Is It Bad To Suck In Your Stomach?

It's hard to engage in social media without coming across content focused on body image. While body positivity has become a popular notion, many cultures around the world still associate thinness with beauty. Social influencers continue to capitalize on the obsession and circulate trends that spotlight our waistlines. One trend called waist training is the revival of the old-fashioned girdle which compresses the stomach into an hourglass figure, a practice re-popularized by the Kardashian clan.

Another tummy-minimizing trend called stomach-vacuuming claims to help you take three inches off your waistline in three weeks. In essence, all you have to do is suck in your stomach and hold it in that position in order to activate your abdominal muscles, per Health Shots.

A third trend takes a polarized, more body-positive approach by encouraging people to stop trying to minimize the stomach and instead embrace the natural bumps and curves of our bodies by letting the stomach muscles go. This trend seems to be a stark contrast to the backlash social media receives for portraying and promoting dangerous and unrealistic standards of beauty and body image. But is there any real danger in sucking in our stomachs? Let's take a look at the physical and psychological impacts of this practice.

Physical effects of sucking in your stomach

A couple of important issues arise when it comes to sucking in the stomach. For one, it may prevent proper breathing, via The Sydney Morning Herald. When we hold our stomachs in, we're keeping the diaphragm from dropping into the abdomen to fully expand. Only by relaxing the stomach muscles can the diaphragm fully expand allowing for deep, full breaths. When we engage in shallow breathing, we can experience health complications like chronic body aches, headaches, and pain.

Another concern is that sucking in the stomach can lead to pelvic floor issues. When we suck in the stomach, we're contracting the oblique muscles of the abdomen, which leads to increased pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. Over time, this can cause a loss of flexibility of those muscles. For those with incontinence troubles, this can be particularly problematic and can exacerbate symptoms (via the Washington Post).

Psychological effects of sucking in your stomach

There's evidence to suggest sucking in the stomach isn't just a physical health concern, but a mental health concern as well. Let's place our attention back on the issue of shallow breathing. When we're unable to take full breaths deep into our diaphragm, we're prone to activating our sympathetic nervous system, which can trigger a fight or flight response. This can directly lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety. This is why breathing exercises focused on deep, slow breaths can be particularly helpful in reducing stress and cortisol levels.

But that's not the only mental health concern experts point out. Holding in our stomachs may be a result of self-esteem issues and a lack of self-acceptance. By constantly trying to hold in our stomachs in order to portray a flat and toned tummy, we may be attempting to project an image of idealism to the world at the expense of our health. The body positivity movement has attempted to counter the portrayal of one perfect body size, suggesting that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes — and that it's best to love and enjoy the body you have, exactly as it is (via Verywell Mind).