The Consequences of Diet Culture on Weddings

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Kelsey Herbers Headshot

Kelsey Herbers

When I told my friends and family that I was dieting for my wedding, no one batted an eye. That statement didn’t seem out of the ordinary. In fact, it felt more like an assumption or expectation.

Unfortunately, that’s what diet culture – or the over-glorification of weight loss – is doing.

May 6 is International No Diet Day, which celebrates the acceptance of one’s body in all its forms. It dismisses the idea that health is a certain shape, clothing size, or number on the scale and instead embraces body diversity and inner beauty.

Before my engagement, I had never tried (nor thought about) dieting. My body image had never really crossed my mind. But as I began to picture myself in a wedding dress, I felt uneasy about the image my mind was conjuring up, and I started paying closer attention to what I ate.

What started as an “innocent” diet to achieve greater confidence on my wedding day quickly spiraled into unhealthy eating and exercise habits that led to fast weight loss. Whenever my weight began to plateau, I’d simply try to get more creative until I saw continued progress.

I never stopped to think about how these new habits would negatively impact my physical, mental, and emotional health, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about how they might affect me beyond my wedding day. I figured I’d do what I could before the big day and simply stop being restrictive starting with my honeymoon.

My new food rituals, however, only grew worse after the wedding, and restricting quickly turned to binging. I felt completely out of control, but it took a long time for me to admit this wasn’t something I could reverse on my own. I reached out to NEDA for help finding an eating disorder specialist in my area, and I was diagnosed with bulimia at my first appointment.

An eating disorder is the absolute last thing I ever thought I’d end up facing. I found myself frustrated after I learned that my history of depression and anxiety had placed me at higher risk for developing an eating disorder, yet throughout my years of treatment, I had never been warned not to diet. Instead, I was left with a disorder that will likely come and go throughout my life.

If I could go back and talk to my pre-diet self, I’d sit her down and have a serious talk about how dieting – even with modest intentions – can turn into a slippery slope. I’d encourage her to embrace her inner beauty and find a dress that made her feel comfortable with who she already was. Most importantly, I’d explain how my disordered eating took joy away from what was supposed to be an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime chapter of life.

Today, instead of celebrating self-induced and unnecessary body changes, I’m celebrating my eating disorder recovery. I’m celebrating the incredible progress I’ve made, the hard work I’ve poured in to reverse my diet-fueled habits, and the love I’ve developed for the person I am – exactly as I am.

My wish for you is that today is full of inner peace, self-acceptance, and wonder for all your body enables you to do. I’ve come to learn all my body does each day to take care of me, and I want to show the same level of care to it in return.

Kelsey Herbers is a freelance content writer and mental health advocate based in Charleston, South Carolina. Read more about her eating disorder recovery journey in her recent New York Times essay.