Published: 22:19 BST, 6 March 2017 | Updated: 01:05 BST, 7 March 2017
Zipping up my floor-length, French lace wedding gown, I can't help but smile at my reflection in boss’s day 2017 pictures the mirror.
Smoothing my hands over the fabric, I feel a frisson of smug satisfaction that the size 10 dress effortlessly skims the curve of my bottom, hips and chest and highlights my flat stomach.
I say 'still' because I'm no longer a bride-to-be about to reveal my dress — with its delicate straps, ribbon tie waist and waterfall skirt — to my groom and waiting guests.
In fact, it's six years since my husband, Jonathan, and I wed at a country house in North Yorkshire.
But since then, my wedding dress has proved a rather novel — and brilliantly effective — way to keep my figure in check and ensure I don't expand into a fat, frumpy wife unrecognisable to Jonathan as the woman he married.
How? It's simple. I try on the dress every year on our anniversary, and sometimes in between. This may sound bonkers, but it works.
SADIE NICHOLAS - Married six years
Sadie Nicholas promised herself that in the years after her wedding, she would stay a size 10. Even with workouts and sensible eating, she found the most effective way to stay slim is to try on her wedding dress. Above she's pictured three years after her wedding day in her dress
Although an estimated one in four women loses weight before her wedding, more than half pile half a stone back on before their first anniversary.
In fact, the average new bride gains 5lb in the first six months of marriage alone. Within a couple of years, many have porked out so much they barely resemble the slender bride beaming from the framed photo on the mantelpiece.
To put it bluntly, I loathe the idea of becoming one of those women. Not only would it be disrespectful to my husband, who I know is proud of the ongoing efforts I make to keep slim, but I know I could never be happy in a body like that.
So I work hard to stay a size 10, with daily workouts and sensible eating (with treats at weekend), though now I'm 43, I've noticed that it's getting harder to keep myself motivated.
However, I'd never trust scales to keep an eye on my weight. Specialist dietician and weight management expert Sioned Quirke points out that scales take no account for changing body shape and muscle volume. Your clothes are a much more accurate way of keeping tabs on your figure.
While my daily uniform of jeans and jumpers can easily hide the odd pound here and there, my wedding dress will not. Not a single one. So that £1,200 Cymbeline wedding gown has become my strict body overseer. It's never going to lie to me and tell me everything's OK, when obviously it's not — which your best friends will do.
Any time it feels tight, the zip won't close, or my boobs are spilling out, drastic action will be taken.
On our first anniversary in February 2012, I persuaded my husband to take a photo of me in my dress in the snow outside. Though he raised a bemused eyebrow, clearly thinking I'd lost the plot, he did mutter something about me still looking 'nice' in my dress.
On our second, I'd just found out I was seven weeks pregnant. Though my stomach was still flat, the dress felt noticeably tighter around my boobs.
By year three, our baby boy, Albie, was almost five months old, so imagine how proud I was to slip effortlessly into my dress. All that 'eating for one, not two' and gentle exercise had paid dividends.
And I've kept up the routine ever since. When I confess my weight-loss secret to some women, I swear they think I'm a little mad — yet I know they're more than a teeny bit jealous, too.
But it turns out I'm not the only 'perennial bride' out there. Weddings dresses are used as slimming tools all over the UK — and for much longer than I've been doing it.
CAROLINE ALLISTON - Married 24 years
Caroline Alliston has tried on her gown every year since her wedding in April 1993. Now, almost 24 years and three children later, she remains a svelte size 12 and says it's all thanks to her bridal gown, which cost £1,200 from a boutique in Eastbourne
Take Caroline Alliston. She has tried on her gown every year since her wedding in April 1993. Now, almost 24 years and three children later, she remains a svelte size 12 and says it's all thanks to her bridal gown, which cost £1,200 from a boutique in Eastbourne.
With its full-length sleeves and fitted bodice, Caroline's dress is as unforgiving as my own. And she's glad.
That's the reason she has recently lost a stone. When, on her anniversary last April, the dress felt snug around her arms and waist, she ditched the cake, increased her gym workouts and took up running.
'I don't use scales — I prefer to know that my dress still fits, and also that my husband finds me attractive in it after all this time,' says Caroline, 44, a part-time pastor who lives in Sussex with her church leader husband Steve, 45, and their children Noah, 20, Daisy, 18, and Jude, 15.
'Some years it's felt a bit tight, such as after each baby, when I was a little rounder on my tummy and hips, and I've tackled my weight immediately.
'On our anniversary in 2009, my figure was looking fuller again, so I joined a gym to deal with it.
'It's always been important to me to be slim, but more so since entering my 40s. I know that it's easy to let ourselves go in middle age, and it strengthens my resolve not to get fat as I get older.
'I only keep the dress on long enough to have a twirl around, assess my figure and get one of the family to take a photo,' Caroline adds.
