How a wedding diet can turn into an eating disorder right under your nose
It's pretty much a given that 10 minutes after a friend announces she's getting married, the following exchange is probably going to take place.
You: "So, how exciting! You get to go wedding dress shopping now!"
Friend: "Yeah! But, you know, not until I lose 15 pounds."
It's also possible you were or are the one ruining your own special and joyful moment in life with thoughts about miracle crash diets and how your body is in no condition to wear a wedding dress yet. Society has certain expectations of brides, namely that they shimmy into their wedding dresses without effort and look like svelte Disney princesses instead of like uniquely beautiful versions of themselves.
What may start off as a simple quest to lose a few pounds by cutting out certain foods or exercising an extra day a week can quickly turn into an eating disorder that is becoming so common it has it's own name — brideorexia — and even celebs like Kate Middleton have been accused of going to dangerous lengths to get super-skinny before their weddings.
Because brideorexia is not an official diagnosis like anorexia or bulimia, Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, Eating Recovery Center's chief clinical officer and medical director of child and adolescent services, says people may not realize their behaviors can have severe health consequences and develop into actual eating disorders.
Because brides want to look their best for their wedding, and pop culture depicts them going to extremes (often in ‘humorous’ ways), Bermudez say some go too far (i.e. skipping meals, fasting, purging, etc.) to lose weight pre-wedding to look their best.
Perhaps you or someone you know decided giving up bread and pasta would help lose an inch from your waist, which would enhance the beauty of your dramatic mermaid-style gown. It's one thing to replace a few carbs with healthy vegetables and sources of protein — but it's a whole different ballgame if you find yourself literally unable to emotionally handle an interruption to your diet/exercise habits, says Kaila Prins, an eating disorders recovery coach who recovered from an eating disorder and exercise addiction.
"A person who is on a diet but who does not have a mental illness may be upset if someone cooks with butter when they’re trying to go low fat (or whatever), but a person with an eating disorder may refuse to eat, have a meltdown or practice compulsive compensatory behaviors like vomiting, overexercising or tighter restrictions the next day," Prins says. "The trouble with telling the difference between ED and dieting is that it’s hard to scan someone else’s mental state, and often, it’s hard to be objective when your own mental state is deteriorating."
Some of the common signs to look for if you suspect your diet is turning extreme include highly restrictive eating regimes, frequent stomach or digestive sickness, constant self-appraisal and checking mirrors, daily weighing and obsessive exercise, says Anne Lewis, Ph.D., psychologist at the Charis Center for Eating Disorders at IU Health.
But, wait, you may be thinking, aren't eating disorders rooted in control issues? Lewis says this is a common myth and that control is just a smokescreen.
"It’s really about how much you value yourself," Lewis says. "When you value yourself, you want to do right by your body. That means protecting yourself from malnutrition, guilt, shame, emotional isolation, etc."
It's also important to remember that the anxiety triggered by wedding planning and a big life change like marriage can serve as a breeding ground for eating disorders.
"If we think about how an eating disorder develops, sometimes it can be related to a stressful event," says Dr. Neeru Bakshi, Washington medical director at the Eating Recovery Center. "If a woman is dealing with the stress of a wedding and is trying to lose weight, then she may be at risk for developing an eating disorder. That being said, not every woman under stress and trying to lose weight may develop an eating disorder, but some women may be at a higher risk given genetic predisposition and how she tends to handle stress. Furthermore, an eating disorder is a psychiatric illness and therefore technically a mental health problem."
That last point is a crucial one. Few people are able to handle a mental health problem without outside intervention and guidance. If you find yourself becoming obsessed with food and exercise or feel your focus is no longer on planning a great life together, but has shifted to losing inches from your waist, put off wedding planning — your florist will wait — and make your health a priority.
"An important thing to remember is to reach out to others for support," Bakshi says. "Let them know what is going on and how you need help. Also, reaching out to mental health professionals and dietitians for professional guidance is a useful resource. Facilities like Eating Recovery Center offer free assessments and can connect you with useful resources and a path to recovery."