Category Archive: Physical Effects of Corseting

Dependence on Corsets – Can you ever stop wearing a corset?

There is this false theory that “once you start using corsets, you can never take them off”. I remember one girl telling me this when I was younger, painting an image in my head that the moment I put on a corset for the first time, I’d be doomed to wear it for the rest of my life, as if the corset would immediately and magically impair all function of my core muscles.
 
Obviously, this hasn’t been the case, and it’s my belief that permanent dependence on corsets is another one of those cases of “broken telephone” where the meaning has become misconstrued. While a few notable people have experienced a physical dependence on corsets, this has been the result of wearing corsets daily for years, in some cases starting from adolescence. When it comes to most modern corset wearers who begin wearing corsets in adulthood, who maintain a healthy core maintenance regimen and who practice lacing in moderation, physiological dependence on corsets isn’t that applicable.
 

Psychological Dependence on Corsets

 
As many of you know, about 3 months ago in November I suffered a number of injuries (falling down the stairs, and then an auto accident – during both incidents I was not wearing a corset). I took a break from wearing corsets for about 2 months, waiting for my bruises to heal and my bloating from the medication to decrease. During those two months, a thought crossed my mind that intrigued me: I missed that familiar “hug” from my corsets.
 
I followed a waist training regimen from 2010 to mid 2013 to achieve my goal of closing a 20″ corset – once I reached that goal, I decided that silhouette wasn’t for me. Since then I’ve simply been wearing corsets “casually”: wearing them occasionally as I feel like it, or as is necessary when I’m breaking in corsets for my reviews, but no longer 12 hours a day.
 
When my freedom of choice to wear a corset was taken away from me, I deeply resented the circumstances. I spent some time thinking about my own reactions and thoughts around this – was it a sign that I had a psychological or emotional dependence on the corset itself, or was it simply the fact that I was denied this practice that made it more tempting (like forbidden fruit)?
(If I’m completely honest with myself, part of the frustration was also that seasoning corsets is part of my job, and my injuries were pushing back my review schedule.)
 
I’ve written at length about using corsets as deep pressure therapy, and how corsets can improve your posture and even make you more confident, regardless of the figure-shaping perks. But I do believe that it’s important for each person to occasionally gauge themselves and make sure that they’re using corsets for the right reasons, and that they’re using the corset as an aide to improve their experience or quality of life, and not using the corset as crutch that they can’t function without.

 

I hear stories of agoraphobic people being able to step outside without having a panic attack when they wear their corset and that is truly amazing. But certain people can become psychologically “addicted” to corsets, same as some people are hooked on buying shoes/ following a TV series/ eating a certain food.

 

We see taglines in commercials “Betcha can’t eat just one” (Lay’s chips) or “Once you pop, you can’t stop” (Pringles) – but these statements are meant to be fun and make the product seem enticing. It doesn’t make people freak out or ponder the addictiveness of processed snacks. You don’t have visions of being caught in a horrible circular existence of eating bag after bag of potato chips till you explode. It’s supposed to be taken lightly – but corsets are almost never taken lightly in this context. Because the corset is not as ubiquitous as high heel shoes, for instance (another easily collectable garment) it’s easy to try to blame the corset for a person’s “addiction”, as opposed to acknowledging that person’s possible tendencies to collect things, or immerse themselves in fashion, or research controversial topics.

 

2014 was especially full of sensationalist headlines about tightlacers Penny Brown, Kelly Lee Dekay and Michèle Köbke. Narrators purposely chose adjectives for them like “obsessed” and “addicted” to corsets – when in reality, when you speak to these ladies themselves, they may prefer to use words like “dedicated” or “disciplined” to describe themselves. Even if someone is a lifestyle corseter, tightlacer or waist trainer, it doesn’t necessarily equate to that person going bananas after one day without their corset as a journalist may insinuate. Remember that more often than not, the media blows stories out of proportion as it’s easy clickbait.

 

Physiological Dependence on Corsets

 
It is, however, important to discuss the potential physical dependence on a corset, because it’s not impossible. If one constantly wears their corset and doesn’t make it a priority to tone their core with exercise, it is possible to experience muscle atrophy and experience a weak back or abdominal muscles. I’ve written at length about the corset’s effect on the core muscles before.

 

Ethel Granger, who laced to just 13 inches in her corset over several decades, experienced weakness in her core but as shown here was still able stand without her corset.

