Women hoping to attain hourglass figures are fastening around their midsections so-called waist trainers or trimmers, promoted as vehicles for weight loss and maintenance. But health experts say these garments, which resemble corsets with hooks and zippers rather than laces, fail to promote fat loss and should simply be considered fashion accessories.
“It makes them look better on the street,” says Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. “But in the end, there’s no good science that suggests this is somehow going to train the waists to stay in that position. No way.”
Kim Kardashian has posted selfies in waist trainers on Instagram, saying she is “obsessed.” Kardashian wasn’t available to comment for this article, according to her publicist, Ina Treciokas.
Nakeitha Thomas, owner and founder of Waist Gang Society—whose products Kardashian has promoted—says perspiration while wearing the waist trainer for three hours creates the equivalent of a 30- to 40-minute workout for the user. On the company’s website, WhatsAWaist.com, a section titled “Health Tips” begins by saying, “Waist training is a gradual process of waist-reduction using our corset.”
Sales of waist trainers on the retail website HourglassAngel.com jumped to $8.1 million last year from $4.7 million in 2013, says Ruben Soto, founder and CEO of the website. Prices range from $50 to $75 for most waist trainers on the site, where “shapewear” is offered in a category described as “slimming, shaping and sculpting foundation garments.”
Soto says that while users may shed pounds while wearing the garment, they are likely losing water weight due to perspiration. He says his retail website doesn’t make its own claims regarding whether the waist trainers actually help with weight loss because of a lack of scientific evidence.
Celebrity promotion has helped build “huge hype” for waist trainers, says Simon Wilkins, sales manager at TruFigure, a manufacturer based in Hewlett, N.Y. Wilkins says the company’s latex garments “train your waist to change or redefine its shape” to create a “long-term transformation.”
“Since the waist trainer applies pressure to your abdomen area, that makes it so when you eat lunch, you eat a little bit less because your stomach has more pressure on it,” Wilkins says. “The claims for weight loss, I’m not a doctor, but I do believe they are true, based on reports from customers and customer reviews we have seen.”
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care in 2010 sought to determine whether corsets could be used to maintain a reduced weight after participants followed a low-calorie diet. Participants were instructed to wear the corsets for at least five hours a day, five days a week, for nine months. According to the study, most found them too uncomfortable, leaving the researchers to conclude that regardless of whether the bodywear would have been effective or not, “corset treatment doesn’t appear to be an option for sustained weight control.”
Boston Medical Center’s Apovian says there could be negative side effects to wearing waist trainers. Waist trainers compress the wearer’s midsection, potentially causing dehydration if worn in hot weather, and reflux by putting pressure on the stomach, Apovian says. And while the garments are intended to flatten bellies, she adds, they decrease core strength when worn during exercise because the wearer doesn’t have to keep muscles tight.
Thomas says she launched Waist Gang Society in 2013 after creating the product for herself to lose weight after giving birth to her second son. Her own waistline has shrunk to 26 inches from 38 inches. She says after weight-loss surgeries, patients are often given compression belts for support. In response to doctors’ concerns about waist trainers, she says she tells them, “If this product is so dangerous, then why are you guys performing surgery and putting the same product on a patient after you cut them open?”
But Apovian says that after surgery for weight loss, compression devices often support sagging skin until it can be removed.
“What the general population needs to realize is this is not something that is going to permanently help them maintain their hourglass figure,” she says. “If you really want to help your waist, you’ve got to eat well and exercise and do your crunches.”
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