Just Say No to Waist Trainers

Thanks to the scourge on our lives that is Instagram, there are an abundance of photos of women wearing these massive and awkwardly-designed lycra-nylon blend contraptions around their waist, with the expectation that they could “train it.

Train it to do what, you ask?

To put the fat where they want it to be.

No, really.

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The idea is that, because Victorian-era women wore these very tightly-bound contraptions and maintained very shapely figured, that the contraption is responsible for the shapely figure. The heaving breasts, the tiny waist, and the curvy lower half.  As a trend that has found itself a modern adoring audience, women are now contorting themselves—literally—to attempt to acquire remarkable waist-to-hip ratios.

Unfortunately, in our times, not only is this far more dangerous than it was back then… but you’re now far more likely to injure yourself. Let me explain.

From USA Today:

“Just because a celebrity promotes it doesn’t mean that it’s safe or that it works or that it’s proven,” says spinal surgeon Dr. Paul Jeffords.

Jeffords says the claims made by waist-trainer manufacturers about shrinking your size are just plain ridiculous.

“If I were to take a rubber band and wrap it around my finger tightly and leave it there for an hour, I’m going to have this indentation in my soft tissue, but it’s not going to be permanent. An hour later, my finger is going to look normal again,” he says.

However, the damage caused by a waist trainer could be permanent. “My focuses as a spinal surgeon are the musculature effects and what effect does it have on the spine, the bones, the ligaments, the nerves. And certainly there can be some significant side effects with the prolonged use of these type of devices,” Jeffords says.

“It just crams all of your organs together. So over a long period of time, wearing it too much and too frequently, it can cause damage too,” says health and wellness expert Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, an Atlanta physician. [source]

I suspect the permanence is part of what people are gunning for when they use these things, though. To them, this isn’t a bug – it’s a feature.

Your waist trainer causes UTIs, incontinence, temporary heart failure, indigestion, high blood pressure,… Click To Tweet

But this “feature” has its own set of bugs, as further illustrated by the article:

French doctor Ludovic O’Followell published Le Corset, a paper exposing the dangers of too-tight trainers, at the turn of the 20th centuryX-ray technology was in its infancy, but he used it to show photos of squashed rib cages and displaced organs. At the time, he was advocating for more flexible corsets.Dr. Taz says waist trainers makes heart burn and indigestion worse, and women pass out after wearing them because they can’t get enough air. Your diaphragm, colon, liver, stomach, and small intestines can all be shifted around inside your body after wearing one for too long.

“The side effects or negative effects can be long term or permanent, but the benefit is not,” said Dr. Taz. [source]

It’s also worth noting that eating while – or shortly before – wearing these things can actually cause you digestive issues like constipation and indigestion (read: gas) which, ironically, run counter to the original desire to have a flatter waist.

Don’t believe me? Just watch… er, read:

Those with functional bowel disorders and irritable bowel syndrome should wear shapewear with caution. “In someone who has weakness down below and a tendency towards incontinence,” Dr. Kuemmerle explains, “increasing intra-abdominal pressure can certainly provoke episodes of incontinence.”

Dr. Erickson also notes that there can be a tendency for those wearing shapewear to not to want to go to the bathroom. “You’ve got all of this pressure on your bladder from the shapewear pressing down,” she says. “If you postpone urinating, it can cause stress incontinence, where you leak, or it can exaggerate stress incontinence with people who already have it.” [source]

For the record, “incontinence” is when your bladder leaks small amounts of urine, causing you to —yes—wet yourself.

Your waist trainer causes UTIs, incontinence, temporary heart failure, indigestion, high blood pressure,… Click To Tweet

None of this is worth it. Why?

According to Jan Schroeder, Ph.D. and Professor of Fitness in the Department of Kinesiology at California State University—Long Beach, “Corsets do not cause you to permanently lose fat in the midsection; they cause a re-distribution of the fat and organs in the trunk,” to give you an hourglass shape. [source]

Think about Thanksgiving. There’s always someone—maybe even you—who eats so much, that they have to unbutton their jeans. With waist trainers, it’s the same phenomenon…except, instead of it only being because it’s that giant Thanksgiving meal, it’s every meal that causes this problem.

And, while some might translate that as “well, that’s just reason to not eat…. and I need help with not eating, anyway,” it’s true—wearing restricting garments can result in a decreased appetite, since you literally can’t eat at all. Some have even giggled about the fact that waist training in this way is a form of non-surgical lap band (but it must be noted: people who pay for these procedures are also receiving nutrition and dietetic services). Truthfully, the reality is that these appetite reductions actually stop once you take the garment off…often resulting in a no holds barred chow down session that undoes whatever calorie restriction you were engaging in earlier that day.

Your waist trainer causes UTIs, incontinence, temporary heart failure, indigestion, high blood pressure,… Click To Tweet

And, if you somehow manage to avoid the chow down session, guess what? You’ve still learned very little about how to maintain that weight in a healthy fashion, because you didn’t obtain it in a healthy fashion… and this cycle thereby results in yoyo dieting and the damages associated with it.