Although core muscle weakness can lead to physical dependence on the corset, it’s my belief that in the vast majority of cases, this dependence is not permanent (as long as the affected person has the desire to do something about it). I have never found a medically documented case of someone taking off their corset and suddenly flopping over, snapping in half or breaking their spine from a lack of support.
Even Ethel Granger, who wore her corset for some 50 years and laced to 13 inches, was still able to support herself without the corset for short periods of time.
Cathie Jung, who currently laces to 15 inches, has also said that she removes the corset for bathing, although allegedly becomes a little lightheaded without the corset. News segments on Michèle Köbke have claimed that she was unable stand up without their corset, however there is evidence of Michèle standing up without a corset in the video footage, contradicting the information given. Michele explained that she did lose some strength in her torso and became winded when changing her corsets, but she could still stand up unassisted. Michèle has since stopped wearing corsets, and a newer video filmed nearly a year after the first shows that she has gained more strength in her torso and her waist measurement has now expanded to approximately 25 inches, similar to her starting waist measurement before corseting.
 

“You can’t stop wearing corsets…”

… otherwise you will lose your waist training progress and your waist may begin to expand again. This is a much more sensible interpretation of the statement.
  • If you get braces to change the position of your teeth: you can’t stop wearing your retainer, otherwise your teeth may shift slightly back to the way they were before.
  • If you build yourself up for a body building competition: after that competition is over you can’t stop lifting weights completely, otherwise your muscles will eventually shrink/ waste away, you’ll get soft, and you’ll lose your progress.
  • If you put yourself on a diet to lose weight: once you reach your goal, you can’t stop eating healthily and start eating all the junk food you want, otherwise you’ll gain weight again.
  • If you train your waist smaller with corsets: if you stop wearing your corset cold turkey once you reach your goal, your waist is likely to expand. Certainly, many waist trainers see a change in their natural, uncorseted waist over time; but a certain level of maintenance is required to keep any results you get.
 

Even if you train your ribcage to be more tapered, if you get pregnant, the baby can push out your ribcage again. This is why it’s said that corset training is “semi permanent” – but that is the topic of another article.

Read more about dependence on corsets on Contour Corsets, and also Staylace.

What do you think about corset dependency? Have you experienced a psychological, emotional or physical dependence on your own corset, to positive or negative results? Leave a comment.

Corset Wearer’s Organs Illuminated by MRI

 

I can hardly contain my excitement! For the first time, we have public information as to what happens to a corset wearer’s organs through the use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). I’ve wanted to do a study like this for years, but time, finances and limited access to imaging facilities prevented me from doing so.

Fortunately, German medical doctor and TV sensation Dr. Eckhart von Hirschhausen took it upon himself to study how a corset moves organs in a tightlacer on his October 2nd episode of his gameshow, Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen (“Hirschhausen’s Quiz of the Human [body]”).

Internationally acclaimed burlesque artist Eden Berlin volunteered to be studied, wearing a specialized tightlacing corset made by Korsettmanufactur TO.mTO.  The magnetic pull in an MRI machine is so strong that it is capable of ripping steel out of corsets and through flesh – so Tonia Merz, the corsetiere behind TO.m.O, explained how she used non-metal boning and other non-ferrous hardware in the corset so as not to endanger Eden during imaging.

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In this episode of Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen before viewing the results, the contestants had to guess what would happen to Eden’s body when she’s wearing a corset. Here were the options:

A. The lungs are compromised, so she has a lack of oxygen.
B. The kidneys are compressed, so they are less efficient at filtering.
C. The intestine is deformed, so digestion is slowed.

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Here are two MRI images of Eden, with her uncorseted figure on the left and her corseted figure on the right. This image is behind her peritoneal cavity, showing her kidneys and lungs. Dr. Hirschhausen explains how the lungs and kidneys haven’t moved much between the two images.

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This screencap now shows the peritoneal cavity. Dr. Eckhart gestures the normal location of the ascending, transverse and descending colon in the left image, and the transverse part of the colon is clearly viewed (where his hand is).

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Now Dr. Eckhart gestures to the right image and shows how the intestines are flexible. He says that you can see that the transverse colon has shifted so that part of it is above the waistline, and part of it is below. (While it might not have been explicitly mentioned, from the image we also now have confirmation that the liver and stomach move upwards (and the liver remains pretty much in the same shape) and they are not forced down below the waist like some horrendous illustrations once claimed).

Therefore, Dr. Eckhart concluded that answer C (the intestine trapped and digestion slowed) was the correct option.

As a follow-up to this, an MRI was done on a woman in her third term of pregnancy with the baby already in head-down (vertex) position, to show how the intestines have shifted upward considerably (again, the intestines are designed to be flexible). The baby is obviously highlighted in red.

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One thing I should point out is that Eden is not a daily waist trainer but rather wears her corsets for her performances. It’s also unknown how much time she was given to lace up and have her body adjust to the tightness before she had the second MRI taken – I know that if I give my body time to adjust while lacing down slowly, I can feel an intestinal shift after 20-30 minutes, and find that the feeling of pressure is reduced and I can lace a little tighter than before. Fran of Contour Corsets proposes that over time, a tightlacer can coax the entire transverse colon to sit below the waistline, away from the line of highest pressure from the corset, which can make digestion much easier.

