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Dateline NBC
updated 8/3/2005 5:54:42 PM ET 2005-08-03T21:54:42

The wedding: It's the stuff dreams are made of and every bride wants to look perfect in her wedding dress.

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But with so many Americans overweight, that means a lot of brides want to slim down and shape up. Dieting is always tough, but perhaps never tougher than when a woman has the added pressure of planning one of the most important days in her life.

Are you a bride-to-be seeking to shape up or slim down? Below are answers to some frequently asked bridal diet questions from two of the counselors featured on Dateline's "Bridal Diet Challenge" show. Cynthia Conde is a celebrity trainer and author of "Bridal Bootcamp: Look Fabulous on your Big Day" (Running Press). Robyn Flipse is a registered dietitian specializing in food, nutrition and health communications. Her book, "The Wedding Dress Diet"(Random House) was published in 2000.

When is the best time to start a diet before one's wedding?
“The amount of time you need really depends on how much weight you want to lose and how much toning you want to do,” says Flipse. “If you’d like to drop 10 lbs., you need at least 5-10 weeks. If you already ordered a dress in a smaller size and haven’t allowed enough time to sensibly and safely lose the weight you want, you better be sure to have a good tailor or postpone the wedding by a few more weeks.”

According to Conde, the goal is to lose body fat, not muscle tissue. “If you lose muscle while you are dieting, you will end up looking flabby or 'skinny fat.' And you’ll eventually gain the weight back. In an ideal world, you could safely lose up to 6 lbs. per month. Most people are not happy with that. You can accelerate your weight loss per week by increasing exercise or decreasing caloric intake. If you need to lose 30 lbs., think smart and start 6 months before your wedding.”

Does the added stress of wedding planning make it harder or easier to lose weight?
“The added stress of planning does indeed make it harder to lose weight,” says Conde. “When most of us are stressed, we turn to food for comfort.”

The trick, according to the experts, is to make one's fitness goals a priority. “Treat your ‘get in shape’ program like a part-time job that you have to budget time and energy for every day. The pay off will be better than the money another job could provide,” says Flipse.

How important is the role of exercise? Is limiting food caloric intake enough?
“There is no way to lose weight and get into wedding dress shape without exercise. Don’t even consider it,” says Flipse. “You do have the time for toning, stretching and/or more vigorous workouts if you just move it to the top of your priority list.”

Conde recommends dedicating at least an hour (three to four times per week) to workouts.  She emphasizes that decreasing caloric intake is vital. “Obviously, working out does burn calories and increases lean muscle mass, but if your caloric expenditure does not exceed your caloric intake, you will lose some weight, but never reach your goal.”

How much weight is too much weight to lose in such a short time frame?
“If you lose more than 10 pounds a month (and you are not obese), that is too much,” says Conde.

Any weight loss more than that isn’t sensible, say the experts. “Plus, you’ll feel exhausted, look run down, and be cranky all the time,” adds Flipse.

Are fad diets or diet pills OK if a bride is on a short timeline?
“The problem and danger with diet pills is that those affect your nervous system. Most contain caffeine as the main ingredient which will make you feel edgy and moody,” says Conde. “Crash diets, on the other hand, make you feel lousy as most of them are too low in calories.”

If you must diet on a short time line, Conde suggests cutting calories. “Increase your protein, decrease your carbs and fat, and do not go below 1,200 calories. This can be done for a week or two before the wedding, then you should stop.”

For Flipse, fasting, fad dieting, and diet pills are foolish as well: “Instead, put your efforts into accentuating your best features — hair, hands, eyes, smile — and work on your inner beauty. You will look radiant, I promise.”

Is there a point a bride should stop dieting?
According to Flipse, if you are following a sensible and safe diet plan, you never have to “stop” it. “You may need to modify it to a maintenance level once you have reached your goal," she says. "And if the diet causes you any sort of emotional pressure, by all means stop doing it because it obviously wasn’t based on your preferences and lifestyle.”

Conde says a bride should stop dieting when she has reached her fitness goal, whatever that may be. “Remember we want people to say you look fit, not sick!”

Another point experts make is that that healthy eating and exercise is a lifestyle choice: “You need to get your head around the idea that you can follow a healthy eating and exercise plan for the rest of your life,” reminds Flipse.

What can one do about cravings for chocolate, refined carbs, etc. — which often get worse during stressful times?
“Cravings are much easier to handle when you aren’t trying to stick to diet rules that forbid certain foods,” points out Flipse. “They are also more manageable when you substitute the word ‘want’ for the word ‘crave.’ You can go ahead and have some of that chocolate, as long as you work it into your daily calorie and/or carbohydrate budget. By avoiding the word ‘crave’ you become empowered to chose what you’re going to eat (or not), rather than feel overcome by some primal urge.”

How about the importance of eating enough? A lot of brides-to-be get too stressed out, eat poorly, and get run down.
“It’s very important that a bride gets the proper nutrition to keep her energy level high and to ensure that she does not lose muscle tissue while she is dieting and exercising,” says Conde.

And brides who don’t or can't eat may be facing a bigger emotional pressure: “If you are one of those people who forgets to eat or can’t eat when you feel stressed out, you need to get more help to ease some of the wedding pressure you feel,” says Flipse. Or decide to plan a more low-key wedding, she says. 

"At the very least, have someone close to you remind you to eat and make sure you do it," says Flipse. "Someone who is starving can’t think clearly or make good decisions when needed."

Should women take vitamins or other dietary supplements to help stay healthy ahead of the big day?
Yes, say both experts. "No one gets nearly the amount of vitamins and minerals from their diets alone," says Conde.

"Any woman who is restricting her caloric intake to lose weight will benefit by taking a multivitamin, and possibly some additional calcium," says Flipse. "The more limited or repetitious your food choices are, the more likely you’re not going to meet your daily nutritional requirements. A supplement will keep you covered if there are gaps in your diet, and provide the folic acid that is so important should you become pregnant in the near future,” says Flipse.

Check with your doctor before starting any diet. And watch the "Dateline Bridal Diet Challenge" on NBC. The show airs Friday, July 22, 8 p.m./ 7 C.

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