In Response to Bridal Hunger Games

Preventing the Damage After the Wedding

It's hard to know what disturbs me most about the NY Times article Bridal Hunger Games printed yesterday. Was it the hopelessness of women who don't fit into their ideal image of what a bride should look like—willing to take dietary change to extreme measures to achieve short term “success”? Or my fright at the willingness of MDs and nurses, helping health professionals, whose “first do no harm” mantra has clearly been dismissed? 

Or maybe it's the NY Times itself for creating a piece that seems more like an advertisement for unhealthy weight loss schemes, rather than a balanced report on the pitiful state of our culture and the consequences of being lured into quick weight loss schemes?

Pressure on women for their “big day” abounds, and it's been addressed before on this blog But let's take another look, from the perspective of the newlywed in her post-honeymoon period.

It's now October or November, some months past the glorious wedding day. And as quickly as it was lost using a  starvation strategy—NG tube or HCG, or self-imposed restrictive dieting—her weight has been climbing. Those lovely wedding photos are images of the past, as she is now left with a rapidly gaining yet non-pregnant body. With  her deprivation diet, she began to crave foods like never before. Her thoughts about food and eating were all consuming (pun not intended) and her rigid pattern of restricting has turned into rebound binge eating. 

The more she withholds the calories her body needs, the more she feels stuck in the cycle of overeating and over thinking. Her thoughts become more black and white, as she feels that once she starts, there's no stopping her. She feels hopeless and depressed. And she certainly doesn't want her disgusting body, as she sees it, to be touched. This is hardly the fairytale she envisioned.

In fairness, this certainly might have gone somewhat differently. Perhaps her predisposition to developing an eating disorder, combined with the trigger of dietary restriction and stress leads her to continue her weight loss. Now her periods become irregular and soon ultimately stop. Her libido drops and her irritability worsens, along with depression. She spends way too much time thinking about food and eating and exercise now, and becomes more withdrawn, avoiding social encounters. Hardly wedded bliss.

In either case, there is hope. Food intake can be normalized and health, both mental and physical, can be restored. But the best thing would have been prevention—avoidance of these crazy, unhealthy diets which can cause this whole scenario to snowball. So if you're lured into believing that you'll be happier dropping weight for your wedding day, please think again!

But back to the article and all my issues.

Where the Medical Community Goes Wrong

Ok, so apparently the nurse tells the patients about the FDA risks about the procedure. Great. But action speaks louder than words. If a provider wearing a lab coat tells you he/she does this all the time and promotes it as a solution to your problem, don't you think it's fine to do? Won't you allow your unhealthy, irrational thoughts to buy into the “treatment”, forgetting the risks? 

Who ARE these providers, willing to inject patients with a hormone while supporting extreme starvation of 500 calories per day, a deficit of at least 1000-1500 calories daily for most moderately active women of average height? Or those willing to subject healthy women to a feeding vehicle reserved for the severely ill unable to consume enough food orally—cancer patients, anorexics, to name a few—simply to make a buck? And the nerve to call it “nutritionally balanced” when it is devoid of carbohydrate, and induces ketosis and self-starvation! 

And yes, the quoted Dr. Shikora gets it right—but regrettably fails to acknowledge that discomfort is the least of the problem; he acknowledges with what I suspect is a bit of sarcasm that having a tube shoved down your nose is “not always comfortable and pleasant”—perhaps because he hears more complaints of discomfort following the gastric bypass surgery he is well-known for performing.

And while Dr. Aronne wisely suggests that waiting until there's little time left for change (resulting in taking extreme measures) is not the best strategy, I'm still left questioning this assumption:  that brides need to lose weight for their wedding! Perhaps if the focus were not on losing weight for a dress or for a day's appearance, I'd be okay. If weight had been climbing as the soon-to-be-bride had become sedentary or had turned to stress eating to manage at her new job, I could certainly see room for change. Addressing her unhealthy behaviors to help her gain control of her emotional overeating, to strategize about alternative coping measures, or to learn to distinguish hunger from other eating triggers—these I could support. 

Helping the soon-to-be-bride feel better, I certainly endorse. But that's not what the article encouraged. Maybe it's me, but this seemed like a sensational article about how to lose weight rapidly, without appropriately highlighting the very serious consequences.

So if you're feeling hopeless about your weight, don't be lured by promises of quick fixes—wedding, or no wedding. Consider the consequences of your actions both on your thinking and your general well being, not just on your weight now but in the future. 

And if you're ready to make changes, be sure they are reasonable to live with—not just for a week or two, but for life. No eating plan that severely restricts calories or omits whole food categories fits this description! 

Shame on these doctors who promote such weight loss programs. And shame on the NY Times for such an unbalanced perspective of the costs of such measures. You could easily buy a new dress at Kleinfeld's for the future cost of an eating disorder program, and the cost of your time at the therapist, doctor and dietitians' sessions to undo the damage from these diets. 

Fitting into your grandmother's dress, or society's expectation of your wedding day appearance, is no justification for messing with your head, and your body.
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