Update: Eden Berlin has commented on her experience:

“The MRI pictures where made pretty much directly after i was putting the corset on and on top of this it is a new corset so still very stiff in shape. I think with a corset that my body was already used to and more time before the MRI picture the result may have been a bit different. But my organs where basicly just moved a bit up or down without changing much in shape.”

And on her waist reduction:

“My natural waist is 63cm… it was a 50cm corset and it was actually completly closed.”

Tonia Merz also confirmed that the corset was made to close at 50cm, and designed to give about a 5 inch reduction. With a 20% change in her waist circumference, this definitely qualifies at tightlacing.

If given the opportunity, I would love to repeat this MRI study with different tightlacers to see how the positions of organs change slightly depending on the individual, the silhouette of corset worn, the reduction of the corset, and how long they’ve been training. Huge thanks to Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen, Eden Berlin and Tonia Merz for their incredible collaboration and allowing us to finally see where the organs shift when wearing a corset, and especially to Tonia for her translation of the conclusions!

EDIT, JANUARY 10, 2015: You can now view the full episode here on Youtube (German, no subtitles). The corset topic begins at 35 minutes in, with the MRI portion around 45 minutes in.

Corsets and the Victorian Fainting Culture

In a previous article, we discussed how feeling faint or light headed is caused by the brain not being properly oxygenated – but contrary to popular belief, most of the fainting done by people in corsets was not due to suffocation. Most genuine fainting was said to be rather due to abrupt changes in blood pressure. (This is just one of many reasons why it’s important to lace down gradually; tying your corset too tight, too quickly can cause acute changes in blood pressure and make you feel lightheaded.)

Today we’re not going to focus on blood pressure per se, but we’re going to specifically touch on the “Victorian fainting culture” – what do I mean by that? Well, have you ever wondered why there are so many stories of fainting during the Victorian era, and why the “swooning Southern Belle” is depicted so often in period movies? Have you ever wondered why people claim that the Victorians invented the fainting couch solely for this reason? Let’s analyze a few different reasons why upper class Victorian women could have fainted:

Shortness of Breath (from possible overexertion)

I’m not denying that some women could have genuinely fainted from shortness of breath, but this scenario was likely far less common than some individuals claim. Someone could feel woozy if they were laced more tightly than they’re accustomed to, for a special occasion (like a party or ball). It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a woman of wealth to own more than one corset, and sometimes her formal corset would be slightly smaller than her day corset to give a more dramatic or impressive silhouette (I should add that I don’t personally consider it responsible to tightlace past the point of discomfort/pain; nevertheless, other people do go the extra inch for a special event). Add an evening of more exertion than usual (like hours of dancing) and dehydration on top of that, and it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that a woman would faint.

Overheating

Let’s not rule out the possibility that women may have fainted from simply overheating. Consider the Full Monty of undergarments: a chemise under the corset, bloomers, the corset itself, a corset cover, possibly a hoopskirt, several petticoats, and then over that would be a blouse, an overskirt, possibly a jacket, train for the skirt, and perhaps a little hat or bonnet on top of your head. Clothing can exceed 20 lbs at times, and there would be around 4 layers of clothing between your skin and the air – which, even if made from the lightest linens and using the thinnest corset, would still add up in weight and insulation. If you could imagine wearing all this in the middle of summer in Texas or Georgia (since the media love to depict Victorian ladies as specifically Southern Belles), and air conditioning won’t be invented for another 100 years, it’s safe to say that you may feel considerably overheated – and this can lead to fainting and heat stroke.

Dehydration

It is so very easy to become dehydrated. Even today, some sources state that 75% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated – we do not drink enough water or eat enough hydrating foods. Corsets are able to exacerbate symptoms that you would not normally notice when you’re uncorseted – i.e. while corsets are not to blame for our chronic dehydration, wearing a corset may make you more aware of your body, and you may feel dehydrated faster and with more intensity than if you were uncorseted. When I started corseting on a regular basis, I noticed that I felt thirstier than usual. When I started setting alarms for myself to drink 2-3 liters of water each day, I started feeling much better both in and out of the corset. Fran Blanche of Contour Corsets has written about blood volume, dehydration and corseting on her blog here.

The scenarios already mentioned above (overheating, overexertion etc.) can lead to further dehydration, which may cause fainting much faster or more frequently in an already chronically dehydrated person. Staying hydrated is so very important if you choose to wear a corset.

