Searching for a shortcut to weight loss? If so, you're part of a long tradition. For at least 100 years, people have been wearing full-body rubber suits in hopes of melting away pounds. The idea is simple: Heat up your body, and you'll supposedly burn fat.
In these ab-conscious times, perhaps it's only natural that you can now buy weight-loss wraps specifically for your midsection. The best-known option is the Belly Burner, a snug neoprene band invented by celebrity trainer Bobby Waldron. The Belly Burner TV ad shows people wearing the band while pushing a stroller, walking in the park and lifting weights in the gym. You can buy it at many drug and department stores for about $20. (It's often sold in the As-Seen-on-TV shelves, along with the ShamWow! and PediPaws.)
Danskin, the dance wear company, makes a similar product called the Waist Trimmer Belt. It's made out of fuchsia neoprene and is sold online for about $13.
The TV ad for the Belly Burner says that the band "increases your thermal core temperature ... accelerating the fat-burning energy needed to trim down those love handles." This claim is backed up with thermal images showing that the midsection does, in fact, get warm underneath the Belly Burner. The ad goes on to say that using the Belly Burner is the "absolute fastest way to get those fit and trim abs you've been dreaming about."
The ad also features a couple of celebrity endorsements, including this testimonial from comedian Carlos Mencia: "I started working out with the Belly Burner, and I literally went from a size 38 to a size 32. That's real." A caption explains that the drop in weight happened over just eight weeks.
In an e-mail, Waldron, the inventor of the product, said that "results will vary depending on level of activity. The Belly Burner should be used in conjunction with a fitness routine and a healthy eating regimen."
Claims made for the Danskin Waist Trimmer Belt are relatively tame. According to the package label, the belt will help you "shed excess water while you exercise." The Danskin website simply says that the belt "is designed to preserve body heat, promote water loss and provide extra back support during exercise." Danskin didn't respond to a request for comments.
The bottom line
Just like a rubber suit, a neoprene wrap around the belly will definitely make people sweat, says Pete McCall, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and a San Diego-based exercise physiologist and personal trainer. Depending on the intensity of the workout, he says, they could sweat a lot.
But McCall warns that there's a big difference between sweating and losing fat. In his opinion, the Belly Burner or any other neoprene wrap would actually make it harder to burn body fat and tone abdominal muscles. When a person wears a snug wrap around the belly, the muscles that normally support the midsection can relax, he explains, so they don't burn as many calories or get as toned as they would without the wrap. "That's why trainers are moving away from weightlifting belts. The only time I would have a client wear any type of belt is when they're coming off back surgery, and that would be under the guidance of a physical therapist or doctor."
Gary Hunter, a professor in the school of nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who studies exercise physiology and fat distribution, agrees that a neoprene waist band will help rid the body of water, not body fat. He also notes that people who are overheated can't work out as hard as they would normally -- yet another reason why the belts might be counterproductive for weight loss.
Though a neoprene band wouldn't be as dangerous as a full-body rubber suit -- which has been known to contribute to deaths of wrestlers trying to lose pounds before a weigh-in -- Hunter worries that the bands could encourage dehydration and possibly heat exhaustion or heat stroke, especially during intense workouts in hot environments. "If you want to be able to exercise strenuously and get the most out of it, you have to have a way to dissipate heat," he says. "The [belly] is a big source of heat loss, so this could be dangerous."
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