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Sucking It In to Look Skinnier? Not a Great Idea.

A posture expert reveals the negative side effects of sucking it in.

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Have you ever sucked in your stomach in to appear thinner? Turns out it’s really bad for your neck. 

People have felt pressure to have a toned stomach for decades, while body dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, as the constant exposure to in-shape celebs on social media has increased our desire to appear thin, especially when it comes to how we look in photos.

According to a current body image YouGov tracker, over a third (36 percent) of adult Americans are not happy with their weight, while one in two Americans said that physical appearance matters a “great deal” in today’s society, so it’s no surprise it’s a stressful topic for many. 

This also explains why it’s common for people to suck their stomach in while at a public event or while posing for a photo—or even when in private—without knowing the impacts.

Erika Weiss, posture and wellness expert at ISSA Yoga, explains the dangers of constantly sucking in your stomach. “While many people will do it without thinking, as it’s almost a reflex at this point, there are long-term repercussions associated with ‘stomach gripping,’ as you’re holding significant tension in one part of your body for an extended period of time,” she says. “While people have likely heard of ‘hourglass syndrome’ as it started trending on TikTok last year, many won’t be aware of the lesser-publicized impacts of sucking your stomach in. Not only does it cause a muscular imbalance in your core that can make you develop creases in your abdomen, but it can also put excessive pressure on both your pelvis and lower neck.”  

According to Weiss, your abdomen plays a key role in how you stay balanced when you move during the day, but gripping your stomach muscles means all your energy is going to one area, causing an inequality. You wouldn’t tense one muscle and keep it tense for the entirety of a workout, so we shouldn’t do this with our stomach either—especially for vanity reasons. 

“Because of this inequality, you’re putting additional stress on your clavicle and the lower neck, leading to neck, shoulder, and back pain,” says Weiss. “In the long term, this can even change the curvature of your spine as your abdominal muscles shorten due to the increased tension. This is the same way that humped necks form, as a result of chronic bad posture.”   

For many, sucking their stomach in will have become second nature, particularly if they’re insecure about their figure, but it’s important to try to stop to avoid long-term damage. 

Some signs of sucking your stomach in too much include seeing more definition in your upper abdomen while your lower abs remain soft, which is caused by stomach gripping. And while some of the long-term effects of stomach gripping are irreversible, depending on how long the problem has persisted, you can work on preventing further issues through muscle-relaxing exercises, including incorporating yoga into your regular routine. 

One of the best things for people who are experiencing an increase in lower neck pain is to take up yoga, as it works to stretch and relax the muscles that become tense during the day. However, it’s important to focus on low-impact moves that bend your spine without causing unnecessary stress to your sore muscles, as the goal is to strengthen them, not strain them. 

According to Weiss, some of the common mistakes yoga newbies make is to rush into it. “Many follow the most common or most popular routines without considering their suitability, which can exacerbate back issues and cause more soreness,” she says. “Unless you’re experienced, it’s best to stick to the following moves that can alleviate neck and upper back pain, but make sure you don’t push yourself too much at the start.”

She recommends the following moves as a starting point: 

  • Standing Forward Bend. Also known as Uttanasana, this pose also stretches your hamstrings and is beneficial for relieving stress. Start in the Raised Hands Pose before sweeping your arms down on either side and folding forward from your hips. Bring your fingertips in line with the toes, and press your palms flat. Let your head hang loosely and inhale slowly on the way back up. 
  • Warrior II Pose. Start in the Mountain Pose and take a big step back with your left leg, toes pointing inwards. Press your feet down, and firm your legs before raising your arms outwards parallel to the floor. Make sure that you keep your shoulders down to lengthen your neck and bend your right knee so that it aligns above your ankle. Press down through your toes to promote balance and hold. 
  • Extended Triangle Pose. To come into this pose, stand facing the long side of your mat with your feet apart. Turn your right foot out so that your toes point to the short edge of the mat, and turn your left toes in. Roll your right thigh out before extending your body and lifting your arms parallel to the floor. Point your left arm to the ceiling and ensure your neck aligns with your spine. 
About The Author
julieKeller_author-1

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures, ForbesTraveler.com, E! Online, Gayot.com, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.