There’s a reason so-called “fainting couches ” were so popular in the 1800s: Women needed a place to rest and catch their breath from the tightly tied corsets designed to make their waists smaller.

Though most women these days don’t wear corsets, it seems this fashion trend is making a comeback under a different name.

Celebrities such as Khloe and Kim Kardashian are getting paid to promote waist trainers, essentially glorified corsets, as weight loss solutions. But unfortunately, they could do more harm to a woman’s health than good.


Sajani Shah, MD, a minimally invasive weight loss and bariatric surgeon at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, says a lot of her female patients in the 18 to 30 age range have asked her whether waist training is beneficial. She says the claim that waist trainers “train” waists to become slimmer or lead to weight loss is misleading.

“It tightens the middle section to make the midsection smaller. When you’re cinching your midsection, [your organs] have to go somewhere, and they can go up or go down. But when you take these things off, your waist is not smaller,” says Shah.

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Shah is concerned about patients wearing something tightly woven around their abdomens, possibly preventing the lungs from inflating all the way, or even constricting the spleen and liver.

“You’re basically compressing your stomach, so while you’re probably eating less and losing weight since it’s uncomfortable to eat, it can also be damaging,” Shah says.

Using a waist trainer for an hour or two a day probably won’t negatively affect your body, Shah says. But Shah cautions against wearing it to bed, wearing it too tightly or wearing it while exercising. “If you can’t expand your lungs, that could affect your heart and have a cascade effect on other organs,” Shah says.

Possible injuries may include strained muscles in the ribs or diaphragm, back injuries and the displacement and bruising of organs, she says.

The bottom line? “They don’t really do anything,” Shah says. “You can’t spot reduce fat or weight in one area, and even with surgical patients it goes back to diet and exercise. This is just another phase in all the fads that are out there.”

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How to really trim your waist

Having a small waist isn’t just about looking good. It benefits your health, too. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, so-called “abdominal obesity” increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

How to shrink your waist? Aim to lose weight overall by taking in fewer calories and exercising more. Health experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week to prevent weight gain. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you may to need exercise more in order to lose weight.

To strengthen your core, the ACSM recommends a series of exercises that focus on the muscles around your abdomen and lower back, including curl-ups, planks, side bends and leg raises.

Until your efforts start to pay off, you can always fake it with flattering cuts and smart use of color, according to the fashion experts at Redbook. For example, a belted trench coat will define your waist, making it look smaller. And pinstripe pants draw the eye from your waist to your legs, which look longer and leaner thanks to the stripes.

Good posture also "contributes to a good appearance," according to the Cleveland Clinic. Tuck in that pelvis!

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Chelsea Rice is a freelance health writer living in Boston. She's written for Boston.com, The Boston Globe, HealthLeaders Media and Minority Nurse magazine.