Breaking Free from Harmful Body Checking Habits

Body Checking
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What is body checking?

Body checking is the act of taking a close look at your body in order to observe it, judge it, and compare it to other people’s bodies. Body checking can include assessing your reflection in the mirror and mentally—or out loud—commenting on changes you’ve noticed. It can also involve imagining how you would look if you lost weight or had different facial features or skin.

Body checking may be a symptom of an eating disorder (such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder), but it’s not limited to someone with an eating disorder. Body checking could also be part of body dysmorphic disorder (a condition in which someone obsesses over what they perceive as flaws in their appearance) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


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Signs you might be body checking.

  • Notice how your hands go to your body and start searching for a place where you think something might not be right.
  • You notice your eyes darting around, taking in all the information they can find on your body.
  • You catch yourself analyzing the size of an area of your body, or staring at it so closely that you miss out on what’s happening around you.

How does body checking fit into a bigger picture?

Body Checking Explained

What exactly is body checking, and why is it a problem? Body checking is using your hand to check your own body, such as when you are checking out your abs at the gym.

Body checking can be an issue for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a symptom of other disorders. According to Karen Pine, an anti-bullying activist and director of Project Unbreakable and the Body Positive Movement, “Body checking can be an expression of body dysmorphia—the persistent belief that one’s physical form is flawed or unacceptable.”
  • You are constantly comparing yourself to others. For instance, if you’re constantly thinking about how much leaner or thinner you should be than others around you, this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead to body-checking behaviors.
  • You are terrified that others will notice that you have flaws. If someone points out something on your face or stomach that they think looks bad, this may make you want to check yourself over even more often in order to cover up what they think might be there. This could lead directly into body checking behaviors like looking in the mirror obsessively.

Why might I engage in body checking?

You might engage in body checking for a variety of reasons. Body checking may be a symptom of a larger mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. It may also be used as a coping mechanism for trauma or abuse.

If you do have an additional diagnosis, many psychological problems share similar symptoms. For example, if you engage in body checking and compulsively check your appearance by looking in the mirror to make sure your shirt isn’t wrinkled or that your hair looks alright, you might think it’s just because you want things to be perfect. This could be true but it could also be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Similarly, if you feel like the need to make sure that there are no crumbs on your face before leaving home is just due to being organized and wanting things tidy around the house, this could also be OCD related but can also stem from an eating disorder like bulimia nervosa.

How might I overcome body checking?

Knowing what behavior is problematic is the first step in overcoming it. Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re body checking, and if you find that you feel negatively afterwards, try to manage your behavior in some way. Here are some ideas:

  • Set a time limit. When we body check, our mind tends to go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts. Give yourself five minutes (or longer if needed) to focus on your physical appearance without any judgment or pressure; after that time is up, let it go and move on.
  • Consider the context. If there’s more at stake than just the number on the scale (like a job interview), then it might be worth taking extra time to ensure that you look your best instead of focusing solely on your weight or other factors outside of your control.
  • Distract yourself with something else. Body checking doesn’t have to consume all of your energy—there can also be something else going on in your life worth paying attention to!

What kind of mental health professional can help me stop body checking?

  • What kind of mental health professional can help me stop body checking?

Good question. There are a number of professionals who have the skills to treat body checking behaviors, including psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and licensed professional counselors. All these people have been trained in a mental health-related field and can provide therapy to help you change your body checking habits. The main difference among them is their theoretical background (how they approach treatment) and education level. The type of therapy they typically offer differs depending on the school they come from: medical (which deals with assessing and treating medical illnesses), psychoanalytic (which has roots in Freudian psychology), cognitive behavioral (which focuses on changing negative thoughts), or humanistic therapies such as person-centered therapy (which is based on empowering clients by giving them unconditional positive regard).

You may also want to consider whether you want to work with someone who identifies as a man or woman; someone who is experienced with eating disorders; someone who works with adolescents; or someone who uses a specific type of treatment approach.

Getting help to reduce or stop body checking can help improve your life and body image.

First and foremost, develop a healthy relationship with your body. In many cases, talking to a professional therapist can help you understand your body image and how different areas of your life might be contributing to it. For example, therapy can help you recognize the influence that your environment or upbringing has on your self-perception; this in turn can help you develop positive coping skills for anxiety and low self-esteem.

Therapy doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. You may find that just a few sessions are enough to help you feel more confident in yourself and your relationship with food. Of course, it’s also possible that therapy will offer new insights into other areas of your life as well—and it never hurts to have another person on board to support you in achieving your goals!