Read more of Slate's "Weddings" issue.
As if the workout wasn't bad enough. My then-fiancé looked over my shoulder at the Spartan list of acceptable foods I was allowed to consume. I would come to refer to this as the "squirrel food diet," because nuts and berries seemed to be such a crucial part of it. Otherwise, it was the standard diet that women's magazines encourage month after month after month: Breakfast involved egg whites. Lunch and dinner were 4 ounces of fish or chicken and greens. The nuts and berries were snacks. No booze, no sugar, no fun allowed.
"This is insane," said my fiancé. "You don't need to lose weight."
"It's not about losing weight," I told him. "We're going to have those photos for the rest of our lives and I refuse to have dinner lady arms in them! I promise to be sane about everything else wedding-related."
And I was, for the most part. Over the next two months, I carefully hewed to my squirrel food diet and visited Iron Gym three times a week. The place was so dank and gross that I even developed a fungus on my back that I attributed to the unwashed exercise machines. A fungus! But still, I persevered. That I was willing to keep at it made me realize that this makeover was about more than just vanity. I was getting much, much stronger. After several sessions I could lift the heavy boxes of wedding goodies that were being shipped to us on a near-daily basis without the aid of my fiancé. I could also now use all those machines I'd once found so overwhelming. I even started lifting on days off from my trainer, pushing myself to see how much I could press, like the hormonal football players I remembered competing with each other in the high-school weight room.
By the time my June wedding rolled around, my arms—and the rest of me—were as toned as they will ever be. Did I feel like a sinewy new version of my old, single self had emerged, as Rebecca Mead suggested? Had an ass-kicking butterfly taken wing from a cocoon made of nutshells and berry stems? Not really. But I didn't feel like it had been a waste of time or money, like so many of the other products marketed to women at the moment of their greatest egotism. I now know how hard it is to maintain Michelle Obama arms—and that it's not worth it for a regular civilian like me. And I got a taste for having the strength that comes with learning to use those medieval machines and keeping up a good fitness routine. So last week, after a year's hiatus, I returned to Iron Gym for a few sessions. The Ferrignos barely noticed me. I was thrilled.