The comments started the day I became engaged in December 2018: “You’re going to be such a beautiful bride.” “I can’t wait to see you in your dress.” “Everything is going to be perfect.”
Before my fiancé and I even booked our wedding date, originally April 25, 2020, or saved a color scheme on Pinterest, I felt an intensifying pressure to live up to the high expectations that I thought my friends and family already had for my wedding day. I set out to fulfill those expectations.
My innocent, wedding-driven diet which I began shortly after my engagement quickly spiraled into a full blown eating disorder. It was shocking to see how quickly and deeply I became ill.
However, there was nothing about my trip that surprised me. Robyn L. Goldberg, a registered dietitian and author of “The Eating Disorder Trap.”
“The research shows one out of three people who diet develop an eating disorder — it’s very, very common,” said Ms. Goldberg, who has worked in private practice for the last 25 years with clients who have eating disorders, including many future brides. She stated that some people have had to go into residential treatment. “You get so consumed that to pull yourself out of that dark hole seems impossible.”
My lifestyle changes in the early stages of wedding planning were subtle. I purchased an elliptical machine and took note of my calorie intake to find healthier meals. When the pandemic struck, I was left at home with my equipment, measuring cups, and extra time. The opportunities to experiment with weight loss and obsess about my progress increased. It forced us to postpone the wedding date.
Within months I had drastically reduced my calorie intake and was weighing myself multiple times per day. I also adhered to strict, self-proclaimed exercise guidelines. These included running for 45 minutes and walking 120 minutes each day (180 minutes on weekends).
Before my engagement, I had never heard of intermittent fasting, but it didn’t take long for me to master it.
These behavioral changes happened so gradually that I didn’t even recognize something was wrong until nearly two years later. I had lost 50 lbs, despite initially wanting to lose only 25.
My diet plan and emotions became intertwined. My entire day would have been ruined if my morning weight was 0.2 pounds more than the day before. And if the scale read 0.2 pounds less, I spent the day cautiously choosing a meal plan that would ensure that the fifth of a pound wouldn’t return the next day. I went so far as not to allow myself to drink water in the late evening or overnight, so that it wouldn’t affect the scale the next morning.
My personality changed as well. I began arguing with my fiancé for the first time. I panicked if I couldn’t eat alone. Friends asked me if we wanted to have ice cream and pancakes. I was so emotional. I went to bed whenever I started to feel hungry so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Worst of all was that I kept all of my behaviors secret, thereby reducing the chance for anyone in my life to intervene.
An Inward Pandemic
Covid forced us to postpone the wedding. We ended up marrying on Sept. 19, 2020, but postponed our large reception to Sept. 11, 2021, which meant more time to ensure my body was “dress ready.”
This extended my wedding planning period by two and a quarter years. It gave my disordered eating habits ample time and made them more difficult to break.
I quickly became acclimated to new, even higher perceived expectations from comments from family and friends like, “When your wedding day does arrive, it’ll be even more worth the wait.” Consistently earning praise from those around me for my weight loss only fueled that line of thinking further.
I felt as if I were the only one going through this, but clinical experts say the situation is more common than you’d think.
“If you’re dieting and then have an extension of dieting caused by a global pandemic, it’s like throwing gasoline on an already-lit fire,” said Becca Clegg, an eating disorder specialist and author of “Ending the Diet Mindset.” “Someone can think they’re trying to lose weight for a wedding, and before you know it, they’re in this compulsive relationship with regulating their food,” she said.
The pandemic has seen an increase in eating disorders, particularly among young women. Women under 30 years old have more eating disorders than ever before. 15.3 percent,According to a 2021 study published at The British Journal of Psychiatry. Since the pandemic began, the National Eating Disorder Association helpline has reported a 107 percentPeople who are in need of help should jump in.
The most likely factors behind disordered-eating are loneliness, difficulties in emotion management and a desire for control in a highly unpredictable environment.
Ms. Clegg believes that the rise of virtual meetings may also play a role in this, with people looking at themselves much more often than normal. “This has caused an uptick in fixation, dysregulation with anxiety and going back into dieting behaviors,” she said.
Thom Rutledge, a psychotherapist with more than 40 years of clinical experience and co-author of “Life Without Ed,” thinks we are living in a “diet culture.”
“So much eating disorder thinking is so normalized in our world,” he said. “People don’t even question you when you say, ‘I need to lose weight to fit into that dress.’ Nobody flinches, and that’s a very negative view of yourself.”
Ms. Goldberg has witnessed clients with eating disorders suffer from wedding postponements. Ms. Goldberg also believes that eating disorders symptoms have become more severe with the pandemic. This has led to an increase in demand for treatment.
Eating disorders aren’t the only mental illnesses to become more widespread in the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization the global incidence of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses increased by 25 percentIn the first year alone, the pandemic was fatal. Ms. Goldberg believes the growing mental health crisis is responsible for many treatment centers being full and people on waiting lists.
The Pendulum Effect
After my wedding, I decided that I would not restrict my food intake until my reception. My wedding cake would be my first step towards food freedom.
It took me less than two months to fall into a vicious cycle of restricting and binging that led to bulimia. I would restrict for shame, binge because it was possible, and then binge from starvation.
It wasn’t until I binged an entire loaf of bread straight from the package in under 15 minutes that I realized I needed help. My husband saw me lying on the kitchen floor, weeping and in pain because I was so full.
According to Mr. Rutledge wedding-related eating disorders almost always worsen after the event. “People don’t usually show up in therapy around the time of the wedding, they show up afterward,” he said. “And soon after that, some of them end up dealing with the same stuff when they’re having babies. Don’t be too quick to assume that it’s just a momentary thing. Do yourself, your marriage and your family a favor and pay attention afterward.”
I was referred to a psychiatrist by the National Eating Disorder Association. (It did.) It took some time to create a treatment plan that was effective and included both psychotherapy and medication. However, once we had it, it was a huge improvement.
Alternatives to Dieting
Instead of dieting before a wedding, here’s some advice from experts on what to do instead:
Knowing that eating disorders don’t go away on their own has been hard for me to accept. I am frustrated that despite being in therapy for nine years, I was never told my past anxiety and depression made me more likely to develop an eating disorder.
It was obvious that I would fall into a dangerous trap if I tried to lose weight. Instead, I was left with a chronic disorder I’ll have to be conscious of the rest of my life.
“It’s an individual thing of how long eating disorders last, but they can last decades and lifetimes, sadly,” Ms. Clegg said. Striped, a public-health initiative, published this report. one death occursEach 52 minute as a direct result to an eating disorder in America, making them one of the most fatal psychiatric disorders.
It is possible to recover fully. Ms. Clegg states that she has been completely recovered for over twenty years. With patience and grace, I can also see the way out.
Kelsey Herbers, a freelance writer and mental-health advocate based out of Charleston, S.C.
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