Beyoncé has one. Scarlett Johansson and Marilyn Monroe do, too. According to some, these women possess the quintessential (and covetable) female body shape — the hourglass figure with a large bust, small waist and curvy hips.
These days it appears as if women will go to great lengths to achieve that 36-24-36 measurement. The latest in these attempts is the waist cincher — a compressive undergarment that’s akin to a girdle and meant to “train your waist” to be smaller.
“Companies that sell fitness waist cinchers claim they compress your core, ramp up perspiration, release toxins, and metabolize fat.”
According to Google, searches for “waist cinchers” and related terms have more than doubled in the last year, thanks in part to endorsements from celebrities, including Jessica Alba, Khloe and Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke, who claim that these products are the secret to their toned physiques. Women are documenting their efforts to coach their waist to be teenie tiny in photos posted to social media channels, including Instagram where more than 146,000 photographs have been tagged #waisttraining.
Not only are women donning these garments upwards of 10 hours during the day (and sometimes at night, too), they are also wearing them at the gym in an effort to boost their waist whittling efforts.
But are waist cinchers the secret to a smaller waist? And are they safe?
Cinch an Inch…Or Seven
While corsets have been on the market for centuries (the first true corset was invented back in the 1500s), they have come back into vogue not only as a way to change the shape of the body but to lose weight. In fact, companies are selling products specifically labeled as “fitness waist trainers” and “sports waist cinchers,” designed to increase the impact of your workouts by targeting your midsection.
Companies that sell fitness waist cinchers claim that they compress your core, ramp up perspiration, release toxins, and metabolize fat. The tight fit also restricts your abdomen, reducing your food intake during the day. Advocates assert that these garments will help you lose fat and inches from your waist.
The Myth of Spot Reduction
“Corsets do not cause you to permanently lose fat in the midsection; they cause a re-distribution of the fat and organs in the trunk.”
The premise behind these garments is that they “spot reduce” fat around the center of your body. “That’s an exercise misconception,” says Dr. Stephen D. Ball, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri. “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,” he says.
(Note: DailyBurn reached out to a number of companies that sell waist cinchers as well as women who use the product. They declined to comment for this article.)
According to Jan Schroeder, Ph.D. and Professor of Fitness in the Department of Kinesiology at California State University – Long Beach, “Corsets do not cause you to permanently lose fat in the midsection; they cause a re-distribution of the fat and organs in the trunk,” to give you an hourglass shape.
Since waist cinchers are made from latex, they also make you sweat…a lot. “When you sweat, you’re shedding water weight, and that’s not fat,” says Francine Delgado, New York City-based certified personal trainer. “People may lose weight initially, but you would have to wear the thing forever in order to keep the weight off and to keep the shape,” she says.
The Downside of Waist Training
“Wearing a corset for an evening to portray a slimmer waist does not seem to be a problem,” says Dr. Schroeder. Yet, there may be some potential physiological side effects from wearing a waist cincher for prolonged periods of time, according to Dr. Katie Nason, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh.
While Dr. Nason has not treated corset or waist cincher-wearers, based on her medical opinion, she notes that constricting the abdomen and torso could impair lung function by restricting the amount of space available for the lungs to expand into the abdomen and fill with air. “When the lungs don’t expand…they don’t exchange oxygen or expel carbon dioxide, and the person is short of breath.”
“Constricting the abdomen and torso could impair lung function by restricting the amount of space available for the lungs to expand…”
If you are wearing a waist trainer while exercising, this could be problematic when your rate of breathing and demand for oxygen is higher. In addition, Dr. Schroeder observes that restricting your lungs may lead to lung disorders, and the lack of oxygenation may even contribute to metabolic syndrome, which can actually result in weight gain. However, more research is needed to determine the long-term impact on the body.
Sandman also notes that these garments are not true corsets and that using a waist cincher isn’t real waist training — the practice of reshaping the body by wearing progressively smaller corsets for two to 10 hours a day. “People get the idea that cinchers work for waist training because they look at themselves in the mirror and they have a smaller waist when all they’ve done is sweated out water weight,” says Sandman.
Even for those who are truly waist training, Sandman says that it’s unnecessary to wear the garment while working out. “The amount of time you spend at the gym is not enough time to backtrack in your waist training,” she says.
“Keep in mind that our body shape is often determined by genetics,” says Dr. Ball. “If you genetically don’t have an hourglass shape, you can exercise all you want, but you might not end up with an hourglass figure.” Regardless, the best way to initiate positive changes? Exercise and eating right, Dr. Ball says.
“If you’re not willing to put in the effort, then anything else is the equivalent of taking the magic pill,” says Delgado. “They’re doing that at a significant risk and it’s not sustainable.”