Shock/ surprise

Yes, fainting from shock does happen. I have two stories where I’ve almost fainted in my life, and neither of them involve corsets: I remember being about 6-7 years old, trying to make a paper palm tree, and I accidentally stapled my thumb. I took one look at my thumb and I remember developing tunnel vision and ringing in my ears (classic vasovagal response). According to those around me, my face went pale and my lips turned blue. I never lost consciousness, but I do remember instinctively lying down quickly. A similar thing happened the very first time I put in contact lenses. Fainting from shock, with or without corsets, is a real possibility.

But would Victorian women be so sheltered as to faint at the slightest bad news? It likely depended on the individual’s temperament, and also their family’s status. The very high class were probably not exposed to the blood and gore like those living on a farm, nevermind being desensitized to shocking news and images and media the way we are today. News came from newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. Public executions were not done everywhere, and likely not attended by all people. It’s therefore not hard consider that if a sheltered person were see or hear something out of the ordinary (something appalling or grotesque) they may have reacted somewhat more dramatically and could very well have even fainted – whether intentionally or unintentionally, which leads us to the last point…

Mock Fainting (or what I like to call “Feign-ting”)

Many Victorian women were probably taught to pretend to faint in uncomfortable situations. Remember that it was unbecoming for a proper lady to throw a hissy fit (lest she be diagnosed with “hysteria” and hauled away). What’s a woman to do when she:

  • wants to quickly become the center of attention at a party?
  • sees someone annoying and wants to avoid talking to them?
  • is angry about certain circumstances but society doesn’t allow her to throw a temper tantrum?
  • (And as one viewer mentioned in a recent comment:) needs to escape to the toilet but doesn’t want to announce something so unbecoming?

The answer to all of these? She faints. Or feigns fainting, in any case. Fainting was said to be one of few ways to abruptly change a subject or leave a room while still saving face and being considered a lady. “Fainting culture” indeed!

What about all those fainting couches?

“Chaise longue in a 4th-century Roman manuscript” (Wikipedia commons)

Many people will claim that the Chaise Longue was invented in the Victorian era – in reality, they existed in Egypt and Greece at least 2000 years prior, and possibly as far back as the 8th century BCE. Unfortunately, taking a millennia-old piece of furniture and reinventing it as a strictly Victorian “fainting couch” (and treating their invention as a direct response to the corset) did nothing more than glorify and perpetuate the fainting culture and help Victorian women look fabulous while they were (pretending to be) unconscious.

While fainting in a corset is not impossible, there is much more to the wilting Victorian lady than what we’re usually taught. It’s worth noting that while many people faint for many reasons, it is NEVER “normal” to feel faint whether in or out of a corset. If you faint on a regular basis or for unexplained reasons, always see your doctor.

But there is a big difference between genuinely feeling lightheaded vs feign-ting for the “fun of it” – and I would prefer that the perpetuation of the swooning corset-wearer stereotype would stop today. So the next time you’re at a Renfaire or convention and you see someone at the corset vendor’s kiosk, melodramatically swooning and pretending to fall over for the “fun of it”, be sure to let them know that their melodramatic performance is hardly an original act.

Please note that this article is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.

Do Corsets Carry any Health Risks?

corset_carrot

I can and have talked for hours on this subject, but writing a dedicated article on corset health risks is undoubtedly going to open a can of worms.

Not surprisingly, I get this question a lot. When I look at my site search term referrers for the past month alone, I see:

  • dangers of waist training
  • is waist cinching dangerous
  • risks of corset waist training
  • waist trainer dangers
  • the dangers of corsets
  • health risks corsets
  • waist training risks
  • is waist training bad for you

If you search for any of these terms and happen to click on an online newspaper column or a fitness blog, they will probably parrot the same horror stories and urban legends that have been repeated for the past century – ever evolving, like a game of broken telephone.

In a previous article responding to BBC’s “Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Home”, I explained how other clothing generally considered acceptable today, especially high heels, can pose risks in certain situations.

In the interest of keeping this post short, I won’t go into specifics about every single corset-related ailment ever uttered; if you are interested in learning how the corset may affect specific systems, the Physical Effects of Corseting series is there at your disposal. You’re welcome to watch the playlist on Youtube or read the corresponding articles in this section of my site. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but my biochemistry degree has  given me a fair understanding of how the body works, and taught me how to do proper research.

