They're coming. Somewhere on the planning calendar between This Engagement Party and That Bridal Shower, fittings for that big, dreamy dress will be scheduled. And if you're like most brides, you'd much rather the seams of your wedding gown be taken in, rather than be let out.
Despite the claims of fad diets, tonics, powders, and pills, there is only one healthy way to achieve your wedding day weight: A combination of diet and exercise that promotes gradual weight loss. If you've had any experience watching your weight, you probably know the basics: Cut down on sweets, bulk up on fruits and veggies, choose lean meats, avoid fried and fatty foods, and be sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
You might also know that exercise plays a key role in weight loss, but did you know that if you don't exercise when you diet, you might end up losing mostly lean tissue? That's precisely the svelte, sculpted muscle you want to keep. On the other hand, just because you work out 5 days a week doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. If you're really serious about getting in shape for your wedding day, you need to strike a balance between healthy eating and exercise.
The formula for weight loss is a simple one: Calories burned must exceed calories consumed. So it makes sense that the best way to begin your new lifestyle is by shaping up your diet. To keep your energy level high enough to plan your wedding, choose a safe, healthy eating plan that targets a loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week, which, for most of us, means consuming about 1200 calories a day. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose before the wedding -- say 20 pounds -- you'll need to start your diet between 5 and 6 months before the big day.
But because you want to lose fat weight -- not just body weight -- keeping your calorie intake hovering at 1200 isn't your only concern. Here's why: According to fitness expert William D. McArdle, PhD and Professor Emeritus at the Department of Family, Nutrition and Exercise Science at Queens College at CUNY, when you diet without exercising, your body uses lean muscle mass for energy. But if you add exercise to your daily routine, your body will turn to those pesky fat stores for fuel.
Before you even begin shaping up for your wedding day, McArdle says it's important to figure out where you're starting from. Step one: Plan for success by picking a good start date. Give yourself a few days to prepare yourself, your schedule, and your kitchen for your lifestyle change. Go through your pantry and throw out, donate, or give away items that could capsize your best efforts, then stock your cabinets with healthy choices and a few diet must-haves: liquid and dry measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a kitchen scale.
In the days leading up to your start date, keep a "food diary" that includes what, how much, and at what times you eat, as well as any accompanying emotions you experience. Your journal entries can be as minimal as "3 pm snack: potato chips," or as detailed as "3 pm: a bag of potato chips from the vending machine. Feeling tired and anxious about project. Craving crunch and salt. Felt guilty afterwards." As you continue to "journal" your eating habits, patterns will begin to emerge. Understanding the "triggers" behind your cravings and choices will help you better control them. When you reach your start date, be sure to continue keeping a record of what you eat and how much water you drink.
You'll also want to determine your fitness level. If you ask a personal trainer for a fitness assessment, you'll likely be given a body composition test (where your ratio of fat to muscle is measured), a cardiovascular fitness test (tracked by your progress on a treadmill or step machine), a joint flexibility test (usually a simple "Sit and Reach" test), and a muscular strength test. If you don't have access to a personal trainer, you can assess yourself by recording your body measurements, making note of how long it takes you to walk or run a mile, and doing as many sit-ups as you can in 60 seconds. Whether you enlist the help of a professional or do it yourself, McArdle says this kind of benchmark is both helpful and inspiring when determining your rate of improvement.
For brides looking to lose weight, McArdle recommends "big muscle" exercises, exercises that use large muscle groups in a rhythmic or continuous manner. Cardio-driven big muscle exercises include swimming, cycling, walking, running, hiking or cross country skiing and are among the best exercises you can do to burn fat. Exercise at what you gauge to be a moderate pace -- one at which you could easily carry on a conversation. Start exercising in 15-minute increments, three times a week. As your endurance improves, increase your exertion level and your length of exercise time. McArdle also says that exercise sessions are beneficial even when they are cumulative. That means you'll do yourself as much good working out 20 minutes in the morning, at lunchtime and after work as you will by hitting the gym for one long session.
Whether you have a lot or a little weight to lose, if you're like most people, you'll feel better about your body when you tone up. For body sculpting, McArdle says there's nothing better than resistance training. While some women believe that lifting weights will leave them looking like linebackers, they needn't worry; women don't naturally posses enough of the male hormone testosterone to build large muscle mass.
The truth is, resistance training is the perfect complement to aerobic exercises like swimming and walking, and is great for improving bone strength and sculpting the body. Start your resistance training with relatively low weights so that you feel muscle fatigue after one set of 12 to 15 exercise repetitions. Again, as you build endurance, add more weight and increase the number of repetitions in your set.
After every exercise session, McArdle says it's important to stretch. Not only will stretching keep you safe from serious muscular injury, increasing your flexibility is essential to improving your overall fitness level. Start by holding stretches for 15 seconds at a time, working your way up to 60 seconds.
A Word About Spot Reduction
Many of us look at our bodies and see trouble spots: If only that tummy were flatter, those thighs leaner, these arms more toned. Although our body shapes are determined primarily by heredity, McArdle says we can tip the hand of genetics a bit with localized exercises that improve muscle tone. Still, he is quick to caution that in order to really reduce anywhere, you must slim down everywhere. So to trim your arms, abs, and buns, you've got to start with a program that benefits your whole body, not just the areas your wedding dress emphasizes.
Feeding Your Workout
Once you've begun your workout routine, you may feel that such sweat and strain entitles you to a big burger with the works and a giant order of fries. Don't be fooled. Remember, the key to weight loss is to expend more calories than you consume, so if you've upped exercise only to up calorie intake, you won't get the results you're looking for.
In fact, when you get regular exercise, you need to be even more vigilant about what you eat. Your body, having become a more efficient machine, relies on the vitamins and minerals found in healthy food to fuel itself and develop muscle and lean tissue. In addition to lean meats and dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, add a multivitamin to your daily diet to make certain you get the nutrients you need.
Resolutions for Life
Once you've begun your healthy diet and exercise plan, there's one big challenge left: Sticking to your guns. And not just until your wedding day. The key to long-term weight loss is making healthy eating and fitness part of your lifestyle forever. So, why not start your marriage out right by dedicating yourself to a sensible diet and active lifestyle? (If you can involve your spouse in this effort, so much the better.) This doesn't mean that you can't ever enjoy food or indulge yourself once in a while. However, you'll want to avoid reverting to unhealthy eating habits and regaining the weight you'll have worked so hard to lose. If you find it hard to stay motivated on your own -- and most people do -- consider seeking out a weight loss organization for advice and support. If you take "weight loss for life" seriously, you'll feel as good about yourself on your 20th anniversary as you will on your wedding day!