‘It’s like a sauna for my belly’: corset-like waist trainer meets sceptical scientists

Waist trainer promises to slice off centimetres immediately although some doubt its benefits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 2:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 9:23am

The latest fitness hack has nothing to do with quirky diets or weird workouts but “teaching” your torso to take on an hourglass figure. Meet the waist trainer: a throwback to the Victorian era with a modern twist.

Made from a latex-polyester mix, it sucks in the waist and pulls in the hips but has more bend than its traditional counterpart. The premise is simple: squish your body into the coveted curvy female shape, sweat like hell, and watch the weight melt away while your waist magically appears. 

Before you roll your eyes and whisper “fad” under your breath, take a peek at the thousands of cinched selfies on social media – including celebrities such as Kim Kardashian – and see how, visually at least, a waist trainer slices centimetres off the waist immediately.

Despite claims waist trainers work by “detoxifying” and “metabolising abdominal fat”, Maria Brusuelas from Hong Kong’s own waist training company, Amari Body, assures a waist trainer is not a weight-loss tool. “If someone calls me wanting to have a 25-inch [63.5cm] waist, I say, wrong company,” she says.

The magic lies in bringing awareness to a woman’s figure and building her confidence, she explains. “Wearing a waist trainer is not an easy form of weight loss, but it helps women feel good about themselves, and feel pretty.

“Because the corset gives me better posture, and because it makes my body more sculptured, I’m constantly aware of how my body feels and I eat better,” she says.

The waist trainer also smooths out “the bumps” – she’s had three children after all – and means clothes fit rather than cling.

But the science on waist training is sketchy, and doctors have their doubts.

“There is anecdotal proof that [waist trainers] have an effect on waist circumference… But there’s no proof that there is any permanent change and chances are when a person takes them off within a week or two everything goes back to where it was,” says Dr Nichola Salmond from Lauren Bramley and Partners in Central.

She believes a waist trainer may work by restricting room for the stomach, making you feel full more easily. However, “I don’t think [the corset] is very healthy as it may restrict deep breathing and cause heartburn and constipation”, she adds.

While Salmond acknowledges there are possible health risks, she doesn’t agree with radical claims made by some doctors that waist training can cause organ damage.

Because the corset gives support that muscles would usually give, she also raised the possibility that regular usage may cause muscles in the back and abdominals to weaken. “But I think if people are using it moderately for a few hours a day, I don’t see it causing great harm,” she says.

Recently, Brusuelas, 37, has been using her waist trainer to augment the results of her workouts. Before her weights workout, she applies a heating gel and then cling wrap before putting on her waist trainer.

“It’s like a sauna for my belly: I take it off after a workout and I’m absolutely drenched in sweat,” she says.

Salmond rejects such claims and is staunchly against using a waist trainer during exercise. “Sweating more under the corset does nothing but lose water,” she says.

If women are concerned about weight gain around the trunk, Salmond recommends considering other potential causes, such as hormonal imbalances like an excess of cortisol, oestrogen dominance or insulin resistance.

Despite the naysayers, Brusuelas has a long list of positive client testimonials, not to mention her own results.

On average, her clients lose about two to five centimetres around the waist after two weeks, she says, but for full benefits it takes six weeks, and a lifestyle change to sustain the new figure.

I decided to put it to the test myself. I ordered an Amia Active Band Waist Trainer in size small from HourGlassAngel.com, but after the first few gasps for air I was back online ordering a second trainer in medium. Finally I was ready for my two-week trial.

The first day was uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. I felt slightly light-headed, and I only lasted about two hours before ripping the corset off, letting it all hang out and taking deep breaths. The second day was a similar exercise in self-induced misery.

But by the third day, I had a little breakthrough. Maybe the corset had stretched, or my waist had minimised, but I found myself wearing the corset for four hours straight in relative comfort. By the fifth day, I was up to six hours and had tightened the corset to the tightest hooks.

By the eighth day I had downsized to the small on the loosest hooks. I started to wear the corset comfortably – taking the dog for a walk, visiting the dentist, meeting a girlfriend for coffee. I even tried wearing it for a run, but must admit it was a breathless exercise I wouldn’t wish to repeat.

At the start of the trial, my waist measured 71cm. After two weeks of weight training, it had shrunk to 69cm – and 67cm with the training corset comfortably on. It wasn’t a huge loss, but given my relative size (164cm and 57 kilograms) it was noticeable. I seemed to engage my stomach more often, and had also become more aware of my posture.

When presented with my results, Salmond asked: “Did you make any other changes? Eat less, exercise more?”

Not consciously. But the truth is, much like Brusuelas suggested, wearing a corset – when I could finally breathe – I started to enjoy how it made me feel. I have an athletic shape without much of a waist, and there was something empowering and feminine about rocking an hourglass figure.

Salmond acknowledges the potential psychological effect. “But I have a problem with a woman having to make her body into certain shape, whether it’s being thin or having an abnormally small waist.”

She is particularly concerned about the pressure on young women to conform to certain body shapes and the rising incidence of anorexia nervosa.

Brusuelas acknowledges “there are going to be haters” of her latest accessory. “We’ve had comments that we should be teaching women to ‘love themselves regardless’… But when we get clients saying they’ve put on a dress they haven’t worn in years because of the dreaded muffin-top and feel good, that’s why we do what we do.

“Not every woman is born with a waist. And if it’s going to make her more confident, or get her back into a gym – isn’t that a good thing?”