When Kim Kardashian recently posted a photo of herself wearing a waist-cincher on her Instagram page, I found myself drawn in by marketing claims that the garment slims your waistline through compression, which stimulates perspiration. (Yes, it sounds dubious, but at the same time I was curious to shake up my current waist management strategy: I do a 10-minute plank/crunch/twist routine twice a week but I still have a belly—thank you, childbirth and Green & Black’s Sea Salt chocolate.)
Basically, you’re supposed to super-sweat the inches off. (“There’s no prescriptive for when or how long to wear, though the model I tried was labelled “ideal for exercise.”)
The corsets, which are also called workout bands, fasten around your waist using hook-and-eye closures, a description which makes putting one on sound easy. It isn’t. In fact, it’s a four-letter-word-a-thon that requires epic spare-tire sucking.
The resulting image of myself in the mirror made the agony feel ever-so-slightly worth it, though. Once on, my waist looked look fairy-tale tiny and almost hypnotically so. I did enjoy imagining how my life would change with such a waif-like mid-section. Would I suddenly become an Internet phenom? Would men take notice of the new hourglass bombshell in town, opening doors and carving an extra loop in my now too-big belts for me?
A sharp pain in my abdomen broke my reverie: my liver felt like it had migrated into my chest cavity.
That’s when I took it off.
I exhaled in relief with each hook-and-eye closure unclasping. Two seconds later, my belly resumed its spot-on imitation of a waterbed and I commenced my workout sans compression.
Am I missing out on a truly magical form of waist-whittling by choosing freedom of movement over Victorian-era discomfort?
Not really, says Jennifer Stretch, Toronto-based personal trainer and owner of Fit Personal Training.
The workout bands make you sweat in your abdomen, she says, which may make you look tinier for a short time after you take it off. But you’re not losing weight or inches by sweating, says Stretch, you’re just losing water, which is easily replaced when you take a drink or eat something.
“The second you start to rehydrate those muscles and that area of the skin is going to become rehydrated,” says Stretch, who studied kinesiology and health sciences at York University.
Stretch also thinks prolonged use of the bands is “hazardous.”
“Over time, they cause damage because they’re not allowing the muscles to work on their own the way they’re supposed to work,” says Stretch.
That artificial support can weaken the muscles rather than strengthen them.
There is some evidence, however, to suggest that garments like the bands can help women heal after giving birth or after abdominal surgery, says Stretch.
“The only time when a corset could be somewhat beneficial is after childbirth to help bring the rectus abdominis back together [they stretch and tear during pregnancy] and to provide support when the body is healing.”
But if you’re healthy and haven’t experienced a trauma in the abdominal area, Stretch says you’d be wise to stick to diet and exercise as the most effective means of whittling your waistline.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t put it on, stare at your itty-bitty waist in the mirror and fantasize that having one actually means something…