Who better to give advice on how to prepare to look your best on the big day than women who’ve been through it—and achieved their goals? That’s why we chatted up eight smart ladies who went about making realistic, doable, not-at-all-extreme changes to their diets and fitness routines, and felt amazing by the time they walked down the aisle. A few highlights: Don’t go over-the-top; focus on how you feel, not just the number on the scale; and remember, everyone at your wedding—from invitees to the lucky groom or bride—is going to think you’re a knockout no matter what.
Get their full wisdom below:
Have realistic expectations.
“About three months before my wedding, I got an unlimited pass at a barre studio. I went from working out about two to three times a week to three to four times a week. I wanted to look toned and feel confident—and I achieved that. I definitely didn’t suddenly have my dream body, but I was in better shape and I felt comfortable. I didn’t give up alcohol, carbs, or dairy; I just tried to eat more sensibly—order healthy options and not binge on cereal and bread.
My best advice is to find a routine for exercise and diet that works for you. I discovered I really like barre classes, so it wasn’t a chore to go, but I couldn’t force myself to start training for a half marathon. Not my thing. Same goes for giving up carbs. Planning a wedding is plenty stressful without trying to transform your body completely!” –Lindsay, 29, New York
Focus on how you feel, instead of on the scale.
“I had been taking Shred415 classes, but I got more serious about it in the three months before the wedding, taking about five per week. I didn’t change much about my diet, since I recognized my unwillingness to cut out fatty foods and sweets completely. I don’t own a scale, so I was purely concerned with how I felt and looked—I wanted to trim down my tummy and get some definition in my arms and back, since my dress was strapless. I was very conscious to not overdo it, because I’ve seen some brides who have taken it too far, and rather than looking fit and healthy, they instead look kind of sickly.
I do think that I achieved my goal: I look back at our photos and am proud of how I looked. Are there some unflattering ones? Sure. But, I view that as one of the best versions of my physical self that I can continue trying to maintain. And, even when the seamstress made a comment during my final fitting that I had gained weight—yeah, seriously—my sister and I laughed and chalked it up to having more muscle.
I can be extremely critical of myself, especially my looks, but I felt confident that day and didn’t spend too much time worrying about sucking it in or posing with the skinny arm. I think you should look at those photos and feel like it’s a version of you that will always be attainable. View this an opportunity to make some changes that you can continue beyond the big day. Starting months before the wedding can help, so that you don’t starve yourself in the weeks before in a panic to lose weight!” –Brooke, 28, Chicago
Don’t underestimate the power of walking.
“I started working out about a year out. I was freelancing while living abroad, so I had time to do my own thing. I started doing an hour-long walk every day. I’d walk through London’s Hyde Park every afternoon. Before London, I was living in Cape Town and doing a lot of boxing.
I wanted to look super toned more than anything. I don’t really have weird feelings about my body, but my arms—in my opinion—go between looking soft and overly muscular, so I wanted to find a balance, since they’d show in my dress. I used to do Ballet Beautiful and Tracy Anderson, and I loved the arm exercises they do, so while I walk, I do my own weird blend of arm movements. It looks crazy, but it works.
Realistically, there was no way I was going to cut alcohol or sugar completely or live like a monk for a year and a half. I feel great about how I look right now, a few days before my wedding! There’s nothing I’d change. I’m in better shape than I have been since I was in college, and I feel good and normal and happy.” –Laurel, 29, New York
Get a fitness friend—or join a group—to keep you accountable.
“I didn’t have a specific number of pounds or size I wanted to reach—I just wanted to lose as much weight and get in as good shape as possible in the short time that I had while staying healthy, and not resorting to something drastic like the Master Cleanse. I was mostly concerned with looking good in my dress and photos in perpetuity.
I changed my routine five months before my wedding. I got a personal trainer, who I saw twice a week, in addition to working out solo, and joining Weight Watchers. I tracked my food intake, exercise, and went to weekly meetings.
