Have you ever caught yourself repeatedly checking the parts of your body with which you feel dissatisfied? Perhaps while sitting on a chair, taking a shower, or viewing your reflection in a mirror? If so, this is called body checking.
There are potentially many different forms of body checking that you may be engaging in without even being aware. Some examples of body checking include pinching your abdomen, weighing yourself frequently, looking at 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. Body checking can occur hundreds of times in one day and may impact how you feel about your shape and weight. According to Dr. Christopher Fairburn, the author of CBT-E, an evidence-based treatment for adult eating disorders, these compulsive behaviors contribute to over-evaluation of shape and weight, a main mechanism that maintains anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other eating disorders in both men and women.
Although many individuals engage in body checking behaviors, research shows it occurs more often in those with eating disorders. Checking your body repeatedly can lead to anxiety, depression, negative mood and increased body dissatisfaction. These emotions may encourage dieting or restricting, thus maintaining an already existing eating disorder.
In order to interrupt body checking, you must first become aware of the behavior. The following, two-step process is recommended:
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 want to write this down to be able to check the frequency, but do not get frustrated if it is so often that you cannot keep track. Many people with eating disorders will check so often that they cannot log each time, so do not feel this is unusual. The point of this exercise is to bring into awareness how often you are actually body checking every day, and how much that is consuming your life.
Once you start to have a better idea of how often and when you body check, you then want to start to challenge each of these times. This means actively asking yourself “what am I looking for?”, “is this helpful?” and “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. However, as you continue to challenge this behavior at every occurrence, the frequency with which you are body checking with begin to reduce.
Body checking may be an attempt to feel better about parts of your body, particularly the parts with which you feel dissatisfied. However, instead of providing relief, it provides increased dissatisfaction, greater feelings of loss of control over shape and weight, and increased anxiety.
Be aware that the goal is not to completely avoid facing your body. Body avoidance may be equally problematic, as having complete avoidance of your shape and weight can also negatively influence self-evaluation.
A balance between the two extremes 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 one day per week is also normal as weight fluctuates on a daily basis depending on levels of hydration, bloating, constipation, etc. The difference is that these forms of body checking are not compulsive and do not occur at high frequencies.
To learn more about strategies to reduce body checking, the Centre for Clinical Interventions offers a workbook called Overcoming Disordered Eating that includes a Module on Body Checking/ Avoidance & “Feeling Fat”. It is available here.
If employing these strategies independently is not helping over time, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional.
Fairburn, C. (2008). Cognitive behavior therapy and eating disorders. New York: Guilford Press.
Kraus, N., Lindenberg, J., Zeeck, A., Kosfelder, J., & Vocks, S. (2015). Immediate Effects of Body Checking Behaviour on Negative and Positive Emotions in Women with Eating Disorders: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Approach. European Eating Disorders Review Eur. Eat. Disorders Rev., 399-407.