To shape up for her big day, Rebecca Howard went to extremes and joined a bridal boot camp
For most women, walking up the aisle is the ultimate red carpet moment - and the pressure to look amazing is immense. When I got married this year, that not only meant having immaculate hair and make-up, and a dress to die for, but a honed, super-toned body, too.
But drastic measures were needed to whittle my wobbly bits into shape before the big day. A friend recommended The Camp, an intense, seven-day residential course in Galloway, south-west Scotland, which promises to help women - many of them brides-to-be, it turns out - to lose a dress size. They also promise to change the way you think about food and fitness forever.
Boot campers are woken up early, spend eight hours a day on team exercises with ex-Special Forces instructors, and endure nightly boxing classes - a disciplined routine designed to kickstart a sluggish metabolism and put the body into its fat-burning zone. The intense programme will also help build stamina for the challenging activities towards the end of the week. That, at least, is the theory.
The thing is, I'm more Private Benjamin than GI Jane. I like Pilates and PowerPlate, exercises that don't involve breaking a sweat. How would I get on at a brutal bridal boot camp?
On arrival, the other 19 residents and I politely eye each other up - assessing figures and fitness levels with furtive glances. Looking around I realise The Camp attracts two types of women: those who want to lose weight and those who are already pretty fit and looking for a new challenge.
First we're all measured and weighed. I'm here for one reason only - to look my best in my wedding photos. However, my BMI (Body Mass Index) is just about spot on as I'm 5ft 3in and 8 stone, so I'm told I might struggle, having less excess fat to draw on for energy. And it looks like I'll need all the bulk I can get - dinner is made up of strictly controlled (ie meagre) portions of soup, a small piece of salmon and a few strips of vegetable. The hard work starts tomorrow with circuit training on the lawn at 6am sharp. I turn in feeling hungry and anxious.
I'm woken at 5.45am by hammering on the bedroom door. Wearing a heart-rate monitor on my wrist, I stagger outside into darkness and pouring rain. Somehow, I've been put into the "fitter" of the two groups, but develop a stitch five minutes into the circuit of shuttle runs, press-ups and star jumps.
An hour later, we tuck into a disappointingly small bowl of porridge and a piece of fruit, before heading off for the Trim Trail, a kind of outdoor natural assault course involving tricep dips, shoulder presses and crunches using logs and rocks as makeshift weights. Our PT drills finish with a series of punishing hill sprints.
After a small salad for lunch, the afternoon drags by with a lesson in orienteering and a long fell walk, followed by dinner, a boxing session and pre-bedtime yoga. We "stand down" at 8pm. This has been the longest day of my life.
The following morning, I'm ready and dressed before the hammering starts - but I'm so stiff. To ensure we improve our diets as well as our fitness levels, an in-house nutritionist provides us with individual assessments. Instructed to eliminate dairy and caffeine - which puts the body into fat-storing mode - from my diet, I then join the others for a fast-paced forest walk before lunch.
The afternoon involves abseil-training to prepare for tomorrow's 80ft descent, and another hellish Trim Trail before supper (a tasty but tiny Thai chicken curry and brown rice). The usual after-dinner PT involves lots of agonising abdominal work plus 30 minutes of boxing jabs and upper-cuts. More relaxing yoga follows and, mercifully, I'm in bed by 9pm.
During day three's early-morning PT session, I feel irritated - apparently a sure sign that I'm in the fat-burning zone. Tempers are starting to fray all around, with the girls snapping at each other - the perfect day, then, for a team-building exercise like abseiling. Certainly, we're all gripped by fear. But the thrill from my glitch-free descent down the craggy face of a hill spikes my adrenaline sufficiently to lift the miserable mood.
After lunch, it's Trim Trail again. The course is now a quagmire and we all curse our way up and down. Only the thought of slipping sylph-like into my wedding dress prevents me from crying off. Dinner consists of minute pork kebabs and a single floret of broccoli, yet somehow I feel sated; my stomach must be shrinking.
My muscles scream during PT, but I savour every second of the yoga that follows. I eat my snack of seeds in bed but afterwards am too tired to get up and brush my teeth. Day four's morning activity is river-crossing. With ropes and other equipment packed into rucksacks, we hike to the river, hacking branches off trees with a penknife as we go. I hope my fiancé won't mind that this Private Benjamin is slowly morphing into Bear Grylls.
Huddled together on the bank, we eye the choppy water nervously as an instructor ties a rope across it. We strip down to the barest minimum - one of the more game girls plumps for a swimming costume - and queue up to take it in turns to walk across. The freezing cold water will prompt even greater weight loss, we're told.
The water is so cold it makes me pant for breath. I scrabble out the other side, shivering with pins and needles, and wait for my turn to swim back. This is my lowest point, but a watery hot toddy - even a non-alcoholic one - revives my spirits. The afternoon holds another Trim Trail and evening PT. As I roll into bed, even my hair hurts.
This morning we're given a lie-in until 7am - bliss! My group is going mountain biking today and over the next eight hours we cover 26 miles in torrential rain, fuelled only by oat cakes, a cup of soup and some hummus.
It's tiring, especially as my bike is stuck in second gear, making the uphill sections impossible, and the downhill perilous. I stumble through in a state of delirious hunger. I'm ready to go home now.
I feel I've been here for weeks, but it's the final day and the end is in sight - though not before an eight-hour hike up three peaks reaching 2,100ft. During the task, I develop shin splints that make it hard to walk, let alone climb. Billy the instructor says the only solution is more exercise; instead, I opt to sulk all the way back to the house.
Standing on the scales on the final morning, I've lost five pounds, and an inch from my thighs and hips. One of the other girls has lost a whopping 12 pounds and dropped not one, but two dress sizes.
The Camp gave me the bridal body I had hoped for, and equipped me with the know-how to stay trim well into my married life. But most impressive of all, I survived the week.
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