Any time someone asks me whether corseting is dangerous, I will always tell them the same thing: if you are already in good health, if you invest in a well-made corset that actually fits your body properly, and if you are responsible about how you use the corset, then danger can be minimized. But one time a reporter tried to get me to state that I believe corsets pose zero risk. No. Even as a regular lacer and a proponent of corsetry, I will never say that corsetry poses zero risk. There is a risk with everything. Let me explain:

Carrots pose a risk to your safety

I’m sure most dieticians would tell you that carrots are very healthy, but my aunt spontaneously developed a fatal allergy to them while pregnant with my cousin (she had been able to eat them all her life, then one day she went into anaphylaxis from them). One of my friends in university once accidentally inhaled a baby carrot and it lodged in his throat.  In both situations, they were home alone. Had they not been able to take proper action in time, carrots could have killed them.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was chopping a carrot into sticks, and it rolled out of place and I ended up slicing my finger open! I was lucky – had the knife been sharper, had the angle of the knife been different, or had I dropped the knife, I could have lost a finger or hit a larger blood vessel and bled profusely. Sounds ridiculous, but accidents happen every day.

Everything (even corsets and carrots) comes with risks, but it depends on what conditions you’re already predisposed to (e.g. my aunt’s allergy) and it depends on how responsibly you use it (e.g. in the case of my buddy who choked due to user error). And in the case of my slicing my finger open chopping carrots? Well, the slicing was really done by the knife, and caused by myself (also user error) – not the carrot. It didn’t stop the carrot for taking the blame, though. To this day I hate chopping carrots, although I’m fine with using a sharp knife to cut up other food. Both my friend and my aunt avoid carrots, for obvious reasons. Had carrots not been so ubiquitous, I might have thought that carrots were killers, as so many think of corsets today.

Exercise poses a risk to your safety

There are tales of CrossFit athletes developing rhabdomyolysis (this is the disintegration of muscle fibers causing an influx of myoglobin carried through the circulatory system), which can overload the kidneys, and in some situations cause kidney damage or failure and the need for emergency dialysis.

Weight lifting can cause hernias, it can cause uterine/vaginal prolapse in women, and with poor form it can lead to broken bones or ruptured tendons.

People who were otherwise completely fit and healthy have been known to suddenly die of heart failure in the middle of sports or running, due to a previously asymptomatic and undiagnosed congenital heart condition.

I am not saying this to vilify carrots or any type of exercise. I have always stressed that a healthy lifestyle is not without proper nutrition and exercise. But it would be irresponsible to say that anything in this world, no matter how common or how seemingly innocuous, comes without risk. Water has risks. Heat and cold have risks. Corsets have risks too.

When you use the right tools, when you go about it with proper form, when you are responsible and you accept your body’s limitations, that’s when your risks are minimized.

For almost everyone, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks. And for many people, for instance Sasha who survived a motorcycle accident, corsetry becomes a necessary medical tool and increases one’s quality of life – and the benefits outweigh the risks.

What are some negative risks or dangers associated with corsetry?

Here are real stories that I have heard first person from modern corset wearers (not urban legends from long ago):

  • Some find that their blood pressure can become elevated while they’re wearing a corset (although those with chronically low blood pressure have found this to be beneficial for them)
  • Others find that if they have uterine prolapse, that the pressure from the corset makes it uncomfortable.
  • In my case, a corset that is not properly made to fit me can end up pressing on a superficial nerve on my hip and causing pain, tingling or numbness in the area (although this doesn’t happen with a custom corset designed to fit me; and other people who don’t have this asymmetry do not seem to have this issue).
  • Wearing a corset regularly (especially in the heat and without a liner underneath) can potentially cause skin problems which can become worse if you don’t treat it properly and take a break from the corset.
  • Some report slight constipation (although another chronically constipated person had reported becoming more regular since the use of corsets; results vary).
  • Other individuals have experienced headaches or acid reflux (although Sarah Chrisman reported reduction in her migraines and reflux, interestingly).
  • I have also legitimately opened my closet door and had a pile of corsets drop on me before.

What are some positive risks or benefits associated with corsetry?

There is an entire section of my website called Corset Benefits that is dedicated to collecting the positive stories and benefits people have experienced since they started using corsets. It’s three pages long; covering physical, mental, emotional, societal and economical factors.

Corsets are not made for everyone, just as certain types of shoes are not made for everyone. If you have certain health conditions (including but not limited to) hypertension, certain types of hernias, or conditions that cause gastrointestinal inflammation (irritable bowel, Crohn’s, colitis, etc), you may find that certain risks outweigh the benefits. This is why I will always say to talk to your doctor if you would like to use a corset for any reason, whether it’s for fun or aesthetic reasons, whether you are waist training, or whether you wear the corset for therapeutic purposes.

Talk to your doctor.

I put that in the largest font WordPress would let me, because it’s extremely important. My family doctor, my chiropractor, and even my dentist all know about my corsets. I have also had my chiropractor take an x-ray of me while wearing one of my corsets. I’ve also had the opportunity to show some of my corsets to a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, and several registered nurses to see what they think. Not one of these practitioners have told me to stop wearing corsets. Nevertheless, I still have my health monitored regularly because I want to do this responsibly.

