Wellness·4 min read

Why Are We Still Sucking In Our Stomachs Like We're 13?

A woman standing in front of the mirror holding her stomach
February 13, 2024

Just when it seems like we’ve recovered from early-2000s diet culture and vowed not to be like the almond moms that raised many of us, glorifying thinness becomes trendy again: Legging legs are the new thigh gap and supposed body-positive influencers are posting tummy-control products. It makes it even more difficult to escape the impact this era has left on our health and psyches.

On top of the other consequences of diet culture — eating disorders, body dysmorphia, low self-esteem — now we can add hourglass syndrome to the list. It’s a term that content creator Marie Soledad made popular on social media, and it describes how sucking in your stomach for years can cause health issues. And that signals just how insidious diet culture is — especially for younger generations. 

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The real health consequences of sucking in 

Constantly sucking in our stomachs may have seemed innocent back in the day. Now, we’re dealing with a “syndrome” that may cause back pain, breathing issues, and pelvic floor issues

Being told your body is still wrong after decades of trying to look thinner can be frustrating. And the irony is, hourglass syndrome itself can trigger more body dysmorphia, says Karla Lester, MD, pediatrician and obesity doctor. “In a way it's kind of like we're being gaslit,” says Holly Essler, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Empowering You Therapy. “I thought what I had been told this entire time was what I was supposed to believe, and now you're telling me it's wrong and it's my fault.”   

Not to mention that younger generations are watching these trends resurface, and are already at a risk for developing eating disorders. “When we have influencer culture on Instagram and TikTok, that's who these teens and young people are going to follow,” says Lester. A whole new generation may end up with their own hourglass syndrome in 15 to 20 years.

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How to break the cycle 

Fixing body-image issues is more than stopping physical habits like sucking in your stomach. “There's a much deeper thing going on,” says Essler. Lester adds, “A lot of it is being able to let go of some of these long-held beliefs.”  

One thing Essler suggests is to practice body neutrality. Ask your body what it needs instead of focusing on how it looks, she says. When uncomfortable emotions about your body come up, practice sitting with those feelings instead of pushing them away. Above all, know that, “if you struggle with hourglass syndrome [or other body issues], it really is not your fault,” Lester says. 

If you think you're dealing with physical side effects of body-image issues like hourglass syndrome, they may be tough to pinpoint with a doctor. That's because hourglass syndrome is largely based on anecdotal evidence, and there's no one specific treatment, says Lester. But physical therapy and core exercises may help balance out your stomach muscles. Instead of simply not gripping your stomach, practice “letting your belly expand with breath,” Lester says. 


Growing up in the early 2000s was complicated. Now, diet culture history is repeating itself, making it harder for us to move on from the past. Learning to accept your body — hourglass syndrome or not —  and hitting “unfollow” on the latest body trends may be the best treatment.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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