“Body shapes come in and out of fashion, but the classic ‘hourglass’ figure is something a lot of people want to achieve, regardless of what is in trend,” says trainer Luke Worthington of the near-universal pursuit of a honed waist.
You only need glance at Billie Eilish, resplendent in a corset in British Vogue’s June issue, or Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams or Jennifer Lawrence’s early summer looks to know that this erogenous zone is truly having a moment.
But working on your waistline is about more than just its aesthetic appeal. Studies show that excess fat in the area is linked to a higher risk of early death, while a strong waistline actually helps to improve issues with posture.
What to eat for a healthy waistline
The trouble with abdominal fat is that it is often indicative of visceral fat. “Visceral fat refers to the fat inside your belly that starts to surround your organs,” explains Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, naturopath and founder of Artah.
“This is a particularly dangerous type because it drives inflammation and insulin resistance, while also influencing other important cardiovascular and metabolic markers.” It also increases the risk of various chronic diseases and can even affect the immune system, with recent studies showing that increased visceral fat influences the severity of Covid-19.
Stephenson recommends a diet packed with healthy whole foods and nutrients, as well as lots of fibre. Start by focusing on good quality fats and protein while eliminating processed foods – including excess sugar and refined carbohydrates – which is particularly important for those with a lot of visceral fat. Say goodbye to sugary drinks and foods with high fructose corn syrup, as well as alcohol.
“Another really important factor is maintaining lean muscle mass to ensure you have better metabolic control and help with insulin sensitivity,” she says. “I’d advise including strength work in your weekly regime, so that you can build or keep this healthy muscle – it’s an excellent preventative step, particularly as we age.”
Beat the bloat
Bloating is common and there are myriad reasons why it happens. While some are more obvious, such as constant snacking, individual factors play a big part, so Stephenson recommends first cutting out ultra-processed foods and eating a healthy balanced diet to see if it makes a difference.
She also makes the point that stress is a big factor. “Not only does it perpetuate habits that lead to bloating, like eating quickly or on-the-go chewing, but it can also impair your digestion,” she says. “If you’re chronically stressed, looking at some simple habits, to switch out of the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ mode into the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode, can be hugely impactful.” For that, she recommends yin yoga, mindful eating, and meditation.
How to tone the waist
Defining the waist as being “the area between the bottom of the ribcage and the top of the hip bones” Worthington says it’s also called the “lateral core” in fitness circles. The muscles in this area allow the spine to bend to the sides (flexing laterally) while also keeping the spine stable, otherwise known as resisting lateral flexion.
“The key to getting the most out of your waist workout is to choose exercises that train the core to resist movement and remain strong and stable,” explains Worthington. “When we train the core in this way, we are not only working the muscles that we want to work, we’re also training them to protect the spine and improve posture.” Much more than just improving the waistline visually, this kind of training also helps to prevent injury, reduce back, shoulder and neck pain, and even improves how we breathe.
3 of the best waist-toning exercises
Beginner: Bird DogGet into a hands and knees position, with your shoulders stacked above your hands and your knees slightly behind your hips. Ensure your weight is spread evenly between all four points of contact and that your spine is neutral – there should be a gentle “S” shape when viewed from the side.
Reach your right arm above your head while simultaneously extending your left leg behind you.
Push your heel away and pull your toes back towards you as you extend, and imagine you are standing on that leg.
Fully exhale as you reach the longest part of the movement.
Slowly return to the starting position, resisting any rotation through the torso and hips.
Repeat for eight reps on each side.
Intermediate: Short Side PlankLie on your side with knees bent at 90 degrees (so feet are behind you), and extend your hips to neutral – viewed from above, the body should follow a straight line from your head, through the torso, hips and thighs.
Maintaining the neutral position, lift your hips off the floor, supporting your weight on your elbow and knee. Try to create a straight line between the head, torso, hips and thighs, when viewed from either above or in front.
Exhale fully and forcefully five times in this position.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Advanced: Pallof PressAttach a long loop resistance band at chest height to a fixed object. Stand at a right angle to the fixed object and grasp the band in both hands. Set your feet slightly wider than hip width, and allow knees to soften slightly.
Press your hands away from you, using your core muscles to resist the sideways pull of the band.
Once you reach full extension, raise your hands up to an overhead position in front of you. Use your abdominal muscles to keep your ribcage down as the hands reach up.
In the overhead position, exhale fully and forcefully.
Slowly lower your arms back to parallel and then bring them back to the start position.
Do 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.
And finally: do waist trainers actually work?
We’ve all heard about the Kardashian-led trend for waist training, where a corset is worn around the waist to help accentuate an hourglass shape.
But does it work? Kim Kardashian certainly thinks so, having created one as part of her SKIMS underwear line. With flexible boning and a soft-to-touch feel, it was designed with three levels of compression, so you can adjust it as your waist tones.
“Our Waist Trainers are a customer favourite because of how versatile they are; they can be worn at home and around the house to tone and support your core, or under clothes for a more cinched silhouette,” says a spokesperson for the brand.
While they might help some people feel more streamlined, Worthington points out that the ways in which many of these products work during exercise is via the wrapping technique, which essentially increases the temperature in the area to promote fluid loss through excessive sweating.
“It is possible to see some short term visual changes to the shape of the area after using this technique,” he says, “but that isn’t changing the structure or composition of the area.”