I also invest in custom corsets that fit my body and accommodate my individual quirks (like the nerve that runs over my left hip) so they don’t cause me discomfort. I listen to my body: I put on a corset when I feel like it, and I loosen or remove the corset when I feel like it. There is nothing heroic about pushing yourself further than your body can handle.

So here I am, a corset cheerleader, telling you that wearing corsets does carry some risks. If you tell me that you plan to wear a corset or that you already wear corsets, I trust that you have already done extensive research on corsetry (from multiple sources), that you are aware of corset health risks or side effects of corsets (both good and bad), that you have talked to your trusted practitioner, that you have been given the thumbs up in your health (or that your health conditions merit the therapeutic use of a corset), that you are able to read and respond appropriately to your body’s signals and go about wearing corsets responsibly. If you haven’t, then you are putting the risk of user error into your own hands.

Weighing in on “The Corset Diet”

The first time I heard about the “Corset Diet” was late last year (2013), and at first I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I laid low, watching carefully what the media was doing with this “new-old fad”. Despite many people asking me what I think about it over the last 8-ish months, I have eschewed the topic up until now, because while I don’t feel that the “corset diet” is totally invalid, I do think that the concept is highly flawed.

(Please note that I will continue to use the “corset diet” in quotation marks for the remainder of this article, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. I had my own independent experiences with weight loss while waist training long before the “official corset diet” came to exist – but I cannot say I’ve tried the “official corset diet” as recommended by their website, because they only guarantee the program if you use one of the corsets they supply (either latex cinchers or Corset-Story stock), and I have had bad experiences with both of these product brands in the past.)

I will admit that at first I was intrigued that this “corset diet” designed by a doctor – I have had a few doctors quietly buy corsets from me in the past, but here is one that is actually willing to publicly condone the use of corsets and monitor his patients’ health! But the products recommended by the program, and the way they choose to market the concept in itself, both left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The greatest issue I take with this program is that they choose to call corseting a “diet”.

“The Corset Diet”: it’s short, punchy, and it attracts people’s attention. They also claim a 100% success rate, and guarantee a loss of at least 2 lbs per week. I understand why they opt to call it a diet, but I don’t agree with it. When I think of a diet, I typically think of limiting certain foods, eliminating others completely, moving the time of day you eat or the frequency you have your meals, and sometimes limiting the volume of food or the amount/type of calories you eat. From a glance, it seems that this “corset diet” is only limiting the volume of food, by stomach constriction from the corset.

Here’s the crux of it: a corset is not a diet. It is no more of a “diet” than a pair of running shoes is a “marathon”.

A corset is a garment, and I have never ever believed, mentioned, or condoned that it is a way to replace proper nutrition and exercise. It’s a piece of clothing! Let’s compare this to a different piece of clothing: the running shoe. Just because you own a pair of running shoes, doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful at running a marathon. You still have to put time, effort and dedication into running on a regular basis. Granted, a good quality pair of running shoes can certainly help you run better than a pair of high heels – the shoes can aid you in your goal, can support your feet properly and keep your body in alignment. They can help you bring your A-game, but the shoes are not an exercise routine in and of themselves. This idea is flawed. 

Moreover, do you only wear running shoes when you’re running marathons? Not necessarily – you can wear running shoes because you like them, and you can wear them every day if you desire. It’s the same with corsets – not all people wear running shoes when they’re training for a marathon, just as not all people wear corsets for the purpose of weight loss. To presume so is incredibly narrow-minded and it is a form of prejudice based on one’s choice of dress.

However, for some people, a corset can aid in weight loss in some ways, so the argument is not totally invalid, but it is flawed. This article will discuss the specific application of a corset as an aid in weight loss, and examine the pros and cons with respect to this corset “diet”.

 

The Pros of the “corset diet”

(or rather, not the official “corset diet” but rather the general use of corsets as one tool/ aid for weight loss, or for positive changes to your nutrition and fitness levels)

Ann Grogan from Romantasy has shown for years that it’s not unusual to lose weight when waist training – she says that a corset can act like an external, less invasive gastric band, by putting pressure on your stomach so that it’s not able to expand as much during a meal. (Have you ever heard of a ‘food baby’, where you eat so much your abdomen is distended? This is impossible in a corset.)

Many people are accustomed to eating heavy foods and large portions; they may eat way too quickly, and some customarily binge in the evenings from the time they get home from work until whenever they go to bed. For many people, their stomachs have stretched to a very large capacity (they can accommodate a huge volume of food at any one time), and these people may have issues with their leptin/ ghrelin hormone levels (leptin insensitivity can inhibit a person from feeling full or satiated, while high ghrelin levels can cause that person to feel hungry all the time). 

