Why Waist Training Is a Really, Really Bad Idea


That tight corset packs some serious risks. (Photo: Flickr)

When photos of celebrities wearing body-shaping corsets to slim down their waists first began to crop up last year, it seemed like the kind of trend that would fizzle out quickly. Surely no rational person would pick back up where Victorian England left off, not with all the core-toning options available in the modern world (hello, ab workouts!).

But the waist-training obsession has not died down. If anything, it’s picked up steam in recent months, with its popularity extending beyond a few Instagram snaps from the girls of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Jersey Shore. Even Jessica Alba has come out as a fan, telling Net-A-Porter that post-pregnancy, she “wore a double corset day and night for three months. It was sweaty, but worth it.” (The interview has since been removed from Net-A-Porter, but information about it is still available on Shape.)


Kim Kardashian posts waist-training pictures on Instagram. (Photo: Instagram.com/kimkardashian)

It’s not hard to see why waist training has taken off: All you have to do is strap the thing on — whether it’s a rigid corset or a flexible fabric wrap — and try not to pass out. It’s a low-effort trick that promises to slim your waist and “train” your curves.

Here’s the thing, though: “Wearing a corset won’t make you lose fat around your waist,” Holly Phillips, MD, a New York City-based internist, tells Yahoo Health.

Plus, the results don’t mimic those of surgery or laser treatments, as some fans claim, notes Andrew Miller, MD, a New York City-based plastic surgeon. “The corset itself doesn’t have any direct effect on your fat or anatomy,” Miller tells Yahoo Health. “If you stopped wearing a corset, eventually you’re just going to return to the way you were.”

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Even though wearing a waist trainer can feel uncomfortable and won’t make any lasting difference on your body, “they’re usually not harmful” when worn for a short amount of time, Phillips notes. However, if you’re wearing one for days, weeks, or even months at a time like Khloe Kardashian or Jessica Alba, you put yourself at risk for a whole host of health problems.

Jessica Alba credits waist training with tightening up her body after she had her baby. (Photo: Corbis)

First up: acid reflux. “Some people think of it as external gastric bypass surgery,” Phillips explains, because your stomach is so compressed that you can’t take more than a few bites of food at a time. “Anyone who doesn’t eat as much is going to lose weight,” Miller echoes. That said, you will have a hard time digesting the food you do eat due to the pressure on your organs. “You’re compressing your stomach so much that when you take a bite of food, you end up with acid reflux,” says Phillips.

Using a corset to waist train can also cause bruising of your bones, which some may mistake as their bones moving or their ribcages tightening. “What is a myth is that you can change your bone structure by wearing them,” Phillips explains. “For [adult] women, your bones are formed. You can bruise them and harm them, but you can’t change them.” A waist trainer won’t slim down a wide ribcage — it’ll just leave it bruised, or worse.


Khloe Kardashian poses with a colorful — and tight! — waist trainer. (Photo: Instagram.com/khloekardashian)

An even greater risk lies with your lungs. “Wearing [a waist trainer] for a long amount of time makes it hard to breathe, so you’re taking more shallow breaths,” Phillips says. That can leave you with an oxygen shortage and causes a loss of consciousness, among other dangers. “It’s not good for many different things, including your energy levels,” Phillips explains. It can also “lead to fluid in the lungs,” putting you at risk for pulmonary edema or pneumonia.

Wearing a waist trainer can also “decrease blood flow in your veins, cause problems with blood clots, and put more pressure on your heart,” Miller adds. “There are definitely medical issues that could be a problem if you over-tighten.”

There are even more chilling side effects documented as well, says Phillips: “There have been some cases recorded of harming the spleen or causing trouble to kidneys.”

In case you need to hear it one more time, here’s Phillips’ final take: “You’re not able to take a deep breath, you’re not able to digest food, and it can cause acid reflux. Certainly wearing any overly tight garment is overkill.”

Still, though, celebrities and their fans continue to buy, wear, and Instagram waist trainers. And there is apparently some science behind wearing a support garment post-pregnancy, like Alba did. But Phillips says a waist-training corset is not the same thing.

“For people who’ve had C-sections or pregnancy, a support garment can help to support the pelvic area. There’s science behind those, but they’re different” from the type of corset worn in waist training, Phillips explains. If you, like Alba, are trying to re-tone after a pregnancy, visit a doctor or physical therapist — not a corset-shilling website.

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