop with the eggs," my doctor warned, "you're thin enough"), but I was so ravenous for the Girl Gaze that not even that stopped me. I have two favorite pictures from my wedding day—one of me and my husband smiling happily right after the ceremony, and one of me talking to my frenemy. She has such a laser focus on my waist that she isn't listening to a word I'm saying, the pull of the Girl Gaze so strong, she forgot that it's not polite to stare. Though I cherish this picture, part of me was steeped in disappointment on my wedding day. I was swimming in my dress—the seamstress had clearly not taken it in after our last fitting—and I was irate that after everything I'd put myself through, my dress made me look thicker in the middle than I was. I spent too much of the "most important day of my life" justifying my body to everyone. "You look beautiful!" "No! Look at this," I'd say, pulling my dress away from my waist, trying to make everyone understand that I should look better than I did. I did look better. I knew it was obvious I'd lost weight, but did everyone think of me as thin-thin? Even at the lowest weight of my adult life, and even with friends and family saying maybe I'd gone too far, I felt nothing like that whippet in white.
On our honeymoon, no matter how much I stuffed myself, I had to keep going. I'd depleted my self-control so entirely that I no longer had any restraint. In the back of my mind, I thought I'd get back on track when we got home. But after we returned to New York, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the city. My husband's company put us up in a hotel until our apartment was deemed safe. Separated from my kitchen, which was stocked with my healthy staples, it seemed impossible to be good, so I just let myself be bad, and then I couldn't stop. I started skipping breakfast and lunch to make up for my after-work bingeing. I was a newlywed, but I looked forward to the nights that my husband had a work event, so I could gorge in private—how tragic is that? (Not like "your new puppy died" tragic, but you know.) In the morning, I'd run 5 miles before barre class. Exercise, which I'd always loved, now exhausted me. I was 135 pounds, and my legs felt like dead weights.
I decided to see a nutritionist. I was desperate to slim down, yes, but even more so to stop obsessing over food. She suggested I drop the two-a-day workouts and eat a bigger breakfast and lunch to even myself out. I was too puppeteered by food to do any of it. At our last session, I stepped off the scale in tears. "Weight loss is like infertility in many ways," she said. "Some women get pregnant when they stop worrying. Stress messes with the body."
Like a fever, my focus on food and exercise and my weight had to reach its fiercest level before it could break. I became so sick of caring what I looked like, and this indifference finally took the pressure off. If I had a binge, I didn't try to cancel it out by skipping meals. As my body began to trust that it would be fed regularly, the urge to binge faded. I recently weighed myself—123 pounds.
You're going to think I'm crazy for what I'm about to say next, but I don't regret what I did. And not because I racked up 87 Girl Gazes on my wedding day (at least in my head I did). I always felt that my "normal" weight was a layover until I could get to my "perfect" weight. But I wasn't any happier with my body at 106 pounds than I am now at 123 pounds, and I had to become a fun-hating hermit to swing the needle that far left. I finally realized that there is no weight at which I'll find nothing wrong with my body, but there is a weight at which I feel confident and also get to enjoy my life, and this is it. I'm in my sweet spot, where I would never turn down a cozy dinner with my husband because I'm too afraid to eat. Nor do I hope he has a work event so I can pillage the kitchen in private.
The best part about being a normal weight is that I get to be a normal person.