Reaching into her lingerie drawer, she pulls out a corset, wraps it around her body and tightly fastens the seven metal clasps that bind the fabric.
Instantly her 27in waist shrinks to 25in, but that temporary reduction to her waistline isn’t the objective.
Devotee: Caroline Jones, 54, says that wearing the corset has enabled her to lose two stone in nine months - and taken her down from a size 16 to a size 12
For 54-year-old Caroline knows that when she sits down at her wooden kitchen table to eat her breakfast, with the corset’s steel ‘bones’ firmly sucking her stomach into place, every mouthful she consumes will take effort — and her tummy will swiftly feel full.
The result? A smaller meal — and fewer calories.
The mother-of-one from Oxford will repeat this ritual before each meal throughout the day.
She says that following this regime has enabled her to lose two stone in nine months — and taken her down from a size 16 to a size 12.
And even though most women would now think her waist enviably slim — it used to be 30in — she’s determined to keep up the discipline.
Caroline is one of thousands of women in the UK who have purchased an antiquated item of underwear in a bid to lose weight.
Dubbed the ‘corset diet’, the craze hails from Hollywood — where else? —where stars have raved about the corset’s ability to whittle away your waistline.
Actress Jessica Alba relied on them to get back into shape after pregnancy, saying: ‘I wore a double corset day and night for three months. It was sweaty, but worth it.’
Even super-slim Gwyneth Paltrow is rumoured to have used one.
'For the first time in months, I felt good about how I looked,' said Caroline
The corset concept was pioneered by a Beverly Hills doctor. Plastic surgeon Alexander Sinclair claims some of his patients have permanently lost six inches from their waistline by wearing one.
Not only does the corset remodel your figure by ‘moving the ribs’, says Dr Sinclair, but the compression retrains the appetite, leading to lasting weight loss.
Some medical experts have warned of potential health implications of wearing such a restrictive item of clothing.
But this doesn’t worry Caroline, a credit control manager. She’s just delighted she’s finally found something that works after years of yo-yo dieting without success.
‘When my marriage broke up in 2012, I hit an all-time low,’ she recalls.
‘I hated the way I looked. I tried WeightWatchers, but every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, it would send me into a spiral.
'I was so despairing — the only thing left seemed to be food.
‘No matter how hard I tried, no diet seemed to work. But I did notice that whenever I wore tight jeans, I didn’t eat so much.
'So I Googled corsets, discovered the corset diet and ordered one there and then.’
Made to measure, Caroline’s corset cost £120 and arrived within the week.
‘The corset immediately gave me better posture. And the fact my waist looked thinner gave me an instant boost.
'For the first time in months, I felt good about how I looked.
‘I didn’t have to worry about what I was eating, because the corset naturally made me want to eat less.
'It was so tight I initially only wore it for an hour, and increased it by half an hour each day until I could wear it for five hours.
'Nobody ever noticed it under my clothes, and my back felt straighter. I managed to keep good posture even at my desk all day.’
The first real changes became apparent after about three weeks.
'I thought it would be torture, but I felt incredibly feminine and sexy,' said Mandy Baker
‘I’m not in any pain at all.’
She puts it on before each meal — keeping it on for several hours afterward until her food is digested.
While Caroline may not be worried, medics have expressed concerns about the physical impact of corsets, with some warning that long-term use can bruise internal organs, damage skin and restrict breathing.
Professor Pierre-Marc Bouloux, endocrinologist at London’s Royal Free Hospital, has concerns about the craze.
‘Using corsets as a restrictive device means your stomach can’t distend — there’s only so much space. While you aren’t likely to displace internal organs, you could hinder respiratory movement.
‘Obese people already have decreased lung capacity, so applying additional pressure to the diaphragm could cause breathing problems.
However, he concedes that, if used sensibly and for a limited time, a corset could be a useful dietary tool.
‘If you only need to lose a moderate amount of weight and wear it during the day, or just before a meal, there’s no reason for it to cause harm.’
Mandy Baker, 31, a marketing manager from Bournemouth, has no doubts about her corset’s efficacy.
When her boyfriend, Richard, proposed nine months ago, she began to panic about how she was going to look in her wedding dress.
‘Somehow, I’d crept up to a size 16, around 11st — a lot for my 5ft 3in height.
'I should have been excited, yet all I could think about was how awful I was going to look in white.’
Scouring the internet, she came across the corset diet and, after reading testimonials, ordered a black, boned corset for £90.
