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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neilson, MDA RD LD

Wedding Dress Shopping During Eating Disorder Recovery: Tips for a Memorable Experience

Spring is officially here and peak wedding season isn’t far behind. Venues are booked, caterers secured, and brides are saying “yes” to the dress. If you’ve ever helped a friend plan a wedding, you know how stressful this process can be. One survey found that 96% of couples said planning their wedding was stressful.

With toxic diet culture seeping its way into every nook and cranny of society, it can be particularly stressful for a bride in eating disorder recovery.

The pressures of the highly anticipated wedding day are already intense without the addition of the weight-loss industry reinforcing a narrow definition of beauty and setting unhealthy, unrealistic standards for how brides should look when they walk down the aisle.

woman in wedding dress, Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping During Eating Disorder Recovery

Fatphobia is ingrained in our culture. An estimated 33% of women are told by friends or loved ones to lose weight before their wedding. That’s absurd! Remember, you’re finding a dress that fits your body, not the other way around. Your fiance is marrying you because of who you are — a wonderful person.

Anti-diet dietitians are working to dismantle the toxic diet culture and replace it with the HAES (health at every size) approach, encouraging intuitive eating and pleasurable movement.

You deserve to have a positive and memorable experience shopping for a wedding dress. If you’re having anxiety about this activity, it’s a good time to revisit your healthy coping skills to help manage intrusive thoughts and regain focus.

Revisit Your Healthy Coping Skills Before Shopping for Your Wedding Dress

Focus on Why You’re Getting Married

There’s so much emphasis on the wedding being the so-called “best day of your life.” Brides are bombarded with “perfect” wedding content on social media, in magazines, and on television. Let me remind you, these platforms and the content on them, aren't real life.

Focus on the big picture — why you’re getting married.

Marriage is more than the wedding. You and the person you love have chosen to make a life together. Think about the future, the memories you’ll make, and the life you’re building together.

The ceremony is about joining you to the one you love. The reception is about celebrating the union with friends and family.

The day is but a snapshot in time that will go rather quickly. You’ll have your whole life ahead of you with your new partner. If you choose a dress you think is beautiful, fits your here-and-now body, and you feel comfortable in, you’ll be less concerned with your body on your wedding day and more present to enjoy these moments.

Practice Self-care Before You Head to the Bridal Shop

Recovery from an eating disorder is a life-long journey. Throughout your journey, you’ll have encounters that will challenge you and the work you’ve put in to get where you are today. Major life events such as a wedding may trigger disordered thoughts to come flooding back.

It’s important to remember your body is NOT the problem — diet culture is the problem.

Practicing self-care and giving gratitude to your body can help you work through these thoughts when they arise. During the week leading up to the big shopping day, increase your self-care routine.

If you typically post your positive affirmations on your mirror, post them throughout the house for the week. Recruit a friend or ask your fiance to post a few in unexpected places. The next time you open the refrigerator or step into your closet, you are greeted with a positive affirmation.

Read your affirmations out loud when you see them.

Increase your journaling during the week leading up to dress shopping. Express gratitude for your body in your writing. Preliminary research suggests that expressing gratitude helps you feel better, sleep better, and boosts self-care confidence.

Here are a few examples:

I appreciate my legs because they carry me throughout the day.

I appreciate my eyes because they allow me to see the beauty all around.

I appreciate my hands because they allow me to participate in the hobbies I love.

Verbalize Your Needs & Set Boundaries

It’s often difficult for women to express their needs and set boundaries with others. This is another area where deeply ingrained toxic teachings create unhealthy, unconscious beliefs.

Women struggle with boundaries for various reasons. You may worry about hurting someone’s feelings or appearing rude so you put their needs before your own. You may not ask for help because you don’t want to burden someone, and you may not speak up because you’re afraid of not fitting in.

Give yourself permission to release these feelings and let your needs be known. Say to yourself, “I have needs like everyone else. My needs are just as important as other people’s needs. It’s acceptable and healthy to express my needs and set boundaries with:

  • My friends and family

  • The wedding consultant

  • The seamstress

  • Myself

I’m doing this for my well-being.

Write down what you need from everyone who will be with you on shopping day and practice verbalizing those needs.

If you’re taking a friend or family member with you, discuss with them ahead of time how they can support you while you try on dresses.

If you need to be able to express how you're feeling without comments, let them know. Explain to them that even a well-meaning comment like, “Oh, that’s just not the right style dress for your body type,” can be triggering.

Ask the salesperson and seamstress to refrain from making comments about your body.

And if you feel yourself being triggered during your session, take a private moment to repeat your positive affirmations. If you’re becoming overwhelmed, call it a day. You can always go back.

A Few Points to Keep in Mind About Shopping for a Wedding Dress

Body changes are common during stressful situations

Your body will do what it needs to in order to protect itself and get you through the stress. Be gentle, compassionate, and kind to yourself during this time.

Find a dress that fits your body, not the other way around

This was mentioned earlier, and it’s worth mentioning again. Avoid buying a dress on the “small side” in hopes of losing weight or as a way to motivate yourself to lose weight before the wedding. Instead, buy a dress that fits your current body and feels comfortable.

It’s common to have three or four dress fittings

Most brides have several fittings to get their dresses looking and feeling just right. Work closely with the seamstress to carefully schedule your alternations in time for the big day.

Special Note

Post-pandemic supply chain disruptions are affecting many industries — including clothes manufacturing. Be sure to check with the bridal shop sooner than later to get an estimate on arrival times.

Schedule a Session

If you’re working with a dietitian, schedule a session before AND after you shop for your dress.

They can help you explore anxiety you may be experiencing and help you work through it.

The post-shopping session is a safe environment to reflect on the day and process unexpected feelings that may have come up.

If you’re looking for a dietitian, let’s connect!

As a virtual eating disorder dietitian, I’d love to work together to help you alleviate some of that anxiety so wedding dress shopping is a memorable experience.

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