Ask a Scientist: Is the process of waist training unhealthy or harmful to your body?

By: Kylia Goodner

This one’s for the ladies (or really anyone trying to get an hour-glass figure)!  Everyone from Jessica Alba to Kim Kardashian are wrapping up and reporting great success. But how does waist training work? And are you causing more bodily harm than good?

If you’re like me and have never heard of waist training before, let me give you a brief overview of what it actually involves. The process of waist training involves putting extreme amounts of pressure on your waist through the use of some type of binding that will “train” the waist to form an hour-glass shape. There are typically two types of binding: corsets and wraps.

Corsets have been around since the 1800s when they were first introduced as an undergarment to assist females in attaining an extremely tiny waist. Unfortunately, there have been no recent studies regarding corset use, so the following information is taken from observations and research done before 1980.  An effectively tied corset can exert 85 pounds of pressure per square inch. This can decrease the size of the abdomen by 6 inches, but has extremely harmful side effects if worn long-term. Corsets have been shown to decrease lung capacity by 20%, and can cause the muscles in your waist to deteriorate, making it impossible to sit or stand without the support of the corset. Other medical problems, including hernias and uterine damage, have been associated with corsets. Of course, all of these side effects are from extreme long-term use, but in order to obtain the hour-glass figure, a corset must be worn continually.

Body wraps, on the other hand, are slightly less intense, but equally as under-studied as corsets. Body wraps work by wrapping the torso (or other bodily regions) in a plastic or cloth wrap. These wraps supposedly work by shaping your body while causing you to sweat off the extra weight. To date, I was not able to identify even one study looking at the effectiveness or dangers of body wraps. Therefore, it is important to note that science does not support the claims made by companies that produce body wraps. Further, multiple reports from in the 1980s FDA consumer* warned about believing the claims of these companies because they had not been approved by the FDA. These reports explained that these wraps do not dissolve fat, because “fat is not broken down by perspiration”. Instead, you are only losing water from sweat.

In reality, the topic of waist training is extremely under-researched. But, from what we do know from past observations is that corsets will create an hour-glass figure, but at a very high cost that has little to do with dropping pounds. Further, body wraps are less intense, but also less effective at creating this shape.  Overall, if you want to drop weight and gain that hour-glass figure, science currently supports eating healthy and exercising rather than following the current celebrity fad.

*The FDA consumer reports are only available as hard copies. For information pertaining to weight loss fads and body wraps please check out the 1981, 1982 and 1985 editions.