"Shedding For The Wedding" Is Destructive, According To Experts (And We Agree!)
Open your social media apps and you might be bombarded with messages about "quarantine body." In light of stay-at-home orders, an intense focus on weight loss has emerged. The general idea is people should use this time at home to get the "perfect body." And if you're getting married, it's the time to begin "shedding for the wedding." But the concept of losing weight for your nuptials is actually harmful, according to experts (and we agree!).
"The phrase 'shedding for the wedding' reinforces the idea that you must be thin to earn love, to be good enough and to be valued on your wedding day," says therapist Hannah Tishman, licensed master social worker and practice coordinator at Cobb Psychotherapy. "The downside of this mentality is that it truly reinforces the idea that we're not good enough as we are."
Additionally, it can lead to patterns of restrictive eating, purging behaviors, excessive exercise and obsessive food tracking—all of which can lead to disordered eating. All of this can impact your relationship too.
Dr. Melanie Katzman, clinical psychologist, says these pressures are heightened amid the coronavirus pandemic, as people are spending more time on social media. "What we're seeing in quarantine is a pumping-up of the issues that are already there," she says. "To-be-weds have always felt pressured to look a certain way, but now there's a continual drumbeat of 'Be better, use the time.'"
The reality, though, is most couples have less time these days, not more. Psychotherapist Sarah Farris, licensed clinical professional counselor at Chicago Mind and Body, explains how the amplification of "shedding for the wedding" messaging and general weight loss narratives in quarantine is dismissive of circumstances others may be facing. Not only are many couples having to postpone their weddings, they may also be facing job loss, relationship issues, sickness, mental health struggles or loss of a loved one.
If you or someone you know is feeling pressure to lose weight for your nuptials during this time, we're here for you. We tapped experts to explain why "shedding for the wedding" is actually destructive—plus advice on how to avoid the mentality.
Focus On the World Around You
All of the time inside means that you may be hyper-focused on the smaller details of your day-to-day life (like your weight). But weight "loss" specifically is dangerous, Katzman says. "When we focus on weight loss, one thing that happens is that it's never enough," she says. It could put you in a constant state of dissatisfaction, as you're trying to shed more pounds. "[Your wedding] is a time of excitement, not a time to feel inadequate."
Tishman says focusing on your overall health is a helpful approach. Rather than honing in on calories or exercise, shift your attention to how you're feeling. "It's important to zoom out and look at the bigger picture," she says. "Can you achieve a balance between feeling confident and healthy instead of focusing on getting to a certain weight and fixating on calories and workouts?"
Beyond thinking about your partnership and your confidence, Katzman suggests considering the world around you too. "This is an opportunity to get in touch with what matters to you, who you are about and, quite frankly, who you want to be when you emerge from quarantine." She challenges couples to do an accurate assessment of their attention. For example, how much of your mental real estate are you giving to exercise and diet versus how you can be making a difference. "If you spend your energy focused on the satisfaction with your body, what you're doing is going very small at a time when you and your partner can really be thinking about who you want to be in the world."
Be Intentional About Social Media Consumption
So you went on social media and now you're feeling low. It's understandable—there's an excess of messaging around weight loss during this time. If social media is making you feel worse about yourself, set boundaries. Exit out of any post or account that makes you feel less than. "No matter where we are, there will always be another voice telling us to look or feel a certain way. There will always be a narrative we can compare to or strive for," Tishman says. "Write your own narrative this time." Remember: it's your wedding and nobody else's.
Don't Do Anything Drastic
"Shedding for the wedding" programs often boast dramatic results in minimal time. But crash dieting and over-exercising will only harm your physical and mental health. "This leads to very unhealthy patterns including: inflexibility and rigidity around food and exercise routines, a lack of energy (which can impact your work and relationships) or self-harm in the form of restriction or purging," Tishman says.
Drastically reducing your caloric intake can make you more susceptible to muscle loss, says Farris. Not to mention those results you may see from crash diets typically fade away once the crash diet is over with. This yo-yo effect sends your body into panic mode, encouraging it to hold onto weight in an effort to stay balanced.
Rather than start a fad diet or exercise for hours on end, try a healthier approach. The key is making realistic, sustainable choices, Tishman says. "Adapting consistent, healthy regiments into our lives with the goal of being energized, living a long life and being our best selves is what we should strive for." Not only will this help you enjoy food and exercise, it will also improve your overall body-image too.
Seek Out Support
As pressures of "shedding for the wedding" continue to increase, it's important to seek support. Farris recommends starting by talking to your partner, as it can bring you closer. "By talking about these concerns, the couple has an opportunity to connect through empathy, compassion and listening," she says. "Also, the couple may work together as a team to problem-solve and seek out solutions." Plus, your partner will likely give you some much-needed reassurance. After all, they're choosing to marry you as you are. They love you for you, not for your weight.
