I’ll admit, when I volunteered to wear a waist trainer and report on the findings, I didn’t completely think the project through. The waist-training trend, fueled by Instagram posts by Kim Kardashian West, Khloe Kardashian, and Kim Zolciak-Biermann, asserts that you can make your waist smaller by wearing what is essentially a modern corset. Proponents claim squeezing your waist 19th century-style will somehow melt fat around your middle, sculpting your body like human Play-Doh.
As most anyone with common sense could guess, this is quite silly.
It’s also not particularly healthy to do, especially in the long-term, as Yahoo Health previously reported. Most experts agree that temporary use isn’t harmful. But when the waist trainer is too tight or worn for too long, side effects can include acid reflux — due to the contents of your stomach being pushed up into your esophagus — and shallow breathing, which could make you pass out from an oxygen shortage.
At the same time, I was curious: How bad could it really be — assuming I didn’t wear it for too long, and didn’t fasten it too tight? Would I be able to eat at all? How much would my breathing be affected? Would I be able to move? As a health reporter, I also wanted to offer some perspective: Sure, this isn’t good for you, but the possibility of barfing or passing out seemed a little extreme.
So I volunteered. And then it sunk in: This is probably going to suck.
After some Yelp searching, I headed to a specialty shapewear shop in downtown Los Angeles. At my fitting, the salesperson measured my waist and gave me two sizes to try: a small and a medium. The medium was surprisingly comfortable. It squeezed a bit, but no worse than a pair of compression workout pants, and my stomach looked noticeably flatter. “I can do this!” I thought to myself.
And then the saleswoman suggested I try the small. This was definitely tighter — and gave me a much more pronounced hourglass figure. “Which size do you recommend?” I asked her, trying to get the authentic “what it’s like to wear a waist trainer” experience. She said I should get the small. I realized I should have eaten a bigger breakfast.
At first, wearing the waist trainer was much more comfortable than I expected. (I realize this is kind of like saying, “San Andreas was better than I expected!” When your expectations are low, it’s easy to be impressed.) The material had some stretch to it, so I didn’t feel super-restricted.
As the day went on, though, I found myself slowly transforming into a rage monster. I progressed from “woke up on the wrong side of the bed” to “hangry” to “girl, you need anger management” in a matter of hours. I was hot, sweaty, hungry, cranky, snapping at people, and generally becoming a terrible person. A minor technology problem made me thisclose to screaming at the top of my lungs and shot-putting my laptop into the wall.
That was when I decided to take the waist trainer off. I lasted five hours.
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To be fair, none of this is all that surprising coming from someone who lives in jeans and flats. What did surprise me, though, is that the mental effects were by far the worst of it. Bending at the waist was difficult, my breathing was shallower, and driving was nearly impossible, but for the most part I could get through my day just fine. Well, except for the whole “I want to set everyone and everything on fire with my eyes” problem.
The next day, I talked with Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, PsyD, to understand why wearing an uncomfortable garment — which plenty of women (and men) do every day — had such a profound effect on my psyche. She agreed with my hypothesis that the combination of shallow breathing, discomfort, heat, and low blood sugar probably combined to create a perfect storm of irritability. “Actors who want to make themselves cry do gasping, shallow breathing to make themselves tear up,” she told me. “There’s a physiological response, and it trips it off in your brain.”
Walfish also brought up the importance of mental and emotional factors when trying to lose weight. “All of those gimmicks [such as waist trainers] are temporary,” she says. “Working on our internal state, our identities, how we feel about ourselves as a total person — those are the things that really have a long-term impact on changing our eating habits and our ability to maintain reasonable and healthy lifestyles over the long run.”
Even though wearing the waist trainer wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, I never plan on wearing one again. Walfish is right: When you feel good, it’s easier to make healthy choices. I didn’t work out in the waist trainer. And after it came off, I scarfed down an entire order of pad thai — not because I was famished, but because the comfort food was soothing and calming.
Waist training is a trend, and the results are temporary. Good health habits create changes that last. I’ll stick with the latter.
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