I lost about 25 pounds and dropped two sizes and was very happy with the results. It was a challenge, but a realistic one. I felt stronger, more fit, and healthier overall. I wish I had kept up that level of dedication consistently in the three years since the wedding.
My best advice is to recruit a friend to work out or diet with you. I learned the term accountabili-buddy at Weight Watchers, which I love. Having someone by your side makes you more accountable, makes it more fun, and when it’s tough, misery loves company.” –Janet, 31, New York
“About eight months before my wedding, I set out to lose weight in my midsection and tighten up by going to Pilates and barre. That routine helped me establish a regular vigorous exercise regimen and reinforced healthy eating choices that I carry with me now.
My best advice: Stick to lean meats, eat lots of green vegetables, drink tons of water, skip the salt, and indulge every once in awhile. I would treat myself to ice cream or fudgy chocolate desserts twice a week.
Most important: Try to enjoy every single moment leading up to your big day! I was so stressed from planning—which probably curbed my appetite and contributed to losing more weight than I wanted or anticipated—but above all, it prevented me from enjoying the process and certain elements of my engagement.” –Polly, 31, Los Angeles
Save money by using DVDs and tracker apps.
“I wanted to lose some weight, but nothing drastic, and I really wanted to look more toned. I started to change my fitness routine and diet a little over a year before my wedding. I found that the process doesn’t have to be expensive. My fiancé and I paid for a large portion of our wedding out of pocket, so I wasn’t in a position to hire a personal trainer or go to five or six workout classes per week.
I did a lot of research and bought several fitness DVDs that I could do every morning in my apartment—Jillian Michaels’ interval workout DVDs are quick, challenging, and super effective. I also tried POP Pilates, and ran outdoors.
My secret weapon was the LoseIt app, which gives you daily calorie allotments according to your weight-loss goals, food intake, and exercise. Actually seeing how my snacking was negatively affecting my overall calorie intake was a big deal for me. The app helped me realize that I could eat almost everything I wanted—I just had to understand that if I went out to dinner and had steak, I needed to cut back on snacks and load up on greens the rest of the day.
By the time my wedding rolled around, I felt as though I’d made a really positive change that was going to last—and it has! I came away from the experience much more disciplined, and I finally taught myself how to get out of bed and work out in the morning.” –Bethany, 30, New York
Consider a trainer.
“I didn’t want to make every single moment before my wedding all about working out, or worrying about my physique, but—let’s be real—I still wanted to look really good in my dress, which was pretty form-fitting. My goal wasn’t to be ‘skinny,’ but rather, to be toned.
Typically, I’m a healthy eater, and I believe everything is OK in moderation, but I tried to reach for carrots instead of cookies when cravings hit. Salads, fruit, and veggies and I became really close friends in those months.
I hired a personal trainer because I usually focused on cardio at the gym, and wanted someone to teach me how to target key areas. I focused on my arms, back, and stomach. I think the best part of training was that by time I walked down the aisle, I was in the best shape of my life, and felt really strong. I tried to have fun with my workouts, and my trainer was great about making them—brutal as they often were—really positive.
My goal with my wedding look was just to feel my best, so I hunted for the perfect dress and hired a team to do my hair and makeup—all of which I think contributed to feeling great on the big day. Remember that everyone at your wedding is there to love, support, and celebrate your marriage—they’re going to think you’re gorgeous no matter what.” –Cristina, 32, Boston
Sign up for a race or fitness challenge to motivate you.
“I did not change a ton in terms of diet; I work in the field of nutrition, so I try to practice what I preach, but definitely indulge— just in moderation. I’m opposed to extreme or fad dieting. Special restrictive diets are only necessary for people with certain medical concerns.
I amped up my cardio, cycling and running to stay fit. I wanted to to tone up, and was happy with the results on my arms, but felt like I could have worked harder in terms of strength and weight training. Signing up for races helps keep motivation to run in the winter!
Regardless of how your wedding diet or workout plan goes, just know that your groom will think you’re the most gorgeous bride ever. I felt beautiful on my wedding day.” –Pamela, 29, New York