Losing Weight for the Wedding

Some brides resort to extreme or dangerous dieting to drop pounds before their wedding day.

Five days a week, soon-to-be-bride Elizabeth Neeland is at the gym, gliding on the elliptical. Twice a week she also does strength training. Six months before her February 21 nuptials, she committed to a weight-loss program and cut back on alcohol, from twice a week to every other weekend. A former college tennis player, Elizabeth, 27, who works at an Atlanta law firm, usually feels confident about her body—and at 5'9" and 135 pounds, she should. But a funny thing happened on the way to the altar. Instead of reveling in her trim size-6 frame, she decided she needed to slim down. “A wedding is the ultimate time to change your looks—way worse than bikini season,” she says.

It’s supposed to be one of the happiest moments in your life, but in reality, getting married is often stressful, especially when it comes to your appearance. Forget choosing the right flowers, band and hors d’oeuvres. For some women, the number-one objective becomes being a waiflike vision in white wafting down the aisle, with matchstick arms and clavicles that protrude like hangers.

Indeed, the simple act of getting engaged seems to signal that it’s time to start losing weight—even if you’re a healthy size. Brides-to-be are bombarded with books on the topics of fitness and dieting, tempted by promotions for “bachelorette boot camps” and pre-wedding “shape-cations.” List yourself as engaged on Facebook, and ads for Web sites promising secrets to shedding pounds before the big day will start appearing on your home page. Reality shows like Bulging Brides, in which a “Dream Team” of experts helps women slim down in less than two months, also play into the frenzy. One recent bride recalls the disapproving look on her future mother-in-law’s face as she reached for a second slice of pizza. “Aren’t you getting ready for your wedding?’” she asked.

Even celebrities who’ve resisted the rail-thin trend cave when their wedding’s on the horizon. Take actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, who defended her curvy figure after paparazzi snapped shots of her in a bikini. But then she got engaged and reportedly knocked off 18 pounds.

It’s worth noting that none of these messages target grooms—not that men are oblivious to them. “My fiancée has always been thin,” says Lewis Finn, 32, a Manhattan-based banker who married in December. “I know she felt pressure to lose weight when she went to her dress fittings. It was upsetting to watch.”

The evidence that these collective influences take a serious toll on women is more than anecdotal. In a recent poll on Brides.com, 74 percent of respondents said they were trying to lose more than 10 pounds for their wedding. More than a third of the 272 brides-to-be who took part in a research study published in the March-May 2008 issue of the journal Appetite reported using extreme tactics, like skipping meals and taking unprescribed diet pills. The real clincher: More than half of them were of normal weight to begin with.

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