I wanted Michelle Obama arms when I walked down the aisle in my strapless dress nine years ago. I worked with a personal trainer and tried to eat healthily, with smaller amounts of beer and frozen yogurt, my standard treats. But I have never been a good dieter. Hunger and abstinence are not really in my vocabulary. I never got quite as cut as my favorite FLOTUS but I looked pretty darn good that day in August – thanks to a dress I loved, makeup by one of my best friends and pure excitement radiating from my imperfect pores. I’m no beauty maven but this seems like a pretty accessible approach to looking good on your wedding day.
Since studying psychology and nutrition, I have come to see how ineffectual most diets are – at least in the long term – and how irritable they tend to make you. Not to mention the fact that overhauling your lifestyle is a major project and more than a little stressful. I am all for changing unhealthy patterns, but I recommend doing it in a non-crazy way that you’re going to be able to sustain for the long term. Weighing, measuring and counting calories may be fun for some armchair mathematicians, but for most of us, it is a huge pain in the bum – not to mention socially isolating. No one wants that for the bride-to-be.
May I suggest ways to get in shape without making the months before your wedding wholly unpleasant? Your engagement is a celebratory time. Be there for it.
• Slow down, eat more mindfully. Aim for chewing each bite 25 times or setting down your fork between bites. Notice the smell and texture of your food. Check in with your belly and stop before you’re uncomfortably full. Give your body three hours between meals to fully digest. Don’t sabotage yourself with snacking – often it happens out of boredom or loneliness, so be honest with yourself about what you’re hungry for. In that moment, feed yourself by connecting with a friend or getting some fresh air for a more fulfilling boost.
• Eat whole foods. When you pack your diet full of vegetables and fruit, you’ll nourish your body in an authentic way and won’t get crazy cravings. Whole foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, lean meat, seafood, a limited amount of true whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice) and nuts and seeds are your friends. Skip flour and sugar. Even whole wheat bread and pasta will spike blood sugar in a way similar to the most decadent dessert. Eat old-fashioned foods that have not been pulverized and processed and you’ll avoid this.
• Limit alcohol to a couple of drinks per week. Live your life but don’t make yourself bloated and dull. Nix the juice, soda and diet soda too. Artificial sweeteners simply trigger cravings for sweets. At least six tall glasses of water a day will keep you hydrated, satiated and glowing.
• Prepare your own food. Not “diet” food. Wholesome food that gives you energy and makes you feel great. Food in restaurants has so much added sugar and preservatives and breaded packaging, it will derail even the most valiant attempts at weight loss. Give yourself the upper hand here and opt out. When you do treat yourself to a meal out at a good restaurant, make it a genuinely fun social event where you’ll get a chance to relax with people you love. This does not include fast food breakfast sandwiches or depressing desk lunches. Invest a little extra time to prepare simple meals with protein, vegetables and healthy fats and make big batches of them so you’ll have leftovers. Don’t restrict yourself, treat yourself to high-quality food that will fuel and satiate you. Keep food interesting – wake up your senses by adding colorful berries and crunchy seeds or creamy avocado on top of salads. Get creative. Get Instagram-worthy.
• Find exercise you love. Don’t run if you hate running. Don’t go to that yoga studio with the weird vibe. Find a hip-hop or zumba class if you’ve got rhythm and love moving with other people. Get lost in the park with your favorite podcast if you don’t. Fit in at least 30 minutes of movement every day.
• Finally, don’t forget to include joy in your life. Make time for a hobby you love, whether it’s reading (wedding magazines and Pinterest don’t count), watching comedy specials on Netflix or nailing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at karaoke. Build in time to unwind at the end of the day. It’s not extra, it’s essential. When your soul is fed, your body will be too.
Ann Farrar is a health and wellness coach at worklifefamhow.com.