Safe Weight-Loss Tips for Wedding Season

Over the years, brides-to-be have taken drastic measures to lose weight ahead of the Big Day: drinking a concoction of lemon juice, water, syrup, and cayenne pepper, wiring their mouths shut, and taking a pregnancy hormone while following the 500-calorie hCG diet.

But a feeding tube?

Yes, indeed. News media were abuzz recently with stories of brides resorting to the K-E Diet, in which a feeding tube funnels a slow drip of 800 calories of protein, water, and fat--no carbs-- from the nose, down the esophagus, and into a person's stomach each day for 10 days. The draw: Patients can lose up to 20 pounds, says Oliver Di Pietro, a Florida-based internal medicine physician who charges $1,500 for the plan. One bride, his patient, reportedly had the tube removed after eight days because she had already lost the weight she wanted.

Medical and nutrition professionals immediately responded. "Rapid weight loss increases the risk of heart arrhythmias, dehydration, and electrolyte disturbances," says Ethan Lazarus, a family doctor in Denver who specializes in obesity medicine. Shedding pounds this quickly, he says, makes it likely that you will lose more lean body mass and water than fat. This can slow metabolism and result in an instant regain of weight once you go off the diet. "You may gain more than you lost," says Lazarus. Other effects include shrunken fingers and feet and a drooping face--which can result in a loose wedding ring, flopping shoes, and a blushing bride with a dull expression, he says. And while the risk of inserting a feeding tube is small, Lazarus notes the possibility of lacerations in the sinuses (the tube goes down through the nose) and the esophagus, and some brides may experience vomiting and nausea.

Besides, a bride who wants to lose 20 pounds should start at least 10 weeks before the wedding, based on safe weight loss of no more than about two pounds a week, says Heather Mangieri, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (People who are much heavier can safely lose more, especially when they are first starting a weight-loss program, says Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and author of The Calendar Diet . Eventually things will level out to 1 to 2 pounds a week for the average person, she says.)

Extreme measures like the K-E Diet aside, taking steps to accelerate weight loss as a key date approaches is perfectly okay if done sensibly. Below, experts share "final countdown" tips (no feeding tubes required).

Eliminate carbs or go low-carb. "The reality is in the short term, there is no question that low-carb diets work better, [for most people]," says Jampolis. "For a 10-day program, the lower you can go," the more weight you'll likely lose, she says. But Jampolis cautions against eating too few carbs, advising that brides consume between 50 and 75 grams per day to safely speed up weight loss. This can be achieved by eating lean protein, leafy greens, and healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds (watch the portions), and cutting back on processed grains, dairy, soy, sugar (including fruit sugar), and starchy vegetables. "Most women don't feel great if they go too low," she says. In the long run, know that low-carb diets have pitfalls, such as being unbalanced and difficult to stick to, says Jampolis.

Shrink and multiply. Eat five or six times a day, spaced out every two, three, or four hours, says Amira Lamb, a holistic nutritionist and personal trainer in New York. This can be three meals and two snacks or all mini meals. Eating regularly helps to maintain stable blood sugar and control hunger, she says. She adds that small meals are also better for digestion.

Consider meal replacements. Meal replacements, whether shakes, bars, or three bowls of bran cereal a day, work for quick weight loss and are much less invasive than a feeding tube, Mangieri says. "They are easy and calorie-controlled, leaving little room for calorie error." Many provide 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance for most nutrients, she says.

Still, Jampolis suggests eating one to two healthy, balanced meals in addition to meal-replacement shakes or bars. "I think it's important for fullness," she says; naturally occurring fiber from food promotes satiety better than does synthetic fiber from meal replacements.

Mangieri emphasizes that meal replacements are not for life. People get bored eating the same thing over and over, she says. "Strict diets may work for quick weight loss, but they do not replace the need to eat real food in adequate portions to maintain a healthy weight over a long period of time."

Stop eating out. Eat all of your meals at home if possible, suggests Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet. That way, you can control portion size and how food is prepared (without a half-stick of butter, for example). Remember this is only temporary, she says.

Nix the liquid calories. Drink as much water as you can, advises Joy Bauer, health and nutrition expert for NBC's Today show and author of The Joy Fit Club. Naturally fruit-flavored bottled water is OK. She also suggests drinking 1 to 2 cups of plain green tea before or with lunch or dinner. Green tea has been shown to boost metabolism.

Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners can intensify sugar cravings, Bauer says, making it more difficult to resist those chocolate donuts in the break room.

Eat protein with meals. Protein fuels your metabolism and helps you stay full, says Bauer. Try an egg-white omelet with vegetables for breakfast; a large vegetable salad with shrimp or chicken for lunch; and broiled salmon with steamed spinach for dinner. A snack may be nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, which can pack far more protein than the regular kind.

Start dinner with a non-starchy vegetable. Non-starchy vegetables are loaded with water and will fill you up, Bauer says. She recommends tomato or cucumber slices, a handful of baby carrots, sugar snap peas, or a broth-based vegetable soup (without pasta, rice, or beans).

Get moving. For faster results, take your fitness regimen up a notch by doing a high-intensity interval training workout. Power-circuit training--a superset of four to six different exercises with no rest in between--is the preferred method of Jackie Warner, celebrity trainer and author of 10 Pounds in 10 Days. She recommends doing the workout five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes.

However, too much exercise can undercut weight-loss efforts, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise." Overtraining syndrome" can cause an overproduction of the hormone cortisol, which can prompt the body to conserve (not burn) fat. If you start feeling dizzy or nauseated or you notice that it is taking too long for your heart rate to return to normal, you may be overdoing it, McCall says. Pain is another signal that something is wrong.

Consider hiring a professional. A personal trainer can help you design an effective exercise routine, while a registered dietitian can help you design a sensible plan that will result in a slimmer but still healthy-looking body, Mangieri says. "Investing in a professional will keep you accountable and provide an efficient and effective program while pushing you harder," Stacy Berman, founder and head trainer of Stacy's Bootcamp in New York City, said in an email. And it will be a fraction of the cost of a feeding tube.