 

How a corset may combat appetite issues is by increasing intra-abdominal pressure – some of the first organs to respond to this are the stomach and intestines (the more hollow and membranous organs, in contrast to the more solid organs). In the stomach and intestines, most of the volume is filled with air, food and waste. When those contents are excreted and not replaced (or not replaced quite as much), the stomach and intestines are easily able to flatten and reduce in volume. (In my corsets and toilet issues article, I described how wearing a corset can sometimes encourage bowel movements just from a “toothpaste effect”.) 

By wearing a corset and decreasing the capacity of your stomach, it may help you feel full faster (and if you eat too much, it becomes uncomfortable faster). So if you consistently wear a corset with your meals, particularly your largest meal of the day (which is dinner for many of us), then you will quickly learn that it’s not quite as easy to overeat in a corset compared to when you’re not wearing one.

And while it’s not the same for everyone, for some people who have those malfunctioning hunger signals, it’s possible to recondition and reset your appetite over time: not only learning to take smaller portions, but also feeling satisfied with less.

 

Another way that the corset may help (which is a bit more controversial as it deals with personal body image) is that a corset may allow you to see yourself in a way you always wanted to look, but could never visualize before that moment. A lot of people give up on “diets” or fitness regimes because they don’t see their figure transforming fast enough – but a corset is able to give you an instant hourglass silhouette, and sometimes allow you to instantaneously fit into smaller or more fitted clothes that perhaps you couldn’t fit into before. The corset smooths out any bumps under an outfit and makes your clothing hang differently; for some people, that gives them a boost in confidence and makes them feel fabulous.

But at the risk of naysayers telling me that I’m encouraging people to “fool themselves” into having a figure they don’t naturally possess, I am proposing the possibility that if a person is currently not 100% happy with the way they treat their body, and they have problems motivating themselves to change their current lifestyle (due to a lack of results or not being able to visualize themselves any different from their current state), these people may find that the immediate change they see in their figure by the use of corsets can serve as inspiration and motivation. A shocking, sudden shift in your self-image (being able to ‘imagine results’ before they happen) may help to kickstart a new regime: help you to start a fitness program or to choose higher quality foods, because you know you deserve to treat your body well, to give it clean fuel and keep it strong.

But please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, because I’m not suggesting that all people with a sedentary lifestyle who eat junk food have low confidence/poor body image, or even people who carry a little more weight than the “average” have low confidence. Confidence and positive body image can exist at any size. Ultimately, those who wear corsets choose to do so because they enjoy it.

 

The Cons of the “corset diet”

(or rather, the expectation that corsets can be used as the only tool for weight loss/ changes to your nutrition and fitness levels)

A lot of people apply the first law of thermodynamics to dieting and weight loss: calories in, calories out. Fuel in, energy out. Energy density within certain foods, and which foods tip that scale. (I know a lot of people don’t believe in the concept of equal calories but just bear with me here. For many people, this is the oversimplified relationship between diet and weight loss.)

Now let’s look at the simplified view of corseting as related to diet and weight loss. It’s a matter of physics instead of chemistry now: how large of a volume of food can you fit comfortably in your body at one time (whilst your stomach capacity is reduced by the corset)? Let’s say that while you’re wearing your corset, your stomach can only comfortably hold 2 cup of food, instead of 5-6 cups.

But you can easily see where this concept doesn’t work for everyone, because it completely removes the factor of the quality of food you’re eating – you’re not looking at nutritional density at all!

  • If you eat 2 cups of very calorie dense foods (cheese, deep fried foods, or nutritionally deprived foods like candy), instead of a cup of calorically-low and nutritionally-dense foods (steamed cruciferous vegetables, squash, berries or eggs), then don’t be surprised if the “corset diet” doesn’t work.
  • Conversely, if you already eat healthy to begin with and you maintain your healthy habits after you take on corseting, you may not see any change with the “corset diet”.
  • If you are the type to not eat meals, and you just graze 16 hours throughout the day (keeping your stomach volume small at any given time but your total day’s quantity of food is high while its quality is low overall) then the “corset diet” may not work for you.
  • And if you get tired of wearing the corset and you take it off halfway through your meal to be able to eat more, then the “corset diet” is probably not the right method for you. 

Not all people’s bodies are the same, either. There will always be those types who are able to constantly shovel in poor quality food (with or without a corset), and still not experience any undesirable effects in their health, their appearance or how they feel. And while there are some people whose appetites are curbed by wearing a corset, I’ve actually talked to some individuals who feel more hungry when wearing a corset! So as with any other “diet” in this world, results will of course vary with the effectiveness of this “corset diet” as well. 

