The Wedding Dress Diet: Losing Some Pounds and Your Sanity, Too

Victor Demarchelier

“You know you’re going to be photographed from every angle, right?” said a recent bride friend of mine a month after I got engaged. “For three days straight, almost every second. It’s extremely overwhelming.”

She wasn’t trying to frighten me—not intentionally, anyway. The week before, knowing nothing about the logistics of weddings, I had digitally dipped my toes into the planning process, searching various websites (including this one) for guidance on how to throw what is arguably the biggest party of your life. What I found, though, was a mass of stories like “Pre-Wedding Detox Basics,” “5 Ways to Lose Weight Before Your Wedding,” and “Your Wedding Slimdown Timeline” with links to dozens of options for intensive Bridal Bootcamps. While flipping through New York Magazine’s Summer Weddings issue, I stopped on an interview with Barry’s Bootcamp CEO, Joey Gonzalez, who mentioned that in the lead up to their weddings, brides typically “go hard” by working out five days a week. Suddenly, it seemed like losing weight for my own wedding was expected; a prerequisite for walking down the aisle.

Dieting and exercise is as much a part of the wedding as having a caterer.

“Dieting and exercise is just as much a part of the wedding as having a caterer,” agrees Christine Bailey, a Los Angeles-based bride who married in May. “When I was trying on dresses it was assumed by the people helping me that I was going to lose weight, and when I’d go to SoulCycle with friends they would say, ‘Are you shedding for the wedding?’ The wedding industry complex is so surrounded by that.”

Bailey, who is naturally thin, chose a wedding dress that highlighted her back and arms. To ensure those areas looked “flattering” for photos, she began to exercise three times a week, cutting back on dessert and alcohol while increasing her intake of vegetables and protein—a fairly standard, renewed focus on health. However it wasn’t until she came across Emily Weiss’ Little Wedding Black Book that she began to wonder if she was “doing enough” to prepare for her big day. “Emily’s someone who’s super beautiful and slender, but she went above and beyond for everything: she did a cleanse, a colonic, and exercised with top trainers,” explains Bailey, who, during a particularly stressful moment trying on her dress—which she says “didn’t fit well” across her hips—found herself searching for a colonic before stepping up her exercise regime to five times a week. “I had to suck in my stomach in my dress fitting, so I thought, well, Emily Weiss did this, maybe I need to, too,” she admits. “You don’t really think you’re going to participate in the whole weight loss thing until you realize it feels like part of the experience of wedding planning. It can make you crazy.”

Joyann King,’s editor who married in July, calls this phenomenon “wedding prison”—”a weird time where women put themselves into a judgment cycle and try to achieve a physical perfection that isn’t where they’re supposed to be.” Despite simply wanting to look like the best version of herself, King says that the intense focus and desire to eat well and work out ostracized her from her regular life. “I found that to be a little lonely, particularly leading up to the wedding,” she says. “I denied dinner plans because I was trying to eat clean. Your friends want to go and get sushi but you’re like, ‘Oh, but it has so much salt in it.’ You feel like you want to have boundaries, but at the same time, if you’re a sane person you know it’s completely ridiculous. And I wouldn’t drink because I didn’t want to be hung over the next day and miss my trainer appointment.” The weekends were “really tough,” she explains, both because it was summertime and because being engaged is supposed to be a time of celebration. “But everyone tells you to cut alcohol. Yet the month before your wedding, the only thing that makes you relax is a glass of wine.” Then there is coming to terms with the photos two months after the wedding, which King found to be an added moment of anxiety. “I liked some of the photos and didn’t like some. I thought, ‘How have I gained back five pounds already, that was stupid.’ No one should have to see 1,300 photos of themselves from every angle, specifically after spending six months trying to look a certain way. It’s a mind f*ck.”

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Indeed, there is “no escaping the amount of photography that goes on at your wedding,” says Robyn Flipse, dietitian and co-author of The Wedding Dress Diet, which actually aims to steer brides away from dangerous eating patterns before their big day. “A lot of my clients come to me thinking they’ll do whatever it takes to fit the gown they already ordered in a size or two smaller. They put tremendous pressure on themselves, that they have to look perfect because the pictures are forever,” Flipse explains, adding that today, those pictures are no longer just posed, professional photographs in which the lighting is “just right” for everyone to look their best. “Guests are now capturing all the unrehearsed moments with their cellphones—and that puts a lot of pressure on people. Brides feel like they have to look a lot better than just ‘good enough,’ knowing that the pictures are going to live all over Instagram and Facebook.”

No one should have to see 1,300 photos of themselves from every angle, specifically after spending six months trying to look a certain way. It’s a mind f*ck.

