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Body Checking - What is it and how to stop

You might have heard of body checking, or it's a new concept for you but I'm here to try and explain what it is - and most importantly how to stop.

What is body checking

Body checking is the habit of checking your body’s weight, shape, size or appearance. This can be using mirrors, the scale, visually checking etc. It is a fairly common behaviour but can become worrying if it becomes compulsive and has negative effects on someone’s mental or physical health. It can be seen as compulsive when you no longer feel in control of the checking - you can’t help but do it.

Examples include:

  • Checking in the mirror every morning in a systematic way

  • Weighing yourself obsessively daily

  • Checking to see if your thighs touch daily

  • Trying on the same pair of trousers daily to see how they fit (especially if you know they’re too small)

  • Comparing your body to old photos repeatedly

  • Comparing your body to someone else on social media daily

  • Constant progress photos

Now as you read that list you may be thinking ‘I do that’ or even adding your own. That’s great as you bring the unconscious to your awareness. If you’re thinking ‘well I check in the mirror, everyone does’ then it may be worth asking yourself how often do you do it? And could you go a day without doing it?

What sort of thoughts arise as you’re looking in the mirror - is it merely checking your outfit or are you taking yourself apart bit by bit.

Body checking vs. body avoiding

I wanted to include a little bit here about body avoiding, because often they are included as opposite ends of the same spectrum in the literature. Body avoiding is what the name suggests - covering mirrors, wearing very oversized clothes and other measures to avoid seeing your body as it is. Despite being the other end of the scale it can stem from the same body image dissatisfaction and have the same risk factors.

So if you find yourself not body checking, are you body avoiding?

And as someone who loves baggy clothing it is again asking why you’re wearing it. Comfort yes, warmth yes but is it stemming from a place of dissatisfaction.

So what’s the problem?

Body checking can have effects on your mental and physical health, with knock on effects on your emotional health, relationships with those around you and more.

A 2022 study found that those with anorexia nervosa exhibited higher levels of body checking than those in recovery, and a control group. They stated that body checking tends to amplify what we perceive to be imperfections with our body and so it is associated with greater eating disorder symptom severity.

Body checking / avoidance is said to increase body dissatisfaction, and increase anxiety and feelings of being out of control with our bodies. How do we regain that control? Restrictive eating often - and as we know diets don’t work. So this starts that whole cycle of strict diets, negative body image and ultimately feeling guilt and / or shame.

And it gets us out of tune with our body. I’m sure you’ve seen the variously worded quotes about when you take a photo of something beautiful and it doesn’t quite capture it right - the same happens with us. A mirror at a certain angle / light is not going to capture the fullness of you as a person. And so many factors can affect what you see in the mirror - your mental state, stress, the social media you consume etc.

Have you ever looked at old photos and been surprised at how you looked because at the time you thought you looked different? It’s common that we don’t see ourselves as we are.

Getting to the root…

I don’t want to be the boy who cried diet culture all the time. But ultimately we live in a culture that promotes the ‘thin ideal’ and that we should all look a certain way. Having this in our mind’s eye when checking our bodies means we will always feel that something is wrong.

Take a look at the media you consume and ask yourself how it makes you feel about your body? Is there a person / picture etc. that you think of when checking your body?

How can Intuitive Eating help?

Ultimately Intuitive Eating is about reconnecting with your body’s internal signals and meeting your body where it is at. About finding out what satisfies and nourishes your body, while recognising so many factors affect our relationship with food and movement.

Respect your body - one of the Intuitive Eating principles is centred on respecting your body. Notice the word respect, not necessarily love. It can be overwhelming to go from body dissatisfaction to radical self love, and instead a middle ground of body acceptance might be easier.

Reject diet culture - the first principle if rejecting diet culture and everything it promotes including the thin ideal and a certain look.

I personally try to build people’s toolkits to face situations where they may feel compelled to body check and self-criticise. With that let’s go onto some strategies to combat body checking.

Strategies to stop body checking:

First things first, note that you’re doing it and want to stop. Checking and avoiding can become habitual and so you may do them without realising - noticing is the first step. Maybe make a note on your phone everytime you body check - or if you’re into journaling use that - and make a note of when you do it and how you’re feeling before / during and after.

Ask yourself why?

Why are you doing it? Often it is due to a need to control our bodies. Whether it is because other things feel out of control in our lives, or we want to change our body somehow and feel we need discipline, these all tend to stem from being in control.

What would happen if you released control a little bit?

Why are you doing it? How do you feel after?

Is it because of an internal weight stigma, you worry about gaining weight / your body size changing. Do you feel relief if you notice no changes? There’s a lot of internal questions you might need to ask yourself and be open with yourself with.

Some strategies:

  • Mindfulness - be present in and with your body.

  • Self-compassion - work on caring for your body.

  • Affirmations - if they work for you rely on affirmations such as ‘my worth has nothing to do with my body and if it changes’

  • Let’s look at your environment - are you constantly scrolling through instagram comparing yourself? Are you watching reality tv that involves constant body checking? Do your friends / family constantly body check?

  • Wardrobe clear out - if your clothes aren’t comfortable / making you feel good it may be time to ditch clothes that are too small or make you feel terrible. I know it is a huge privilege to buy new clothes so utilising charity shops, depop etc. can be useful.

  • Remove the tools - ditch the scale, maybe avoid mirrors, get rid of those trousers you’re using to measure your body. Stop taking progress photos etc. notice what things support your body checking compulsion

  • Social media clear out - unfollow - or if they’re a friend block - accounts that make you feel not great about your body. Follow a range of diverse bodies that make you feel great about your body

Exercise: petals of worth. Make a note of all the things you like about yourself - they can be physical e.g. your smile, your strong legs that help you run etc. or it can be your energy, your compassion, your caring nature, your ability to be a good friend etc. If it helps, put them on a petal of a flower and take them as you need. Can’t think of anything or struggling - ask friends / family. There’s nothing like hearing how those who love you see you…

If you need more help it may be best to reach out for some professional support.

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