Whether on social media or being touted by celebrities, chances are you’ve probably seen waist trainers somewhere on the internet lately. They’re those corset-like garments that supposedly give you an hourglass shape over time.

While they may be trendy, they’re not likely to help you lose much weight around your middle. In fact, they can be dangerous and may be risky to your health.

Keep reading to learn about what waist trainers do and whether they’re worth the risk.

Waist trainers are made of a thick elastic fabric, like neoprene. They’re meant to be worn snugly around your midsection, the back often has laces, Velcro, or hooks.

Some people compare waist trainers to shapewear, but there’s one huge difference: waist trainers are meant to be worn regularly and even tightened over time.

Because of that, some people claim they can help you lose weight and get more of an hourglass figure. Some companies that sell waist trainers also recommend wearing one after having a baby.

So can they really help you lose weight? Not exactly. Instead, there are three main things happening:

  • Squeezing. Waist trainers squeeze your midsection, kind of like super-intense shapewear. But the effect disappears as soon as you take the trainer off.
  • Sweating. You might sweat more than usual while wearing a waist trainer (they’re hot!), which can make you lose water weight. But this effect is temporary.
  • Shrinking. If you wear a waist trainer consistently, your core muscles can atrophy and shrink from lack of use. Since your stomach is squeezed, you’re also less likely to overeat while wearing one.

All of these changes could make you look and feel slimmer without actually helping you lose any weight.

Aside from discomfort, waist trainers pose some pretty serious health risks.

Difficulty breathing

Wearing a waist trainer makes it harder to breathe.

A small 2018 study reported that wearing a waist trainer decreases maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV), or how much air you can inhale and exhale in 1 minute.

The researchers compared ten female participants’ MVV with and without a waist trainer. They found that the average MVV decreased from 77.3 liters (L) per second to 68.8 L per second while wearing a waist trainer.

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) estimates that the reduction in lung capacity is even greater — likely between 30 and 60 percent.

Regardless of the percent decrease, the upshot is that wearing a waist trainer makes it harder for your body to get all the oxygen it needs. That can be dangerous, especially if you wear the waist trainer while exercising.

Physical activity requires more oxygen, not less. If you don’t get enough, you might feel short of breath, tired, or dizzy. You could even faint.

Weakened core

Waist trainers provide support that would normally come from your core muscles. If you wear a waist trainer but don’t train your core, you could end up with severely weakened abdominal muscles.

Weak abs can ultimately lead to poor posture and back pain.

Weakened pelvic floor

After giving birth, your pelvic floor muscles and the surrounding organs need time to heal. If you wear a waist trainer while healing, it can make matters worse instead of better. That’s because the trainer will put additional pressure on your pelvic floor.

While this damage isn’t always visible, it can lead to incontinence or prolapse.

Meralgia paresthetica

Tight clothing, including waist trainers, may cause nerve damage.

In particular, waist trainers may compress the nerve that runs down from the groin. This can cause something called meralgia paresthetica — burning, tingling, and numbness in the outer thigh.

Meralgia paresthetica has been associated with wearing a corset since the early 1900s. While taking off the waist trainer is usually enough to relieve symptoms, severe cases may require medication or even surgery.

Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms

Since waist trainers compress your stomach, wearing one may cause you to eat less, which can lead to weight loss. But it can also lead to unpleasant digestive symptoms.

For one, tight clothing has been shown to worsen heartburn. Heartburn happens when acid from your stomach flows up from your stomach into your esophagus, causing irritation.

Waist trainers can also worsen discomfort caused by existing food intolerances or GI issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Rashes and infections

Waist trainers are often made from synthetic fabrics and are meant to be worn tightly. They tend to keep moisture — like sweat — in instead of allowing it to evaporate off your skin. This can cause irritation, leading to rashes and even bacterial and yeast infections.

Organ damage

This may go without saying, but there are a ton of important organs in your midsection, including the liver, kidneys, and bladder.

When you wear a waist trainer, it pushes on your organs. They may shift positions or experience reduced blood flow, which can affect how well they function.

If it goes on for a long time, this damage may be permanent.

Lots of waist-training advocates suggest wearing a trainer for 8 or more hours each day. This is risky. It’s best not to wear one on a long-term basis, and you should definitely avoid sleeping in a waist trainer.

Though many waist-training brands suggest you wear their products while exercising, this isn’t recommended either. Not only will you weaken your core muscles, but you’ll also risk depriving your body of the oxygen it needs to perform.

If you’re still interested in wearing a waist trainer, there are ways to limit your risk of complications.

For example, you could try saving your waist trainer for special occasions — like under your clothes on a night out or as part of a costume.

Even so, make sure you’re wearing the trainer loosely enough that you can take a breathe and move without feeling too restricted. If you start to feel dizzy or short of breath, take it off immediately.

If you’re looking for a safer short-term solution, you might want to opt for shapewear instead of a waist trainer. It’ll give you a similar look to a trainer with less risk to your health.

If you’re more interested in a long-term weight-loss solution, exercise and a healthy diet are your best bets. Here are some tips for getting started:

Next, if you want to tone specific areas of your body, you can try the following:

  • Waistline. To get a sleeker waistline, aim for exercises that tone the oblique muscles, such as crunches and planks.
  • Hips. Exercises such as squats, side lunges, and leg raises can help to trim your hips.
  • Butt. To tone your butt, try activities such as climbing stairs, hiking, and doing yoga.

Finally, to learn more about how to safely lose weight, talk to a doctor or nutritionist.

Waist trainers pose a variety of health risks, and their benefits are unproven.

Opt for safer alternatives to trimming your midsection, like a balanced diet and regular exercise.