Dr. Rebecca Greif, Training Director at the Eating and Weight Disorders Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, believes the proliferation of social media has added to the particularly significant pressure brides face to look a certain way, where today, the ideal body type is an unachievable ideal. “As women, we are always being bombarded with messages about how our bodies should look and what we should do to be thinner or more toned,” she says. “But then you add in the things that happen around a wedding, like dress fittings, and it just exacerbates the amount of pressure that already exists in our society around our bodies, so it’s easy to think that the most important thing is just to lose weight.”

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For some brides, the wedding dress diet can go too far, morphing itself into an eating disorder that no one around them can fully understand. Increasingly, these women are turning to strangers online for much-needed solace. A quick search on The Knotforums turned up dozens of threads titled “Wedding Dress Shopping and Eating Disorders,” where, in the hope of finding support from others, one bride wrote: “Has anyone with a history of disordered eating found themselves triggered by the whole ‘gotta fit into the wedding dress’ thing? I feel like my mind is spiraling out of control.” Another bride who struggled with anorexia and bulimia in high school mentioned that she was “scared to try things on and see myself in a mirror with others,” while another bride admitted to being “consumed with my figure and how I”m going to look in my dress.” She continued: “All I see are fat upper arms and back fat hanging over my dress. I feel the farthest thing from a beautiful bride and instead of enjoying this time in my life, I’m dreading it immensely because all I can think about is being ‘fat’ on my wedding day. I feel like I’m falling apart.”

It is for this reason that Dr. Greif stresses the cruciality of “taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture” before brides are pulled into an unhealthy pattern—precisely what Bailey did one month before she walked down the aisle. “So much about weight control is actually about control in general, and with a wedding, a lot of the responsibilities fall on the bride,” says Bailey. “I think checking the balance of what you can and can’t control is something I had to figure out and luckily, I did a few weeks before the wedding and everything chilled out after that.” Exasperated, Bailey remembers getting to the point of saying, “‘F*ck this, I don’t care about any of these details anymore because I’m just going to marry my fiancé and that’s what I care about,” and when that happened, she says she stopped worrying about how she was going to look.

Flipse also notes the importance finding a wedding dress that compliments the bride’s natural body shape, rather than placing an unrealistic emphasis on appearance and an ideal that is, most likely, unachievable. “Striving for that [ideal] dress is going to become an obsession, when really the goal should be to find the most flattering dress that will be comfortable—so that you can enjoy your day without worrying if your stomach is sticking out or if your butt looks big,” explains Flipse. “Your whole day will be ruined by these obsessions about how you look, instead of how you’re feeling and how important this day may be to you. All of that is missed by someone who is constantly fetishizing over how many calories are in the champagne and how much they ate and can they swallow the cake? People can become very obsessive and that takes its toll.” Balance and moderation are two things brides should keep in mind, adds Dr. Greif, who believes that trying to engage in healthy eating leading up to a wedding can be done in a safe and positive way. “Being self-aware is very important,” she explains, “as is surrounding yourself with friends who have a healthy mentality about these things. It might be helpful to get additional support from them.” For King, this support came in the form of her now husband, who cooked her healthy meals in the lead up to their wedding. “In the mornings he would make me scrambled egg whites and a side of vegetables. He knew wellness was also a big part of it, and he knew I wasn’t starving myself,” she says.

So much about weight control is actually about control in general, and with a wedding, a lot of the responsibilities fall on the bride.

Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez, who trains brides five times a week in the 12-week lead up to their weddings, says that while he has “definitely seen people take it too far,” there has only been one time in his career where he had to sit down with a bride and say, “I don’t feel comfortable working together if you don’t start to eat a little bit more and take care of yourself.” Generally, brides are good at finding a balance, he says, and as their trainer, he aims to create healthy “guardrails” for them. “It is almost 100 percent more of an issue of trying to motivate them and trying to stay on track, than trying to get them to go a little bit softer,” he explains, adding that there is now a “huge contingency” of brides and grooms training together. “We see a lot of women working out with their partners; it shows they’re on the same team, they root for each other, they empathize with one and other—like when they’re so sore they can’t sit on the toilet. It’s a bonding experience and we always love to see that.”

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For King, she was simply glad her months of “toning, drinking tons of water and focusing on skincare” had come to an end. “Thursday night was our first party and I was just exhausted from the whole thing, mentally. I was so tired of thinking about how I was going to look that I wanted to punch someone, so I just stopped.” For her three-day wedding in Upstate New York, she ate and drank whatever she wanted: “And you know what?” she says. “It felt really, really good.”

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US