Losing belly fat is often desired based on vanity measures. But it is also issued by health professionals to combat associated risks of metabolic disorders, including heart disease and diabetes.

In hopes to shed weight fast, individuals may be turning to stomach wraps marketed on social media web sites. Besides, their promotion as “detox wraps for cellulite” and fallacious before and after pictures are often too enticing to pass up.

While stomach wraps are tempting and likely to be harmless, they can likewise come with dangerous side effects. Belly wraps can impact mental health, too.

Stomach wraps are essentially plastic wrapped around the midsection. Some individuals prepare homemade body wraps. However, they are often used in spa settings and come with a hefty price tag.

Consumers are often wrapped for 20 minutes up to an hour, though sessions are also dependent on the specific spa treatment. A wrap session may also be paired with techniques to stimulate blood circulation and sweat. These often include massage therapy, exercise, and the use of a sauna.

Body wraps are often infused with herbs, oils, clay, algae, chocolate, coffee, essential oils, and other added “natural” ingredients. The most common types of body wraps claim the following:

Raise core body temperature to lose fat

Moisturize the skin and improve skin texture

Stress relief and relaxation

Detox the body from harmful “toxins”

Rid or diminish the appearance of cellulite

Slim and tone the body

Shrink fat cells

Lose inches off the waist

All you lose however, is water weight, which comes right back when you rehydrate your body. You must also consider the fat burning cream or location usually associated with it. Some have reported a “burning sensation” underneath the plastic wrap while wearing it. They think that is working. But studies have shown that sometimes it could be eating away at your skin depending on your skin type and medical history. Those who have or have a history of high blood pressure or diabetes need to consult a physician before trying any type of body wrap.

Waist trainers may seem like a quick fix for shaping the mid-section, however, most of the weight loss you experience is superficial. You might think more sweat means the body is working harder, but compression from the waist trainer actually has the opposite effect on your abdominal muscles (more on this later).

Waist trainers might also promote a “crash-diet” approach to fitness, which is not only superficial but harmful to overall wellness. Some women report “feeling full all the time” when they wear waist trainers, this is simply due to your stomach being compressed. You might temporarily lose a small amount of weight wearing a waist trainer, but it will likely be due to loss of fluids through perspiration rather than loss of fat.

One of the most agreed upon effects of waist trainers is that prolonged use will actually weaken your abdominals. Although it might be tempting to wear a waist trainer during exercise, this type of thinking is flawed. Chiropractor Rachel Sparks says, “The more often you wear a waist trainer, the more it is going to be a source of support for your body as opposed to challenging your own muscles to keep you upright.” The compression signals the back and core muscles to deactivate, which is a disaster for abdominal muscles you’ve worked hard to engage.   

Waist trainers can prevent the diaphragm from doing its job, which can have serious implications for your wellness in addition to your fitness routine. Sparks agrees, explaining that compressing the diaphragm inhibits its function. “The main muscle meant for breathing is your diaphragm,” she says. “But in order for your diaphragm to work properly, your abdomen needs to expand to accommodate its contraction. Wearing a waist trainer severely, if not completely, disallows this to happen.” 

Jesse P. Houghton, MD, senior medical director of Gastroenterology at Southern Ohio Medical Center concurs. “Tight compression from a waist trainer can inhibit the diaphragm from being able to fully contract and relax, thus inhibiting full expansion of the lungs.” This is especially problematic if you wear a waist trainer while working out, as you might not get the oxygen you need. 

Your musculoskeletal system is also at risk when you waist train. Sparks explains,“Your spine is made of several units known as vertebrae. These are individual so that they can help you move in different ranges of motion. If you think about the middle part of your spine, it is attached to your rib cage so it doesn’t move as freely.”

We rely on the lower spine for mobility, so any compression in this area will throw your musculoskeletal system off. In trying to compensate, you might injure yourself in other areas. In fact, a compressed diaphragm might send a signal to accessory muscles to compensate. “Smaller accessory muscles located near your neck will kick in [to help the diaphragm breathe],” says Sparks. “These small muscles are not meant to move your ribcage thousands of times per day; they will eventually wear out leading to neck pain, headaches, and jaw pain.

Sparks points out that a large requirement of organ function is their ability to move. “We all can wrap our heads around spinal movement,” she says, “but did you know your organs are meant to move as well?” Applying unnecessary compression to internal organs might be aggravating, causing them undue stress.

What exactly are the long-term effects of such aforementioned stress? Houghton says that sadly, we just don’t have all the data. “I am not aware of any actual high-quality studies on waist trainers,” he says. He does maintain that there’s no real danger of a waist trainer causing organs to move around or sustain injury. “Any possible shifting of one’s internal organs would likely take years of constant wearing to occur,” he says. 

Tarek Hassanein, MD, founder of the Southern California Liver & GI Center, also agrees that the pressure from a waist trainer won’t damage intestines and doubts pressure from a waist trainer will negatively affect organs. “Compression to the abdominal area is not necessarily equated to compression of the intestines themselves,” he says. “The waist trainer, when used in conjunction with exercise, will help the abdominal muscles form in a shape guided by the belt. The abdominal muscles are there to protect the stomach, intestines, and other gut organs so when you have anything compressing like that, your muscles will take the force, protecting your intestines from any pressure.” 

This is not to say that the pressure applied to internal organs is without consequence. The consequences are mostly muscular, however. Joel C. Willis, an EMS trainer certified in Lightning Fit, touches on what happens to muscles due to pressure to organs. “When the body is being compressed, muscles that are normally utilized in the back and in the core begin to shut off because the waist trainers restrict range of motion. This loss of motion creates muscular compensation as well as dependency on wearing the product.”

Long-term use of a waist trainer might lead to digestive issues. “Wearing a waist trainer for any length of time can certainly cause GERD (acid reflux) to occur,” says Houghton. “This is due to compression of the stomach and thus upward pressure on stomach contents, causing reflux into the esophagus.” And believe me from experience, this is not fun.

So if you’re curious enough to still use stomach wraps to lose weight, find out their real truth before turning to such a method.

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