However, the pressure might be too much to manage (we are going through a pandemic, people). If that's the case, reach out to a professional therapist. They can help you manage your feelings and give you effective coping mechanisms.
Express Gratitude Towards Your Body
The mentality of "shedding for the wedding" revolves around the idea that we're not enough. As such, it can be easy to focus that negative energy on your body and criticize your perceived flaws. But our bodies are rather incredible, and the coronavirus should put that into perspective. Tishman says, "If anything, [the pandemic] has given us more room for self-compassion, healthy goal setting and gratitude for our bodies that work so hard to keep us functioning each and every day."
Rather than fighting against your body, display gratitude. "If we can shift our mindsets to this mentality, we can treat ourselves better," Tishman notes.
Set Healthy, Attainable Goals
Of course, there's nothing wrong with feeling motivated to live a healthy lifestyle. But Katzman cautions against confusing health with weight loss. "Set realistic goals about what it is that you want to accomplish during this period, but don't make it about weight loss," she says. "Instead, make it about health and food preparation and being together."
Focus on Meal Planning
Katzman says it can be easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of your meals in quarantine. Rather than honing in on the ingredients, the calories or the macros, she recommends using this time to focus on meal planning. "This is a great time to learn how to plan for and create good meals," she says. Teach yourself how to cook a new meal, and enjoy it with your partner (read: no electronics at the table). "Establishing good patterns and healthy eating has a better chance of lasting than crash dieting."
Challenge Your Relationship With Food
Diet culture has produced a harmful dialogue around food and meals. Labeling certain foods as "good" or "bad" only fosters negative relationships with food. "We don't believe in the term 'cheat day' because having the occasional dessert or cocktails with your friends isn't cheating—it's called enjoying your life," says Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn, co-founders of Tone It Up. "We never want [to-be-weds] to feel guilty or be hard on [themselves]." It's all about balance, they say.
Practice Positive Self Talk
To avoid the noise around "shedding for the wedding," actively focus your attention on positive thoughts. To do this, Farris recommends starting by questioning your own diet culture experiences. "Challenge the unrealistic and harmful expectations you notice," she says. Once you're aware of your internal dialogue, you can shut down negative thoughts and focus your energy on positive ideas instead. "Consider expanding how you define your self-image beyond pressures around size." Focus on your gorgeous eyes or your radiant smile, for example.
Next, assess the external voices you let into your thoughts. Tishman says it's essential to limit the "compare and despair mentality." "This can contribute to shame, anxiety, depression, self-criticism, lack of self worth and other unhelpful feelings." Her advice is to replace those thoughts and pressures with a manta. Build one into your life that reminds you that you are enough as you are. It can even be as simple as: "I am enough." Because you are!
Move Your Body (But Don't Go Overboard)
Regular exercise improves your physical health, mental health, quality of sleep and longevity, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But overexercising for your nuptials is harmful to your body. It puts you at increased risk for injury, and it's detrimental to your mental health.
Instead, Scott and Dawn recommend gradual exercise, such as checking off two miles per day: "Be that walking, running, elliptical, biking/cycling or anything else," they say. "If you miss a day, that's OK! Just get back to it the next day."
Be Gentle With Yourself
Speaking of which: life happens. A pandemic brings a slew of unexpected challenges, and keeping a routine is difficult. Rather than criticize yourself endlessly for ordering pizza or for missing a workout, forgive yourself. "If you get off track for a meal, don't let it get you down," Scott and Dawn say. "It happens to all of us, so please don't be hard on yourself."
If you're feeling motivated to live a healthier lifestyle, the best thing you can do is get right back up for your next meal, Scott and Dawn say. "Don't think of everything day to day or week to week," they say. "If you slip up on a Wednesday, Thursday morning grab a [nourishing] breakfast, do your workout and you're golden!"
Remember: You're Beautiful Just as You Are
"We tell all of our [to-be-weds] that no matter what, they're going to be breathtaking, glowing and absolutely stunning on their wedding day," says Scott. "We never want any brides to feel any pressure to look anything other than their best and most confident self."
Still, it can be hard not to feel pressure to achieve that "perfect quarantine body." At a time when comparisons on social media might be at an all-time high, Dawn says it's important to remember that there's no such thing as the perfect body. "Someone else's perfect body might look different from another's," she says. "The goal anyone should have when working out or eating healthy is to feel good about yourself inside and out."
Really, it's all about balance. Living a healthy life isn't about dieting or over-exercising, it's about simple changes to your lifestyle. Psst: Scott and Dawn have an entire program dedicated to weddings, which focuses on staying active and nourishing your body. If you're feeling inspired to live a healthier lifestyle in quarantine, make sustainable, manageable and realistic choices. If you're barely managing to keep your head above water at the moment, that's more than OK too. After all, your partner is marrying you because they love you for you. You're beautiful just as you are.