Waist trainers are meant to squeeze your midsection and “train” your figure into an hourglass shape. They’re basically a corset with a modern twist.

The waist trainer trend may be due, in part, to celebrities posting photos and enthusiastic endorsements on social media. The famous may swear by them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective and safe to use.

Continue reading as we explore the realities of waist trainers and whether they pose any health risks.

A waist trainer is an undergarment made up of thick fabric and hard metal boning. Worn around the midsection, it’s cinched up with a lacing system, hooks, or Velcro.

It’s intended to be worn much more tightly than a girdle or shaping underwear to give you a sleeker, smaller waist. While results can be seen immediately, “training” requires wearing the garment frequently over a period of months.

Corsets have been around for at least five centuries. Originally, they hid most of a woman’s shape between the breasts and hips. Sometime in the 1800s, corsets evolved to accentuate the female shape, aiming for the prized hourglass figure that demands a small waist and curvy hips.

The idealized tiny waist size grew ever smaller until corsets fell out of fashion due to discomfort and health concerns.

Hourglass figure

The instant transformation can be impressive, and the theory is that you can train your waist into maintaining that shape.

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) blog, a waist trainer will not drastically change your body shape. Even if you have the type of body that lends itself to that shape temporarily, your waist trainer is unlikely to have a lasting effect.

Weight loss

You might temporarily lose a small amount of weight wearing a waist trainer, but it will likely be due to loss of fluids through perspiration rather than loss of fat.

You may also eat less while wearing the trainer simply because your stomach is compressed.

This is not a healthy or sustainable path to weight loss. Even companies that make and sell waist trainers suggest exercise and a healthy diet as part of your weight loss plan.

While some waist trainer proponents might suggest that you wear your trainer while you exercise, it’s not a good idea. It can severely restrict movement.

Plus, tissues and muscles need oxygen, especially during exercise. Your waist trainer can make it difficult to breathe in deeply, making it that much harder to continue your workout.

A small 2010 study assessed the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of losing weight on a very low-calorie diet. The researchers also considered whether wearing a corset would help maintain weight loss in the long term.

They found the very low-calorie diet to be feasible, even after a year. They were unable to evaluate the effectiveness of wearing a corset because the majority of study participants simply gave up wearing them due to discomfort.

Decreased appetite

It makes sense that having your stomach squeezed will probably make you feel full faster. This may cause you to eat less.

It’s important to eat the right amount of nutritious food to stay healthy and get the vitamins and minerals you need. By limiting how much you eat, your diet may not be sufficient to stay healthy.

Better posture

Wearing a waist trainer may encourage good posture while you’re wearing it. If you wear it too much, though, it may weaken your core muscles, leading to back pain and poor posture.

Breathing problems

According to the ABCS, wearing a waist trainer can reduce your lung capacity by 30 to 60 percent. It can be uncomfortable and sap your energy. Cinch it tight enough and you might even pass out.

It can even lead to inflammation or a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Over time, breathing problems can affect your lymphatic system, which helps to rid your body of toxins.

Digestive system issues

When you wear a waist trainer, you’re not only squeezing skin and fat, you’re crushing your insides, too. Parts of your digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, can be affected.

Pressure can force acid from your stomach back up into your esophagus, giving you a bad case of heartburn. If you have gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), wearing a waist trainer may make matters worse.

Internal damage

When you squeeze your midsection, it forces internal organs like the liver and kidneys into unnatural positions. Overcrowding your organs can affect blood flow and change how organs function.

In time, this can lead to permanent organ damage, reduced muscle strength, and even rib fractures.

You can certainly wear a traditional corset as part of a costume. Don’t pull it too tight and you should be fine. Much like a body shaper or girdle, you can wear a waist trainer under a special outfit once in a while. As long as it’s not too restrictive, it’s probably harmless.

If you feel short of breath or light-headed, loosen the waist trainer or remove it as soon as possible.

There are safer ways to work on your waistline.

  • Balanced diet. Concentrate on fresh, whole foods and portion control. Cut down on sugary snacks and beverages, and overly processed foods.
  • Regular exercise. Mix aerobic exercise with strength training to tone and strengthen your muscles and to help you burn calories. A personal trainer can help create a workout routine to suit your needs.
  • Less restrictive shapewear. Invest in undergarments that help to give you a sleeker silhouette without restricting breathing. Some waist cinchers are made with flexible plastic boning for more freedom of movement.
  • See your doctor. Talk with your doctor about safe, effective ways to lose weight that won’t affect your health.
  • Talk to a specialist. If you’re interested in changing specific parts of your body, ask your doctor for a referral to a board certified cosmetic or plastic surgeon.

Waist trainers are not likely to have a dramatic or long-term effect on your figure. If overused or cinched too tightly, they can even cause health problems. The healthiest and most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is through a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Wearing a waist trainer now and then probably won’t cause any problems, provided it’s not too tight.

Talk to your primary care doctor about the safety and effectiveness of waist trainers.