Have you ever caught yourself repeatedly body check 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.
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 nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge 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.
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.
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.