Reduce Body Checking With 2 Easy Steps

Have you ever caught yourself repeatedly checking the parts of your body? This is a practice referred to as "body checking" and commonly occurs while sitting on a chair, taking a shower, or viewing your reflection in a mirror. It's especially common in people living with eating disorders.

There are various forms of body checking you may be engaging in without even realizing it. Some examples include pinching your abdomen, weighing yourself frequently, zeroing in on specific body parts in the mirror, or trying to feel your bones. 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, and it can impact how you feel about your shape and weight.

Compulsive Body Checking

According to Christopher Fairburn, MD, the author of "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E)," an evidence-based treatment manual for adult eating disorders, these compulsive behaviors contribute to over-evaluation of shape and weight, a primary mechanism that maintains anorexia nervosabulimia nervosabinge eating disorder, and other eating disorders in both men and women. Although many people engage in body checking behaviors, research shows it occurs more often in those with eating disorders.

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 last eating. It may also feel automatic or like a behavior you cannot control. 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 provides increased dissatisfaction, greater feelings of loss of control over shape and weight, and increased anxiety and depression. It can also increase the harmful effects of an eating disorder.

Helpful Tips to Reduce Body Checking

Addressing body checking can decrease shape and weight concerns and facilitate recovery. 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 two steps 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, so do not stress if this is the case—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.

Beware 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 and do not occur at high frequencies are not usually problematic.

A Word From Verywell

While body checking has been shown to be detrimental to eating disorder recovery, simply taking this advice and attempting to work through it on your own may not always be the best approach. If employing these strategies independently is not helping over time, don’t hesitate to seek help from your treatment team or another healthcare professional.

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