‘I thought it would be torture, but I felt incredibly feminine and sexy,’ she recalls.
She wore the corset for five hours a day and after a month noticed that the indentation at her waist remained after she’d taken it off.
Katherine Hudson, 33, hasn't had to cut out her favourite foods to lose weight
‘It’s been such a success I don’t have to wear the corset all day any more, but I do put it on at dinner time,’ she says.
‘The gentle pressure means I eat my food more slowly. It’s portion control without having to try.’
But dietitian Priya Tew warns that while wearing a corset may help with portion control, it’s essential to ensure those portions contain the right food groups.
‘It isn’t just a case of putting on a corset and seeing the pounds drop off,’ says Priya.
‘You still need to eat healthy food. Otherwise your body could end up deficient in vitamins and minerals.’
But for Katherine Hudson, the best thing about wearing a corset every day for three years is not only that she has lost a stone and dropped a dress size, but that she hasn’t had to cut out her favourite foods to do so.
‘Having been super-skinny in my teens, I went up a couple of dress sizes to a 12 in my 20s, after a stint working in America where the food portions are huge,’ says the 33-year-old, who lives near Eastbourne with her partner and three-year-old daughter.
‘But I just couldn’t manage a restrictive diet. And I truly believe that butter, full-fat milk and treats such as chocolate are there to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.’
So Katherine, director of an events company, looked to history for help.
‘I’d always admired Victorian women with their tiny waists, and it occurred to me that perhaps a corset could work for me, too,’ she says.
A little research revealed the Everyday Corset from Victoria Whiteland. A corsetiere who has worked with Rigby & Peller, Victoria’s interest was sparked when her brother was given an orthopaedic corset to help him recover from a rugby injury to his vertebrae.
‘It was a feat of engineering,’ she recalls.
So Victoria went on to design corsets comfortable enough to be worn daily — initially popular with women with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and those with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, who found the support improved their posture and reduced pain and tiredness.
Victoria says: ‘When I first began to design corsets, 20 years ago, they were considered kinky underwear, or torturous Victorian relics. But they allow a woman to make the most of her figure, no matter what her size.
‘Our grandmothers knew corsetry could mould the figure.
'I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since they have fallen out of favour, middle-aged spread has begun much younger.’
Katherine agrees: ‘Wearing the corset made me much more aware of how much I eat.
'I love the feeling of support it gives to my abdominal muscles.
'It encourages me to hold them taut and they’re more toned than they’ve ever been. I’m slimmer than I was before I had my daughter.’
She went down to a size 10 within six months of wearing the corset.
Henry Parslow-Jones, founder of The Corset Diet website, which sells ‘waist-training corsets designed for the purpose of weight loss’, says it is the perfect answer for women who would otherwise struggle to stick to a calorie-controlled diet.
‘It reduces the area of the stomach by applying gentle and constant pressure — more like a reassuring hug than a squeeze,’ he explains.
‘Women who struggle with portion control, or are yo-yo dieters, find it leaves them without hunger pangs.
In fact, he claims wearing a corset for three to four hours a day will re-model the waist altogether, shrinking it permanently by up to six inches.
Posture-enhancing underwear that promises an instant figure fix and long-term weight loss is a seductive prospect — but what of critics who suggest they are best left in the past?
Designer Victoria Whiteland says: ‘We look back at Dickensian times, and think they were insane to go to such extremes.
'But I’m sure if they could see us resorting to liposuction or gastric bands now, they would think we were the ones who were mad.’
Additional reporting by Sadie Nicholas
How to get a 20-inch waist
- The first corsets emerged in Greek times. By the Victorian era women were said to have had ribs removed so corsets could be fastened tighter.
- Victorians believed a girl’s waist measurement should be the same as her age in years.
- The tightest corsets measured 20 inches around the waist.
- In Edwardian times, the trend was for swan-bill corsets which forced the breasts up and the hips back to make an S-shape.
- By the Twenties, the fashion was for boyish figures, and corsets were made to flatten the breasts.
- A brief fad for rubber corsets began in the Thirties. They sold well until wearers realised they melted if they sat next to the fire.
- Girdles took over in the Fifties, flattening the bottom, which was considered vulgar to show.
- In 1958, DuPont created Fibre K — later Spandex, then Lycra. It meant for the first time corsets could be worn next to skin and washed easily.
- Corsets and girdles had fallen so far from favour by the Eighties that companies tried re-naming them ‘skin enhancers,’ ‘foundation garments’ and ‘pant soothers.’