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Safe ways to lose weight in advance of your wedding

Many couples aspire to lose weight in the months leading up to their weddings. Few things are a bigger weight-loss motivator than being on display during a wedding, where guests will have their eyes trained on the happy couple.

Brides- and grooms-to-be often cite their impending nuptials as a reason to shed some pounds. A Cornell University study found 70 percent of the roughly 270 engaged women interviewed for the study said they wanted to lose weight for their weddings, with many citing a desire to lose as much as 20 pounds. Losing this amount of weight is feasible over a significant period of time. But according to Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist at New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City, many people get consumed with other wedding details and forget about weight loss until the last minute, causing many to resort to drastic measures to lose weight in the weeks before walking down the aisle.

Quick fixes may result in rapid weight loss, but all too often such measures don't work as expected and may cause unexpected side effects. In addition, crash diets or extreme cleanses usually will not help a person keep weight off, which leads to many people packing on the pounds once they return from their honeymoon. Losing weight and keeping that weight off requires that men and women make lifestyle changes, which often include alterations to their eating habits.

* Begin your plan early. Make weight loss as much of a priority as planning the wedding. Schedule a time to speak with a physical trainer and/or dietician who can help you develop a healthy weight loss plan. It may take several months to a year for you to lose weight the right way. Plan accordingly so you will not be scrambling at the last minute.

* Set reasonable goals. Losing 15 to 20 pounds is entirely possible in six months to a year, but losing that much weight in a week is unlikely. Determine how much time you have and set weekly or monthly goals, which can keep you on track and motivate you to lose the weight.

* Don't buy clothes in smaller sizes. Some brides-to-be order their wedding gowns in the sizes they "hope" to fit into come their wedding day. This is never a good idea, as it may create undue stress that can make losing weight even more difficult. Gowns are also quite expensive. It's easier to alter a gown to make it smaller and much more complicated (and expensive) to add fabric to increase the size.

* Keep your doctor informed. It is always best to consult with a doctor before starting a weight-loss regimen. Your doctor may suggest certain strategies to facilitate weight loss. Furthermore, you may be able to stop taking certain medications that can cause weight gain.

* Combine cardiovascular exercise and weight training when working out. Cardiovascular exercise alone will not help you lose the maximum amount of weight. Toned muscle will continue to burn calories and rev up your metabolism long after your workout is over. You do not need to use heavy weights; just enough to provide resistance and force your muscles to work a little harder.

* Don't skip meals. Skipping meals or eating at irregular intervals will make your body think it is starving. This slows down your metabolism as your body works to preserve energy and retain fat, which is counterproductive to your goal of losing weight. Eat at regular intervals and enjoy several small, healthy meals per day. Avoid foods that are high in fat, sodium and refined carbohydrates. Stick to complex carbohydrates that are full of fiber and lean protein.

* Remember to stay hydrated. Symptoms of dehydration can mimic those of hunger. If you start feeling hunger pangs, try a glass of water before you munch on a snack. Your body just may be telling you it needs more fluids.

Wedding weight loss goals are common, and couples can lose weight safely if they avoid crash diets and begin a healthy eating and exercise plan early on.