What Is Body Checking?

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What Is Body Checking?

Body checking is a behavior that involves seeking information about your body's size, shape, appearance, or weight. It might happen while you are sitting on a chair, taking a shower, or viewing your reflection in a mirror. It's especially common in people living with eating disorders.

While this type of behavior is common, it can also take more extreme or compulsive forms. Most people engage in some degree of body checking at least occasionally, but when it becomes a constant, anxious behavior that a person feels they must perform, it may be a sign of a deeper problem.

This article discusses some common signs of body checking and the impact that this behavior can have on well-being. It also explores some strategies that can help you reduce body checking or minimize its negative effects.

Signs of Body Checking

There are various forms of body checking you may be engaging in without even realizing it. Some examples include:

  • Pinching your abdomen
  • Trying to feel your bones
  • Weighing yourself frequently
  • Zeroing in on specific body parts in the mirror

Other examples may include asking friends or family members’ opinions about your body or comparing your shape to others. You may sometimes body check hundreds of times in one day. It can impact how you feel about your shape and weight.

Body checking can feel like a compulsion. You may feel that you need to check your body to reassure yourself that you have not gained weight since the last time you ate. It may also feel like an automatic or uncontrollable behavior.

While body checking can be normal at times, it becomes a problem if it:

  • Causes distress or negative moods
  • Causes you to withdraw from others
  • Creates problems in your ability to function normally at home, work, school, or in relationships
  • Leads to disordered or restrictive eating behaviors
  • Worsens symptoms of an eating disorder

If you are concerned about your body checking, talk to a healthcare provider or therapist. They can offer treatment recommendations that can help.

Recap

Body checking involves assessing different aspects of your body, including appearance, size, or weight. While common, it becomes a problem if it leads to body dissatisfaction or disordered eating.

Impact of Compulsive Body Checking

Researchers suggest that compulsive body-checking behaviors contribute to over-evaluation of shape and weight. This over-evaluation is one of the primary mechanisms that causes or worsens anorexia nervosabulimia nervosabinge eating disorder, and other eating disorders.

Although many people engage in body checking behaviors, it happens more often in those with eating disorders.

Body checking may be an attempt to feel better about parts of your body, particularly the parts you wish you could change or minimize. However, instead of providing relief, it can contribute to:

  • Distorted perceptions about size, shape, weight, or appearance
  • Greater feelings of loss of control over shape and weight
  • Increased dissatisfaction
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Problems with mood

Research has found that body checking has a negative impact on body satisfaction. One 2018 review found that people who engaged in compulsive body checking were less satisfied with their bodies. They were also more likely to experience negative moods after body checking.

While body checking affects people of all genders, some evidence suggests that it may lead to greater body dissatisfaction in women. One 2019 study found that women were more likely to experience body dissatisfaction following body checking than men.

It can also increase the harmful effects of an eating disorder. Evidence suggests that after body checking, people are more likely to also engage in restrictive eating on the day the check occurs as well as the day that follows. Repeated body checking could lead to a cycle of disordered or restrictive eating behaviors.

Recap

Body checking is associated with distorted body image, decreased body dissatisfaction, and increased anxiety and depression.

Tips to Reduce Body Checking

Addressing body checking can decrease shape and weight concerns and facilitate recovery from eating disorders. The opposite is also true: Not address body checking behaviors can negatively impact recovery.

In order to interrupt body checking, you must first become aware of the behavior. The following strategies may be helpful.

Keep Track of Your Body Checking  

The first step involves spending one day of the week, a full 24 hours, paying close attention to how often you engage in body checking. You may even want to keep written notes.

Many people with eating disorders will check so often that they cannot log each time. Do not stress if this is the case. Instead, just be mindful of the frequency.

The point of this exercise is to become aware of how often you are actually body checking every day and how it's affecting your daily life.

Challenge Your Body Checking

Once you start to have a better idea of how often and when you're body checking, you can begin to challenge yourself each of these times. This means actively asking yourself questions like:

  • What am I looking for?
  • Is this helpful?
  • Has anything changed since the last time that I body checked?

You may find it difficult to answer these questions because there usually isn’t a logical response. But as you continue to challenge your thought patterns and behavior on a regular basis, the frequency with which you are body checking will likely start to decrease.

Pitfalls of Body Avoidance

Be aware that the goal is not to completely avoid facing your body either. Body avoidance may be equally problematic, as totally avoiding looking at your shape and weight can also negatively influence self-evaluation.

Striking a balance between these two extremes (body checking and body avoidance) is ideal.

For example, checking your appearance after getting dressed is normal since you want to make sure the clothes you put on fit appropriately. Weighing yourself once per week, but not more frequently than that, can provide a middle ground between overweighing and avoiding weighing yourself altogether.

Weighing yourself more frequently than once a week can increase harmful preoccupation, as your weight can fluctuate on a daily basis depending on several factors including levels of hydration, bloating, constipation, etc.

Behaviors that are not compulsive or very frequent are not usually problematic.

A Word From Verywell

While body checking has been shown to be detrimental to eating disorder recovery, attempting to work through it on your own may not always be the best approach.

If these behaviors, even if they are not happening frequently, are causing you distress, consider speaking to a mental health professional.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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