My Life in a Corset: Squeezing Into a New Dieting Strategy

What woman hasn't looked at those svelte Hollywood gals with envy. Sophia Vergara…Kim Kardashian…Beyonce. With those sleek, hourglass figures they must have hit the genetic lottery. Or did they? Could they possibly have a secret, that's about 300 years old?

Maybe they've discovered the corset. Yes, that antiquated device, once responsible for giving women the vapors, is making a comeback. In San Francisco, Ann Grogan, who wears and makes corsets, says she has a brisk business with clients of all ages.

With her company Romantasy Exquisite Corsetry, she has sold thousands of corsets since she went into business more than 20 years ago. Even men have requested them, determined to suck their way to a smaller midsection. Grogan calls it waist-training. Over a period of three to four months, she says, it's possible to lose an inch or more from the waist and, get this, to lose weight too.

I wondered about this and decided to give corset wearing a whirl.

Ann Grogan, of Romantasy Exquisite Corsetry, fits Deborah Roberts with a custom corset.

We began with a fitting. After sending my measurements in, Grogan made a custom corset for me. Beautifully stitched in a chocolate brown silk fabric, with two floral brocade strips down either side, there was no hint of the metal boning underneath. That boning is key to the corset's success. It holds the garment in a rigid form and holds the torso up and flattens the waist. In back, there is a beautiful cream colored ribbon laced in a criss-cross fashion to pull the corset in. It's a work of beauty.

But can I actually get used to wearing this? Grogan shows me how to hook the five metal clips in front to snap the corset closed. It takes some doing with my clumsy fingers but I soon get the hang of it. Then the moment of truth: She pulls the string in the back … just like that scene from "Gone with the Wind" … and I gasp. Wow! This is tight. But it's kind of cool. My waist is immediately streamlined … sucked in an inch and a half smaller.

I must admit I look sleek … and a bit sexy with this teeny tiny waist. I practice getting in and out of it for 15 minutes, until we're sure I can handle this on my own. Ann gives me a booklet with detailed instructions for the corset novice. It's a manual for "waist training" and she even includes nutrition advice on ways to avoid indigestion or pain while being bound by a corset.

She lists possible problems including rib aches, elevation of blood pressure or hyperventilation. In my two-week plan, I am told to begin wearing my corset two hours a day. On day one I fumble a bit, and it takes some doing to get it on, but I'm soon on my way to the office with this beautiful corset under my shirt. It feels a bit exciting and naughty.

I find it a bit uncomfortable as I slide into a cab. But I also find myself sitting upright with perfect posture. And my back feels strong and supported. I show off my corset in the hallways of ABC and people are fascinated. Some women, upon hearing about the possibility of weight loss, are deeply interested.

On Day 2, a Saturday, I manage to get the corset on quickly. After a jog through the park, I slip it on and take my son to his Tae Kwon Do class. I notice the corset bulging from my T-shirt and forcing my jeans to slide down. It's a bit annoying, but otherwise I'm fine. I have four hours of waist training ahead and so far so good. I drink two bottles of water and by lunch time, I'm starving and feeling a bit squeezed. I slowly eat a salad, remembering to chew each bite 30 times as Grogan advised.

After four or five bites, I can't eat any more. I feel full. After four hours, I happily slide out of my corset and feel hungry but good. My stomach feels flatter and, psychologically, I don't want to ruin it. I eat some almonds and an apple and feel satisfied. I also avoid wine that night, since Grogan warned that it could spark indigestion when wearing the corset. Instead I drink lots of water and eat a small dinner. I feel great.

The next few days are pretty easy with the corset. I've grown accustomed to slipping it on and getting out of the house. I'm also eating tiny meals and feeling great. My waistline is also smaller. I e-mail Grogan, who says this is only because I've restricted my consumption of food. This is not a permanent situation and I haven't developed a smaller waist in record time. Still, it feels pretty cool. My jeans and dresses feel looser already - or is it my imagination?

Deborah Roberts measures her apparently shrinking waistline. (ABC News)

By day 5, I'm up to wearing the corset for eight hours. It's a breeze getting it on and I mostly feel OK, but I'm becoming aware of its presence and find myself looking at my watch, thinking "When can I get it off?" Also, I feel a slight discomfort on my left lower pelvic area. It's not exactly a numbness, but it does cause my leg to feel a bit uncomfortable. I soldier on but that night I feel slight leg discomfort during my sleep.

The next morning I dutifully don my corset again, with less enthusiasm. This isn't as easy as I thought. I realize that waist training requires focus and determination. Yes, I feel a bit smaller in the waist but I'm a bit cranky too. After two hours, I decide to take off my corset. Whew! I e-mail Grogan, feeling a bit like a failure, but she cheerfully offers encouragement. I probably laced too tightly and had a bit of nerve reaction in my upper thigh.

She advises that I take off the corset and rest my body for a day or so. I follow her lead and sure enough I'm back to my old self after a one-day break. But, hmmm, maybe it's time for two glasses of wine and pizza now that I'm off the wagon. But can I really throw all that work down the drain? I settle for a small lamb chop at dinner and half a glass of wine.

Hey, I survived six days of waist training … I'm not giving up just yet. Now, where is that doggone corset?

What Does the Medical Community Say About Corsets?

The corset has had a shady past. Around for centuries, many woman suffered deformed organs and fainting spells while wearing them. And still today, doctors and neurologists warn that wearing corsets for long periods can be detrimental to your health.

"If you're wearing a corset 24/7, it can do a couple of things to your body," said Dr. Sara Gottfried, a gynecologist who's been treating women for 20 years. "Namely, it will be squeezing your ribs so much that you can't take a deep breath. Corsets can squish your lungs by 30 to 60 percent, making you breathe like a scared rabbit. They can also put a kink in your organs and cause constipation."

But Gottfriend says that wearing corsets in moderation may be just like wearing high heels. High heels aren't best in terms of your foot health, but in the short-term, they provide a healthy dose of sex appeal.

"If you do want to waist train, be sure you wear the corset only for a short amount of time," she said. "You may want to consult your physician to make sure that your lungs and liver are healthy, and ideally, don't wear a corset until after the age of 21, once the female body is more fully developed."

Learn more about Deborah Roberts' corset experience on "20/20? Friday at 10 p.m. ET.