I ended up in the hospital because of my wedding

I'm here to tell you how to avoid the body image struggle that literally drove me to insanity.

The wedding industry and diet industry seem to go hand-in-hand. Planning a wedding can seem like a body-focused numbers game. What size dress will you buy? How many calories should you eat per day? How many hours of exercise? What’s your “Sweating for the Wedding” plan? How much weight are you planning to lose?

And yes, regardless of your body type, the assumption is always that you’re planning to lose weight.

The pressure to look your best by losing weight for your wedding is enough to drive any woman insane. I personally know, because it literally drove me insane. I went into outpatient treatment for an eating disorder three months before my wedding. Of course, the pressure to lose weight before my wedding didn’t give me an eating disorder. But it did expose the eating disorder that I’d been struggling with for years.

In the final months of planning my wedding, I had to develop strategies for not engaging in the body image struggle so I could stay healthy and mostly sane. The four tips below helped me immensely – and if you’re interested in avoiding the body image struggle while planning your wedding, look no further.

1. The wedding dress

The best thing I did when I went to pick out my dress was bring a large crowd of my favorite women – who I knew would be brutally honest. I brought one friend who is notorious for not being able to hide her emotions on her face. Every time I stepped out of the dressing room, I looked at her face first. If there was a scowl, I immediately took off the dress. When I finally found the dress, her face was beaming. Your friends and family will always view your body more accurately than you, so bring some loving, honest women with you when dress shopping. They’ll counteract that extreme self-criticism you’ll be harboring towards yourself.

Fitting in to your wedding dress months after you’ve bought it is also very stressful. It’s common for women to buy dresses too small to encourage them to lose the weight they plan to lose. This is a recipe for disaster.  Don’t do it!

As fate would have it, my dress was only available three sizes too big for me! It was my dream dress though, so I bought it knowing it would have to be altered. The truth is, almost every wedding dress will need alterations. Instead of buying too small and creating a crisis, buy a dress that’s too big or that fits at the moment. When you see the seamstress for alterations they’ll make sure that the dress fits perfectly.

2. Body comments from family and friends

Women have been taught to bond over discussions about their bodies, weight, and diets. This is especially true in the final months before your wedding. While I was engaged, I just stumbled through these conversations and cried about it later.

When I finally couldn’t stand that anymore, I started talking to my closest friends and my therapist about ways to respond. I discovered it was up to me to set boundaries. I started saying things like “I’m not really focused on my diet or weight right now. I’m really focused on being excited about the wedding.” I also practiced simply saying “I don’t want to talk about that right now.”

I was so scared of offending people that I was compromising my own well-being by engaging in detrimental body talk. Once I decided that setting boundaries was more important than hurting feelings, I found that people responded well. It’s uncomfortable at first, but don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re not willing to engage in conversations about your body.

3. Journaling

I had already established a practice of daily journaling by the time I entered treatment. I would write every morning as a way to process my feelings about the day. When I went in to treatment, I added the practice of logging my thoughts and feelings throughout the day. By doing this, I began to see patterns in how I was feeling.

At the suggestion of my therapist, I also began to write down times when I overate or refused to eat. Through this technique, I started to notice a pattern that linked my emotions to my eating habits – I realized I was using food to respond to my feelings.

Many women, even women without eating disorders, use food to respond to their emotions. The months before your wedding is a time filled with intense emotions – good and bad. If you feel like you’re using food to manage your emotions, journaling can help identify that pattern and offer a new way to manage your emotions.

If writing about food, or your feelings about food seems too overwhelming, journaling can still be a very effective tool for managing your emotions pre-wedding. Sometimes when you put pen to paper things come out that you didn’t even know were bothering you. Taking time to write can cleanse your heart and mind so you can face the day with a clearer perspective.

4. Remember the joy!

The months before your wedding should be the happiest times of your life. You’re about to embark on a lifelong journey with the person you love the most in this world – and you’re about to have a giant party to celebrate that love! All your friends and family will be there to support you – no matter if you are donned in a dress sized four or 16.

While wedding planning can be stressful, added stress about your body can definitely be avoided. I’ll leave you with a secret my mentor told me before my wedding: you’ll be the most beautiful woman in the world on your wedding day no matter what. Not because of what your body looks like, but because you’ll be radiating love and joy.