Is “Waist Training” a Waste of Time?

What is the latest Hollywood fad designed to give you that “hourglass shape”?

It’s called waist training, and it is reportedly the obsession of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and her sister Khloe, Jessica Alba and Brooke Burke-Charvet.

Waist training involves wearing a tight fitting corset, initially for a few hours a day, and increasing the time worn to up to 18 hours a day! Proponents claim that this will lead to a permanent degree in the waistline.

Kim Kardashian posted the above picture to Instagram this summer, saying:

“I’m really obsessed with waist training! Thank you @premadonna87 for my new waist shapers! #whatsawaist”

Jessica Alba says she used waist training as a way to shed her baby weight.  She wore a double corset “day and night” for three months after the birth of each of her two children. She apparently called the tactic “sweaty, but worth it.”

Baboosh bodyBrooke Burke-Charvet says she heard about the tradition of belly binding after her third pregnancy from her French mother-in-law, where it is a common practice. When a search for similar material here in the US came up short, Brooke finally decided she would develop her own version of a post-pregnancy compression wrap- called Tauts Belly Wrap. She also went on to develop a waist trimmer called Baboosh Body– a nylon and neoprene unisex core wrap used during exercise. It is designed to “promotes intense sweating to help you lose inches quickly from your waist.”

Does waist training work? Can it be harmful?

corset victorianUsing corsets to get an hourglass shaped figure is nothing new. Using a corset to reduce the waist and to exaggerate the bust and hips first became popular in sixteenth-century Europe, and reached the height of its popularity in the Victorian era.

Waist training is not the same tight-lacing. Tight lacing is simply lacing and wearing a corset. Waist training is done slowly over time with the goal of achieving a “semi-permanent” reduction in the waistline.

The theory behind waist training is that, over time, the waist will conform to the shape of the rigid garment. Other proponents add that compression of the stomach results in a decrease in caloric intake resulting in weight loss around the waistline.

Those who are waist training begin by using the corset for a few hours at a time, and slowly increase the number of hours/day. They may even be worn during sleep and while eating. A tighter corset may be necessary as the waistline decreases.

Does it work? To some extent, yes, you may indeed have a decrease in waistline using waist training. HOWEVER-unless dietary, exercise or surgical intervention is combined with waist training, the effect will disappear once the corset is discontinued.

Dr. Stephen D. Ball, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri, also says that the premise that these garments can “spot reduce” fat from the waistline is a misconception:

“If you want to lose body fat, you’re going to do that through aerobic exercise and a sensible diet. You’re not ever going to be able to target where you lose fat from.”

Many who have tried waist training find it extremely uncomfortable. It is more difficult to move about and sit. It can cause increased sweating of the skin under the garment. This can lead to irritation, skin bruising and rashes.

In addition, physicians have pointed out for many years that constricting the abdomen and torso could impair lung function. The diaphragm must expand into the abdomen to allow the lungs to inflate. If the lungs do not inflate fully, this can cause areas partial collapse of the lungs as well as make them more susceptible to infection. Wearing a tight garment during exercise only compounds the problem as more oxygen is necessary during this time.

corsetcompCompression of the abdomen also compresses the lower ribs and abdominal organs, including the liver, spleen, kidneys and intestines. Compression of the stomach can lead to gastric reflux, with stomach acid being pushed into the esophagus.

Richard Cotton, exercise physiologist and director of certification with the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, warns that although waist trainers may initially provide support to the muscles of the core, if worn all the time the core muscles will actually lose strength:

” that’s not really a good thing, because of lack of muscular stimulation, so they could be harmful in that manner.”

The bottom line: Using a corset to “look your best” for a special occasion is fine, but long term use brings, at best, temporary results, and could potentially be harmful.



Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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