'My husband tells me I look 'hotter' in it today than I did 24 years ago, and still enjoys helping me out of it!
'I always phone my sister, who's a year older, and say 'I've done it again!' when I manage to get the dress on, and I post a picture on social media too.
'I don't do it to gloat, but it does feel like a little personal achievement when I can still get into it each year. Without my dress as an annual gauge, it would have been easy for my weight to creep up.'
SIAN STINTON - Married five years
Like Caroline, Sian Stinton, 31, a senior mortgage underwriter, intends to try on her £850 gown every anniversary for decades to come. Determined to be as slim as possible on her wedding day in May 2012, she'd slimmed and exercised her way from a size 12 to an eight
Like Caroline, Sian Stinton, 31, a senior mortgage underwriter, intends to try on her £850 wedding gown every anniversary for decades to come.
Determined to be as slim as possible for her wedding in May 2012, she'd slimmed and exercised her way from a size 12 to an eight.
'I wanted to be in the best shape ever when all eyes would be on me,' says Sian, who lives in Berkshire with her husband Gary, 39, a senior risk manager for a building society, and their son Edward, 17 months.
'After all that work, it seemed ridiculous to hang up that beautiful dress and sit back and get fat.
'On our first anniversary, I decided to see if I could fit back into it. As I asked my husband to zip it up, I inhaled as deeply as I could, sucked in my stomach and was amazed when he said: 'You've done it!'
'Even though it felt a little more snug than on the day, I was thrilled. I even popped into the back garden to show the neighbours over the fence.'
Last year was the only year she couldn't do up the zip. After Edward had been born three months prematurely in September 2015, the anxiety, plus sitting for hours expressing milk, meant she was eating rather more convenience food than usual.
'So on our wedding anniversary last year, when Edward was eight months old, it wasn't a surprise when the zip stopped an inch short from the top.
'I was disappointed and motivated in equal measure. I immediately cut back on chocolate — my downfall — and took more walks with the pram.'
Sian credits her dress as the reason she's now back to a size 10.
'If the zip goes all the way up on my anniversary this May, it will give me such a confidence boost,' she says. 'Although Gary humours me, he also says I look as beautiful now as I did when we got married.
'If ever I can't get the dress on, I'll seriously reassess my lifestyle because it's important to me to remain slim and — more importantly — healthy.'
Sioned Quirke urges a little caution to women who've lost weight before their wedding, as Sian did.
Most women lose weight before their wedding — either deliberately or through stress — so gaining a couple of pounds afterwards is natural as long as it doesn't spiral into more, she says.
'Trying on your wedding dress to keep check of your figure should be a positive, motivational tactic, not something that leaves you feeling negative if sometimes it's a bit tighter,' she adds.
FIONA SHRUBB - Married seven years
English teacher Fiona Shrubb, 28, says regularly revisiting her bridal gown rescued her from becoming a frumpy mum. Made in haste by a seamstress friend three weeks before she eloped to Gretna Green in March 2010, Fiona has tried on her floor-length, size 10 silk frock every year
English teacher Fiona Shrubb, 28, says regularly revisiting her bridal gown rescued her from becoming a frumpy mum.
Made in haste by a seamstress friend three weeks before she eloped to Gretna Green in March 2010 — her husband, Darren, was relocating to Germany with his job and his employer suggested they should marry if she wanted to go with him — Fiona has tried on her floor-length, size 10 silk frock every year since, or at least attempted to.
'When I got married I was only 21, so staying slim seemed easy,' says Fiona, who lives in Peterborough with Darren, 29, who works in IT, and their daughters Elizabeth, five, and Rebecca, three.
'I thought that putting on my dress would be a nostalgic and useful exercise to repeat every March, to ensure that I didn't gain weight.'
Her gown was put to the test come her second anniversary, four months after having her elder daughter.
'I had gained so much weight that, at the age of 23 and just two years after my wedding, I was too fat to get it past my waist.
'That was all the motivation I needed to stop using pregnancy as an excuse for the fact I was still wearing size 16 maternity clothes.
'I cut out junk food and chocolate, went to an exercise class three times a week, and by our third anniversary I was a slender size 10-12 again, despite being two months pregnant.'
Pregnancy left Fiona with a wider ribcage and larger boobs, so she had the original halter-neck top altered to provide more cover when she and Darren renewed their vows in front of family and friends in May 2015.
'We wanted to mark our fifth anniversary with our loved ones because they hadn't been able to share our original wedding day, and there was no other dress I'd have wanted to wear,' says Fiona.
'I'm certain that without my dress as a benchmark, I wouldn't have lost my baby weight — I'd just have hidden it under baggy clothes. Even between anniversaries, if I suspect I've gained a few pounds, I put it on for motivation to lose them.
'My wedding dress has become the most unexpected and beautiful insurance policy against ever sliding into fat, frumpy wife territory again.'
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