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How To Stop Body Checking

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What Is Body Checking

Body checking is when we use tools such as mirrors, old images, social media or measuring devices to fixate and obsess over parts of our bodies that we consider to be flawed.  

Do you find yourself “double checking” if you are okay over and over again in the mirror?  

Are you changing that outfit just “one more time” to hide the part of your body the just feels “gross?” 

You might be body checking. And It might have wrapped you into a vortex of unhealthy obsession in searching for the flaws of your body day in and day out. All day. Every day. 

Let’s be clear- we aren’t talking about the occasional walk to the mirror to check if there is spinach in our teeth or if our blouse matches our pants.  You know it’s body checking when: 

  • It occurs repeatedly throughout the day
  • A person engages in body checking to try to soothe an insecurity
  • Body checking is often associated with extreme stress, anger, sadness, fear or guilt
  • It results in attempts to try to reconcile perceived flaws through subtle(changing clothes) or extreme measures (cosmetic surgery)

Body Checking Examples

There are numerous body checking behaviors that are mostly harmless when they occur on occasion. These body checking behaviors become problematic when they happen excessively. 

Some body checking examples include: 

  • Constantly checking self in reflective surfaces (e.g. a mirror)
  • Tugging on clothes to make them fit a certain way
  • Comparing ourselves to others in person or on social media
  •  Weighing
  • Repeatedly checking how clothing fits
  • Pinching skin
  • Continually seeking reassurance about weight/shape
  • Pinching others bodies/assessing for body fatness or muscle
  • Measuring body parts
  • Putting fingers/hands around body parts to measure 
  • Using cameras to take photos or videos of yourself

What’s Wrong With Body Checking?

At first, body checking may cause us to feel we have control over our bodies.  For example you might feel: 

  • Powerful. A meal you ate didn’t alter our the way our jeans felt or change your arm circumference. 
  • Calm. We may compare ourselves to another body that is larger than ours and we feel safe that we are not as fat.  
  • Relief.  You  step on the scale and the numbers have gone down or remained the same. This gives you a strong sense that your actions leading up to the scale were “good” and that you have value.

These little moments of relief are likely to be short lived.  As the body fluctuates throughout the day and throughout the lifespan we can experience extreme anxiety when the results we get from body checking don’t match our expectations. 

In fact, even our weight or arm circumference matches our expectations, we’re likely to level up our demand of perfection.  

Body checking uses objective measures (comparing ourselves to the outcomes on scale, other bodies, or a former self) to determine self worth. 

Because the standards which we measure ourself against are also constantly changing (for example- we are exploring social media and get a different set of advertisements that triggers a whole new cycle of disordered body thoughts) we simply cannot satisfy ourselves through body checking!

Lastly, if we are judging our self worth on the expectations of external sources (other people, scales, photos) we will ALWAYS be disappointed.  Body checking will always leave us feeling worse than if we had not engaged in the behavior.

Body checking constantly leaves us feeling miserable.  

Body Checking And Eating Disorders 

While many may body check on occasion, those with eating disorders or body dysmorphia typically become obsessed with checking their bodies. If you suspect frequent body checking, pay special attention to someone’s behavior post meal.  

Someone with an eating disorder may have a heightened need to check their body post meal via scale, mirrors, or measuring. 

Overall, look for signs of body checking such as:

  • Constantly discusses the way others look
  • Frequent changes clothes
  • Not wanting to engage in social gatherings (especially ones where we can’t cover with as much clothing e.g. swimming)
  • Weighing many times a day
  • A person having off limit foods, fear foods or constantly focusing on food intake

If your loved one has a diagnosis of an eating disorder, it’s important to provide support in symptom interruption from body checking.  

Why Do People Body Check?

We can’t physically feel an emotion.  Pain, grief, sadness and anger are not something that we can hold in our hands.   

Body checking can step in and offer us a physical way to handle our emotions.  When we body check, it offers us a reinforcer.  Even though we might feel negative about the result of our body check- we also feel like we could control that result if we wanted to (for example we could lose weight or shrink the fat on our bum.)

Since we often can’t simply “get rid” of an emotion, whatever part of our body we focused on as being the problem steps in and says “if you just fix me everything will be okay!”

Since diet culture pretty much dupes us into thinking any part of the body can be changed if we just “try hard enough” we feel we have a solution. Even if we haven’t achieved the desired outcome yet!

We are motivated to continue to body check as a measurement to determine wether we are okay. We do this by using tools (a scale, grabbing our flesh, or measurements)  because our emotions which cannot be measured, and thus cannot be manipulated and “solved”. 

