If the dress fits: Anna Geary on the pitfalls of shedding for the wedding

It’s important not to bow to social pressure to look thin, says lifestyle coach Anna Geary

WHEN you hear the term ‘wellbeing’, people automatically think about the ‘mind’. There are many different types of wellbeing, however. Yes, there is your mental wellbeing, but there is also your emotional wellbeing, social wellbeing, spiritual wellbeing, digital wellbeing, even financial wellbeing and last but certainly not least, is your physical wellbeing. Your overall wellbeing is a complex blend of the above; you need them all working together in unison.

Being fit and healthy isn’t a fad or a trend, it’s a lifestyle. Your lifestyle dictates your ‘style of life’. So, in order for your style of life to exude quality, you must move and get active. If you want to improve your wellbeing, it’s an effective and simple way to start.

At the moment, I may be getting closer to saying ‘yes to the dress’. And no sooner does my gut tell me that I might have found ‘the one’, I unconsciously start to tune into the language around the wedding dress (once you have it chosen). It’s all about ‘shedding for the wedding’, having the ‘perfect’ body, looking the ‘slimmest’ you ever have looked before, no ‘lumps and bumps’, the list goes on.

In 2014 researchers (Prichard and Tiggemann) asked why do women, who are no more weight-conscious than the average person, turn into brides-to-be who are so motivated to lose significant weight for their weddings? They came to the conclusion that social pressures focusing on physical size and attractiveness have been used to promote intense exercise among women particularly in the lead up to weddings.

It was estimated that 33% of women are advised by someone important in their lives (parents, friends, even fiancés) to lose weight before walking down the aisle. Strangers (sales assistants and dressmakers) are also known to offer this ‘advice’. This pressure is dangerous: experiencing pressure to be thinner predicts body dissatisfaction and overall negative body image. It is also potentially counterproductive: on average, pressured brides-to-be did not lose much weight before their wedding. Instead, their cortisol levels (stress hormone) increased in their bodies which can inhibit weight loss.

Wedding cleanses, bridal boot camps, shed and shred etc, all mean that losing weight for a wedding can become an obsession and a source for stress during an already stressful time. Exercise should empower you, not occupy your mind to the point of desperation.

Perhaps brides (and grooms) view weddings as the impetus for long desired (but never actually pursued) change in how they look or in their fitness levels. If that’s the case, weddings can be a helpful external push for individuals who might need a catalyst to begin the hard journey of getting back into shape. Using a wedding, or any upcoming event (graduation, school reunion) to kickstart a lifestyle change is not a bad plan, provided the health and fitness goals are not extreme and unsustainable.

I qualified as a personal trainer last year because I wanted to bolster my knowledge of nutrition and fitness. And I’m still learning every day. You can never know enough when it comes to the health of our bodies and minds.

Overly restricting calories in the lead up to a wedding can not only be harmful to your body, but it will also leave you feeling low in energy, lacking in concentration, hungry and generally feeling miserable during a time which should be the happiest of your life. Food is what fuels your body to reach your goals. Without proper nutrition through quality foods, you’re likely to stall. When I talk to younger people, I equate our bodies to cars and food to fuel. If you put the wrong fuel or even no fuel into a car, how can you expect it to keep moving and functioning properly? And if you do see a change in the scales, it can be deceiving as often, your body is losing water rather than weight. If the restriction goes on long enough, your body may go into ‘starvation mode’ i.e. it may start to conserve fat (to protect vital organs) and start using up muscle to provide energy instead. Bear in mind that weight loss which happens from extreme caloric restriction may also be accompanied by a host of unpleasant symptoms, many of which are the result of nutritional deficiencies — fatigue, constipation, diarrhoea, heart palpitations, and changes to your hair, nails, and skin. Who wants that?

In general, the pressure to ‘diet’ is often under the guise of another term. In 2010 we ‘cleansed’, in 2013 we were ‘detoxing’ and by 2015 we were practising ‘clean eating’. Now people even use concepts like ‘veganary’ to lose weight. At this time of year, it would be remiss of me, not to include the common phrase, ‘I’m giving it up for Lent’ as another form of dieting. Are you giving up the alcolhol/ chocolate/ bread/ carbs as a religious sacrifice or are you doing it with ulterior motives — to drop a few pounds.

Continuous dieting has just as much of a negative impact on our minds. For all the good exercise can do for your mind, it can be undone if you feel an overwhelming pressure to rigorously exercise or restrict your food too much. It can be exhausting. It can affect your energy, mood, sleep, skin etc. But we can’t help it. Often people feel forced into it? Why? Well when we open magazines or social media feeds, we are bombarded with talk of getting ‘bikini ready’, ‘fitting in that little black dress’ or ‘shredding for the wedding’. We are inundated with pictures of ‘perfect’ bodies, but remember those bodies are often photoshopped and filtered. There is always a story behind the pictures you see, so don’t hold these types of bodies as the goal. Every body is different. It’s about striking a balance and using the right language to talk to yourself during the process.

The best exercise and nutrition regimen is not the one that’s your best friend is using, nor is it the method that is currently ‘trending’, it’s the one you will stick to long term.

TOP TIPS

THERE are lots of little lifestyle changes you can make that can easily be scheduled around a busy schedule.

  • Ask almost any professional, and they’ll tell you that regardless of training goals, healthy eating is the backbone to sustained health, and safe weight loss (if this is your goal). Stick to whole foods, that offer a balanced blend of complex carbohydrates, complete proteins, and fats.
  • Do not cut out whole food groups just because you read it somewhere. Unless you have a health condition or an allergy, you need to eat a variety of unprocessed foods from every food group, in order to get enough essential nutrients.
  • Note, I said ask a ‘professional’. That means someone who has credibility and is both trained and experienced in the areas of fitness and nutrition. ‘Experience’ on its own, is not the same as expertise. Don’t be fooled by certain crazes you hear from some social media influencers. It’s not the number of followers they have that counts, it’s about whether or not they are qualified to give out advice. Be careful and be informed.

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