Neurologists have long known about a condition called meralgia paresthetica, which causes painful burning and tingling in the thighs when there is too much pressure on nerves that run through the groin. The condition is most common in pregnant women and people who gain weight quickly, as their pants suddenly become too tight. But every month or two, Avitzur says, she sees a patient suffering from nerve pain because of shapewear.

Some patients defy stereotypes, including a 15-year-old girl who came to her office after seeing a gastroenterologist for stomach pain.

It turned out that the girl’s entire soccer team had been wearing colorful compression shorts under their uniforms at school, a fashion trend that was common among high school teams in the area. “I wouldn’t have normally asked her if she wore tight compression clothing because she was a young athlete,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was almost leaving the room, and I said, ‘In my mother’s generation, we saw this in women who wore girdles.’” [source]

If, for some reason, you don’t think “readjusted organs” is a huge deal—“It’s just like pregnancy!”—consider this: if the organs are being relocated, where are they going? And, if those organs are going some place where they don’t belong, what other internal organs or processes are being impacted?

Take a look at this little map of the human central nervous system.

"TE-Nervous system diagram" by Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TE-Nervous_system_diagram.svg#/media/File:TE-Nervous_system_diagram.svg

If you have nerve endings all throughout your body, with many of them converging in the main spot where a waist trainer is squeezing your organs in to spaces they don’t belong, then what you have happening is organs putting pressure on nerves, which impedes their ability to deliver messages to your limbs. Look closely at that map, and follow the trail of the individual nerves that start in the lower spine—nerves in the lower spine travel down through your pelvic area and into your thighs, your calves, and your ankles. Squeezing anything into those spaces results in the tingling, burning, and eventual nerve damage that results in loss of feeling in those parts of the body as you age.

You will gladly pay tomorrow, for what that waist trainer is doing today.

Speaking of smashing organs, you’re smashing your lungs, too. Remember what heart failure is? These devices actually trigger a temporary form of heart failure, leaving you susceptible to the perils of not being able to pump enough oxygen through your body, with the most immediate symptom of this being fainting.

And don’t be one of those people who drinks a ton of water a day; not only are you impacting your blood pressure—the tighter the garment, the harder your heart has to pump in order to get oxygen and nutrients throughout your body—but you are also displacing electrolytes in your body, which results in muscle damage, bloating, swelling, and mood swings among other things.

Wiggling your limbs into shaping garments takes effort, and it is equally difficult — and perhaps not very sexy — to peel them off. Many women don’t bother, avoiding the bathroom for as long as they’re wearing their Spanx. But holding your bladder can lead to urinary tract infections, Avitzur says. Sweating in tight clothing can also cause yeast infections and skin irritation. People with diabetes are at particular risk of developing skin infections from snug clothes. [source]

In case we’re unfamiliar with what a urinary tract infection (UTI) is, it’s basically an infection you can develop when you don’t go “number 1” enough. Symptoms include everything from a burning sensation when you pee, urine that is more cloudy than clear, urine that is any color other than yellow, urine with a super-strong smell (provided you haven’t been eating asparagus), and pain in your pelvic area. Though they are easy to cure, that doesn’t mean the process is painless along the way.

You will gladly pay tomorrow, for what that waist trainer is doing today. Click To Tweet

Women wear these things because they “lose weight in their legs first” instead of losing in their tummy, but the truth is that belly fat accumulates where it does specifically because of your diet and, if you’ve not changed your diet in any meaningful or remarkable way, you would see no change in the belly area. Furthermore, waist training doesn’t result in fat loss. It pushes fat around to places it either doesn’t belong, or places where it is dangerous for it to be. And, as much as I hate to make this point, it still stands: the modern woman has far more fat hiding in between her internal organs than women in centuries past, which means that we’re pushing  far more than intestines and kidneys into places where it doesn’t belong.

And, I’m pretty sure I spent far too long begging people to stop working out in these things, yeah? Even if they “support your back,” these are not therapeutically designed. They’re not providing proper support and could actually result in improper development of the muscles intended to support and strengthen your back.

I know that we have a handful of celebrities to blame for the return of waist trainers to mainstream [social] media, but we need to remind ourselves: 1) very few things in life are worth contorting ourselves to this degree; 2) the good will never outweigh the bad; and 3) when you are following a dangerous trend started by someone who shamelessly promotes anything, with no regard to sense or safety, specifically because she’s paid obscenely well to do so (money that, without question, pays for regularly scheduled visits to a plastic surgeon.)

I can empathize with any woman who struggles with losing weight and building the body they desire, so don’t get me wrong—this isn’t shade. This is, however, me… on bended knee…begging you: pleeeeease stop wearing the waist trainer thingy, before you hurt yourself. Your body will thank you for it… literally.

Excerpted from Just Say No to Waist Trainers: Danger, Damage, Deadly

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