We will receive one of two messages as a result of our body check: 

  1. I am okay. In which case we may continue with our current eating/exercise behavior, allow ourselves more freedom, or restrict further to prevent changes. 
  2. I am not okay. In which case I can use measurements of control like restriction or overexercise to change how I look. 

Both of these outcomes will likely result in increased or simply repeated body checking in order to maintain control. There is no situation in which body checking will have a lasting positive impact on your life.

We are taking a very subjective and emotional experience and trying to measure it by objective tools (praise of others, scales). 

What To Ask Yourself Before You Body Check: 

It is important to know if you or someone you love is body checking, it is NOT the body part that is the problem. 

In fact, “correcting” the body part that a person considers to be a problem can actually escalate body checking and emotional distress for the person! All body checking is the physical way to express a painful emotion.

For example, someone cannot hold sadness or anger. But they can pick apart their stomach and pinch it. 

To stop body checking, pause and ask yourself: 

  • Do I feel uncomfortable? 
  • Do I feel sad/angry
  • Am I feeling shameful
  • What is the role of pinching myself or getting on the scale? 
  • What am I looking for?
  • Is this helpful?

You might ask yourself what life would be like if you did not pinch yourself? 

Could you imagine. the rest of your life not pinching yourself/getting on. a scale etc? What would it be like?

Top 9 Tips To Stop Body Checking For Good! 

  1. Cover your mirrors
  2. Write down all the ways you body check
  3. Tally up how many times you try to body check each day.  Make a goal to decrease that number from one week to the next. 
  4. Take a social media break. Or unfollow all of the accounts that trigger body checking.
  5. Follow people on social media that are in the same size body as you or larger. What are their lives like?  Focus on how they are impacting the world. 
  6. Ditch the diet, a focus on changing your body weight and size will skyrocket body checking 
  7. Resist the urge to dig through old photos or memories on social media.  If you want to check out old photos- try reflecting on the experience instead of how your body looked. 
  8. Practice taking and sharing imperfect photos
  9. Keep a journal and use body positive journal prompts to examine your relationship and build trust with your body

Body Checking On Social Media

Social media can be a real mood killer when it comes to respecting our bodies and recognizing our worth. 

Our news feeds are constantly filled with: 

  • Filtered images 
  • Only the flattering angles of someone
  • Our brightest moments
  • A disproportionate representation of small bodies (those in larger bodies may not feel as comfortable showcasing as much on social media). 

Social media isn’t fucking real! Yet we body check ourselves against it constantly as a measure of self worth anyways!.  

Our social media has the potential to have an enormous impact on the way we feel about our bodies and our self worth. Further, if we engage in content that is geared towards shrinking the body, cosmetic perfection or other- social media will continue to populate that in our feed. 

How Can I do A social Media Purge To Stop Body Checking?

If you don’t feel like taking a break from social media, or this isn’t possible, consider taking the following actions to reduce body checking on social sites:

  • Unfollow anyone that makes you feel worse about your body
  • Make a practice of following individuals in bodies of your size or larger. Focus on their great attributes.
  • Unfollow anyone talking about diets, weight loss, or “lifestyle programs”
  • Unfollow those that post before/after photos in weight loss

In What Ways Is Body Checking Impacting Your Life?

I’ll be the first to admit- I was shocked to learn how much of my life I wasted checking my body up to social standards. Hopping on the scale or checking a reflection in the window may seem like innocent actions, but they can quickly deplete our energy. 

Diet culture has a way of ensuring us we are always inadequate, and we are the only ones who have ever felt this way. 

Checking our weight on the scale or tucking in our bellies in the mirror is likely something we don’t discuss openly.  Thus we may feel alone in our thoughts. 

In what ways has body checking robbed you of your time, energy, and happiness? 

Were there any ways you were surprised to learn you were body checking? 

Check out the free downloadable PDF below to work through how you are currently body checking, emotions surrounding body checking, and strategies for reducing it!

Body Checking FAQ

What Is Body Checking?

Body checking is when we use tools such as mirrors, old images, social media or measuring devices to fixate and obsess over parts of our bodies that we consider to be flawed.  

What Are Some Examples Of Body Checking?

Constantly checking self in reflective surfaces (e.g. a mirror), Tugging on clothes to make them fit a certain way
Comparing ourselves to others in person or on social media,Weighing, Repeatedly checking how clothing fits, Pinching skin
Continually seeking reassurance about weight/shape

How Do I Stop Body Checking?

Cover your mirrors
Write down all the ways you body check
Tally up how many times you try to body check each day.  Make a goal to decrease that number from one week to the next. 
Take a social media break. Or unfollow all of the accounts that trigger body checking.

Is Body Checking Harmful?

YES! It gives us a false sense of control and increases feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, stress, fear, and guilt.

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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