The wedding cake, the flowers, the rings ... the personal trainer? For some brides- and grooms-to-be, getting in shape for the big day is an important part of wedding planning.
But could they be setting themselves up for failure? Not only do last-ditch dieting efforts usually fail, but new research shows that married people tend to gain more weight over the years than singles or people who are widowed or divorced.
Still, saying "I do" doesn't have to lead to a lifetime of excess poundage.
Just as getting married is a major lifestyle change, so is successful weight loss, experts say. It's natural for brides and grooms to want to look their best for their wedding day, and going about it the right way can make the difference between living healthier, or heavier, ever after.
Losing Weight Before the Wedding
"I wanted to look nicer for the wedding, mostly for the pictures," says newlywed Donna Eck-David, who was married on April 3, 2004. She tried watching what she ate and avoiding the cafeteria at work for months before the big day. But she finally resorted to drinking a dieter's tea containing laxatives a few weeks before the wedding, to speed up her weight-loss efforts.
Eventually, Eck-David says, she lost about 5-8 pounds before the ceremony -- then gained most of it back during the weeklong honeymoon cruise.
Resorting to drastic measures like fad diets or pills for quick weight loss before a wedding may not only be dangerous, but can also set you up for a future of yo-yo dieting rather than permanent weight loss.
Planning a wedding can be a big job for future brides (and grooms), says Nelda Mercer, RD. If they're not getting proper nutrition, they may feel faint or suffer other health consequences.
"It's not a good thing to stress the body at an already stressful time," says Mercer. "It's best to plan ahead, join a health club, exercise, get a personal trainer if needed, and see a nutritionist or registered dietitian to set up not only a well-balanced diet, but a lifestyle change."
Personal trainer Sue Fleming says many women see their wedding day as the most important day of their lives and want to look their best. "It's the time where a lot of women finally decide to incorporate a fitness program because of that goal," says Fleming, author of the book Buff Brides.
Wedding dresses today are sleeker and more revealing than in years past, says Fleming, which means that the shoulders, back, and arms are usually top areas of concern for her clients.
Fleming recommends starting a bridal "boot camp" at least six months before the wedding that includes a balance of cardiovascular and strength training for about an hour a day, three to four days per week. Procrastinating brides and grooms who have less than six months to work with should plan on spending more time in the gym.
"The less time you have, the more time you have to dedicate to working out," says Fleming. Fleming says it's normal for brides-to-be to experience a slight weight gain after starting an exercise program, as they build lean muscle mass. But that's what will give them the kind of muscle tone they'll want to show off in a strapless wedding dress.
Experts say a weight-loss goal of about a pound a week is reasonable. For those with weddings many months away, Mercer recommends setting short-term goals -- like a couple pounds per month, rather than just 20 pounds before the wedding. This will allow them to enjoy short-term successes and not get discouraged.
For brides- and grooms-to-be who want to achieve sensible and lasting weight loss before their weddings, Mercer has this dietary advice:
- Eat smaller portions.
- Identify sources of empty calories in your diet, such as high-fat and high-sugar snacks, and limit them.
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. They're powerhouses of nutrition and can fill you up on fewer calories.
- Choose leaner, lower-fat meat and dairy products.
- Eat your calories, don't drink them. Engagement is a time for celebrations and parties, so choose your beverages wisely. Alcoholic beverages generally have at least 100 calories or more.
Once future brides and grooms set their minds to a weight-loss and fitness plan, Fleming says, they are usually successful. Many pick up healthy habits that last a lifetime.
"It is amazing to me how focused and motivated they become during this frantic, crazy, panicked period in their lives, and it's the one thing that they stick to," says Fleming. "If you need to use the wedding day to get you started, that's OK, but most people continue to work out, feel great, and look back at the pictures and say, 'Wow, I can do this.'"
Heavier Ever After?
Once a couple says their "I do's," they may be at risk for a honeymoon holdover effect. Research shows that newlyweds gain weight at a faster rate then their single peers.
"Married people are heavier than people who have never been married," says researcher Jeffery Sobal, PhD, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. "They are also somewhat heavier than people who have been previously married, divorced, separated, and widowed.
"Recently married people eat about half or more of their meals together," he says. "So marriage really is a huge influence on what you eat, its caloric value, nutrient composition, and all of those things."
What seems to happen, Sobal says, is that newlyweds eat more regularly, and more formally, than they did in their single days.
"The fact that you have dinner together is seen as one of the wonderful thing about marriage. You've got an eating partner," Sobal tells WebMD. "Those meals are usually more formal and consist of multiple courses."
Sobal says his research has shown that when you control for other variables, like age and having children, the "marriage effect" seems to go away to some extent in women while it persists in men.
"It suggests that there is something about being married that makes men slightly, but not hugely, heavier," says Sobal. He says more long-term studies will be needed to determine the exact nature of this marriage effect on weight.
Say "I Don't" to Post-Wedding Weight Gain
"You're never as thin as when you get married because it's all leading up to the big day," says newlywed Bonnie Lee of Mamaroneck, N.Y.
But in the two years since they exchanged vows, Lee says, she and her husband, Wayne, have managed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, despite constant temptation from the homework she did while studying at the French Culinary Institute in New York. Lee recently completed the culinary arts program at the cooking school and says her training has helped, rather than hindered, their efforts to maintain trim, post-wedding waistlines.
"One of things that we love about our marriage is that we both cook together," says Lee. In their single days, she and her husband used to eat out a lot more, grabbing a pizza or burger here or there.
"One thing I've learned about restaurants after working in them is that they don't measure the amount of oil they use," says Lee. "The food is saturated in oil, and you don't even know it."
Instead of eating out and risking fat overload, she puts together quick, easy meals that incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables, like stir-fries and salads.
"Cooking doesn't require a lot of time once you learn to cook efficiently," Lee tells WebMD. "The best and most inexpensive ingredients are usually those that are freshest and are in season." Mercer agrees, and adds that her own husband lost 20 pounds after they got married more than two decades ago and never gained it back. But even if you're not married to a registered dietitian, having a spousal support system can make it easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle.
Lee and Mercer offer these tips for avoiding postwedding weight gain:
- Keep a well-stocked pantry. Having no food in the house can cause too many trips through the drive-through.
- Plan meals ahead. Go to the grocery store with a list.
- Focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables. It'll help your budget as well as ensure a healthy variety.
- Watch portion sizes. Men are usually larger and require more calories than women, so portion sizes among couples shouldn't necessarily be equal.
- Make exercise a part of your new life together. Take a walk after dinner, or learn a new sport as a couple.
"Cooking and exercising together is a good way to support each other," says Lee, "and that's an important part of marriage."