Body checking refers to compulsive thoughts & behaviors surrounding the body common with eating disorders or disordered relationships with food. Body checking is when someone seeks reassurance about their body shape or size. Examples may include compulsively “checking” their body through stepping on the scale, measuring their body, pinching at skin, trying on clothes to measure shape, looking in the mirror extensively, and more. It is often compulsive and used to ease anxiety and appease the eating disorder “voice”, which keeps you in the cycle.
Although body checking may feel like it initially eases anxiety, over time it actually INCREASES anxiety and also appeases the eating disorder voice, making it stronger. It’s hard to fight off that negative eating disorder voice if you’re doing what it’s telling you! Body checking ultimately reinforces negative body image and eating disorder behaviors. So by stopping this cycle, we can help improve body image and make progress with recovery.
If you’ve struggled with body checking, let me ask you to think about how YOUR experience has been. How do you feel before body checking and after body checking? Do you actually get what you are looking for? Is it a positive experience or a negative experience? How does it affect your mood the rest of the day? How does it affect your eating behaviors?
We can’t change a behavior if we aren’t fully aware of it. Start to pay attention to your thoughts, urges, and behaviors around body checking. When does it occur? Where does it occur? How do you feel before, during, and after? What triggers it? How does it affect the rest of your thoughts and behaviors? How does it affect your recovery? You can use a body checking journal to keep track of when, where, and why you are body checking to help notice patterns and bring more awareness, with the ultimate goal to reduce them.
What do you use to body check? What reinforces these behaviors? Maybe it’s a scale, a certain mirror, or another measuring device. Get rid of it! Hide it, give it to a trusted family member, donate it, whatever it takes to get it out of your typical environment where you’re triggered to body check. This could be a great goal to work on with your Dietitian. Research also shows that complete body avoidance can also reinforce eating behaviors, so our goal down the road is to be able to face the scale or the mirror in a more neutral and positive light through exposure work. But initially, it can be helpful to remove the trigger to make it easier to reduce body checking behaviors.
Oftentimes when we have a strong urge or trigger to use an unhealthy behavior (such as body checking), if we can sit with that feeling for a little bit, the intensity of the urge dies down. We call this “riding the wave”. You may feel a strong emotion or a strong urge, and it’s going to peak at the top of the “wave”, but ultimately if we can ride it out and not give in to our urge then, the wave will die down and the urge will decrease in intensity. When we use an eating disorder behavior to escape uncomfortable emotions at their “peak”, we aren’t helping to feel or process those emotions. One of the best things you can do is sit with those uncomfortable feelings and work through them in conjunction with your therapist and/or RD. Ultimately, the intensity will die down!
What can you do instead to distract yourself when you get the urge to body check? You could maybe take a hot shower, write in your journal, take a stroll outside and get some fresh air, or call a close friend. Focus on healthy behaviors to ADD in place of body checking.
Nothing wrong with a little motivation! Maybe treat yourself to a manicure or something new if you’ve reached your goal of reducing body checking. Maybe set a S.M.A.R.T. goal with your Dietitian to reduce/eliminate body checking and treat yourself to something fun if you complete that goal.
Since we know that body checking doesn’t actually help get rid of anxiety, and can often mask and/or prolong it, what are some actual ways you CAN treat anxiety and difficult emotions? Let’s build up your coping toolkit. It looks different for everyone! I know when I’m stressed I always like to go for a walk, get outside, or take a hot bath. Others may like to journal, talk it out with someone, or watch a funny movie. Yoga, meditation, and journaling are some of the best ways to manage stress and anxiety, so explore those options with your treatment team. Also, don’t forget self-care! If you aren’t taking time for you and doing positive things for your well-being, it’s much harder to fight anxiety. Check out some self-care ideas with this downloadable handout.
We are here to support YOU! We can only help with as much as we know from session. Share what you feel comfortable with, and we can help celebrate your wins, and problem-solve your struggles.
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