Medically Reviewed by Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S
Do you crave having an hourglass shape without committing to a restrictive diet or costly plastic surgery procedures? Waist training seems to offer the answer.
Popular with celebrities and across social media platforms, these restrictive garments claim to squeeze your midsection so that you "train" your body into an hourglass figure.
In short, waist trainers act as a modern-day alternative to the corsets of centuries past. Made from thick fabric and often containing a hard metal support layer, they work to squeeze in your midsection and give you a sleeker appearance in certain outfits.
Some even claim that wearing waist trainers long term can help you lose weight by making you sweat more during exercise and by reducing your ability to overeat.
Today’s waist trainers promise to be a safe, effective way to lose unwanted inches around your midsection for a more flattering figure. But is this Kardashian-inspired wardrobe staple selling you empty promises?
In this article, we’ve analyzed the pros, cons, and potential health risks of waist training so you get a better idea of whether this is a trend worth trying.
Purported Benefits of Waist Training
Squeezing in the female figure for exaggerated proportions isn’t new to the internet age. Corsets have been a wardrobe staple in Europe since the 17th century and even earlier in some societies.
Thankfully, today’s waist trainers typically made of more forgiving materials than their whalebone predecessors, such as rubber, latex, and even breathable shapewear.
Proponents of this style trend share that wearing a waist trainer smooths their tummy and tucks fat pockets out of sight. Some celebrities, such as Jessica Alba, have even claimed that wearing one helped them lose weight. Other purported benefits of waist training include the following:
- Improves posture by forcing you to sit and stand upright
- Makes it possible to wear outfits a size (or more) down from your usual
- Prevents you from overeating at meals
- Increases how much you sweat during workouts
- Aids postpartum recovery by helping you strengthen your abs
- Supports the bustline for women with larger cup sizes
The way you are supposed to wear waist trainers varies by company. Some are designed as merely fashion accessories for amping up specific outfits, while others claim to shrink your waist over time through daily use.
Risk Factors Associated with Waist Trainers
Despite these potential benefits, few experts in the health community share much support for the waist trainer trend. Though wearing one on occasion isn’t likely to cause you harm, prolonged use is considered an ineffective way to slim down, and it might even cause health problems.
Here are some of the reasons to reconsider wearing one:
Only a Temporary Weight Loss Fix (At Best)
While waist trainers are often advertised as an excellent way to lose fat, the evidence to their effectiveness is minimal at best. Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S, HighYa’s medical researcher, is skeptical that you will see any long term benefit from wearing one.
“One of the few instances where these alleged benefits have been studied was in a 2010 randomized trial,” he told us. “Those randomized to treatment with the corset did not achieve significant weight loss when compared to a group that didn’t use a corset.”
It’s important to note that one of the major reasons the study found waist trainers to be ineffective is that few participants were willing to wear them for the entire study duration. “While results may have been better if the subjects were able to stick to the protocol, the fact that so many weren’t compliant also telling,” Dugarte shared.
What about wearing a waist trainer while exercising? Restricting airflow to your core during a workout can indeed increase how much you sweat and consequently cause you to shed pounds faster. However, this weight loss is almost all water weight, which means the pounds will return once you hydrate.
Likewise, you don’t need a waist trainer to achieve this result. “This [weight loss] effect could likely be accomplished with a sweatshirt or other clothing items you already have at home,” says Dugarte.
If you do end up losing more than just water weight from wearing a waist trainer, it’s likely because it’s so uncomfortable around your stomach that you’re not going to eat as much as normal.
This is both an unhealthy and short-term solution because the weight will come right back as soon as you stop wearing the trainer.
May Push Your Organs Into Unnatural Positions
There’s also evidence that wearing a waist trainer can harm your organs over time. The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery shares that squeezing into a too-tight corset means that your organs have to adjust to less space often end up pushed into positions where they can’t function effectively.
One unpleasant risk of restricting space for your organs is that you increase your odds of experiencing digestive problems.
Waist trainers can trigger acid reflux by putting pressure on your stomach, and they can restrict movement to the point that you experience extra bloating and gas—less than ideal if you’re aiming for a slimmer figure.
Makes Breathing Difficult
The fainting couches of yesteryear served a purpose; wearing tight clothing like a waist trainer makes it hard to breathe.
What’s more, keeping your body in a restricted oxygen state can lead to more significant problems like inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs that prevents your system from properly removing waste and toxins.
Can Lead to Nerve Pain, Skin Damage
For some people, wearing a waist trainer can put pressure on the nerves that run into their thighs. This can lead to a condition called meralgia paraesthetica, which causes numbness or tingling that often lingers long after you take the trainer off.
Likewise, too tight clothing can trap moisture on your skin, which leads to skin irritation and even bacterial infections. Some people also find that waist trainers worsen their varicose veins and make them more visible.
May Weaken Abdominal Muscles Over Time
Though waist trainers can give you a shapelier middle in the short term, they might hurt your abdominal strength over the long run.
That’s because wearing a corset prevents you from having to use your core, which may cause your back and core muscles to weaken.
The Bottom Line: Should You Try A Waist Trainer?
While waist trainers claim to give you an easy way to slim down and get a shapelier middle, the evidence shows that they are both ineffective and potentially dangerous.
There’s little harm in treating a waist trainer like any other fashion accessory. The problems arise when you rely on one to restrict your eating or while working out for extra weight loss.
Not only are they ineffective, but you are putting yourself at risk of other health complications due to compressed organs, pinched nerves and even breathing difficulties.
A better option? Make healthy choices for your midsection by eating well and getting daily exercise.
“[Waist trainers] certainly can’t replace lifestyle changes like adopting a healthy meal plan and getting regular physical activity,” shares Dugarte. “These should be the focus of any weight loss plan.”
Granted, if you can’t resist the appeal of a quick fix, there’s no harm in wearing shapewear like waist trainers on occasion.
Just remember to restrict its use to certain power outfits, to let your skin breathe after wearing it for extended periods, and to practice utmost caution before wearing constricting clothing while you exercise.