 

My Personal Experience

(with the general use of corsets as one tool/ aid for weight loss, or for positive changes to nutrition and fitness habits)

In the past, I’ve talked about “stomach hunger” (appetite, physical hunger, need for fuel) versus “head hunger” (food cravings, food addiction, stress/ emotional eating). I have personally found that the corset helps with my “stomach hunger”, but I must still practice some willpower when it comes to overcoming my addiction to refined sugar and junk food – even when wearing a corset, you have to choose foods that are of higher nutritional quality, and you have to choose to not remove the corset when the corset makes your body feel full before the meal feels ‘over’.

However, while I can’t speak for everyone else, I know that in my experience, wearing corsets has helped train me to avoid certain foods over time. Carbonated drinks, ice cream, cheesecake, fried dishes, certain types of heavy meats, a lot of artificial sweeteners (especially the sugar-alcohols that can cause bloating), and empty calorie foods high in corn syrup and refined sugar all tend to give me a slight stomach ache when I’m corseted. So, what do I do when I eat something that doesn’t agree with me? I avoid it!

When I’m corseted, I notice that I have a tendency to choose lighter foods and higher quality foods – smoothies and protein shakes, salads, grilled vegetables, overripe fruit, and leaner meats – obviously depending on your lifestyle, your beliefs, your health and what feels good in your stomach, you may opt for different foods, but 99% of the time, the foods that are gentle on my stomach have also been foods that are more healthful (less processed and more nutritionally dense).

In my experience, when I am actively waist training (as I was through mid 2012 through to mid 2013), I tend to drop weight. When I realized that I didn’t like my silhouette with a 20-inch waist and I stopped waist training, then consequently my weight and my natural waist size both went back up.

However, it’s important to note that corsets have not been about weight for me to begin with. People have told me that I’m just lazy for strapping on a corset, and that I’m trying to “trick” people into thinking I’m thinner than I really am. But for me, having a temporary vintage hourglass figure when I’m wearing a corset was always more about creating curves and having vintage clothing fit a certain way, not about “looking skinny”. For me, corsets are about the waist, NOT the weight.

 

 

When I was contacted by a producer of The Dr Oz show a few months ago, they asked me how much weight I lost by corseting, and how long have I kept off the weight – I knew that they were trying to put a certain spin on what corseting is supposed to offer, but I wasn’t ready to lie. Before I started corseting, I was a university student, living off $5 a week for food. I ate lentils, carrots and apples for months at a time. When I didn’t buy a bus pass, I often walked 45 minutes to class (which was situated up on a steep hill), wearing a 20 lb backpack. (I wish I were hyperbolizing, but those who have gone to school with me know that I’m not.)

These days, I work a cushy job, I live in a suburb where it’s customary to drive most places, and I can pay for more than just lentils. I’m not eating the same, I’m not getting the same exercise, and I doubt I have the same metabolism I did in my late teens or early 20s. If you want to look at the whole 5-ish year span between the time before I started corseting on a regular basis and today, it’s clear that I have gained weight!

If I wanted to lose that weight, I know what I need to do. Yes I would personally include corsets in my regimen, but that will not by any means be the only tool. Once again, I have never ever ever said that corsets were designed to be a substitute for proper diet and exercise. In fact, I have regularly said that when you start corseting, that’s a good reason to increase your core strength exercises, and to reflect on what you eat and drink in order to make your waist training as comfortable and smooth as possible.

(For what it’s worth: with what I know about weight and health these days, I’d probably be happier with a shift in composition as opposed to a flat-out loss in weight. Remember that weight and BMI alone cannot accurately tell a person the state of their health. Instead of wanting to lose a flat 30 lbs, it would perhaps be healthier to try for 20 lbs of fat loss, but 10 lbs gained in muscle – so the scale may only register 10 lbs lost overall, but my body would probably look and feel incredibly different.)

 

In summary:

WEIGHT ALONE IS NOT NECESSARILY AN ACCURATE REFLECTION OF HEALTH, and should not be too closely tied to your body image. Focusing on your fitness and overall health is more important than what the scale reads.

CORSETS ARE NOT A DIET, and they are NEVER a substitute for good nutrition and fitness.

WAIST TRAINING IS NOT AN EASY, SHORT-TERM SOLUTION. It is often a form of slow body modification that directly affects your ribcage and muscle morphology – any effect on weight (or particularly body fat percentage) is by indirect means. Reduction of your waist size may be independent of any change in the scale.

While weight loss by use of a corset is possible, the expectation that it works perfectly/quickly/effortlessly is flawed. Again, and forever: it should not be the only tool you use to take control of your fitness or body image.

 

Have you experienced any weight loss or change in body composition with long-term use of a genuine corset, whether intentional or unintentional? Does your appetite increase, decrease or stay the same in a corset? What about the quality or the volume of food you eat? Leave a comment below.

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