What is Body Checking and How to Overcome It

Body Checking and Body Avoidance
Eating Disorder
Nutrition
Written By:
Gaby McPherson MS, RDN, LDN

People are often aware when their pants don’t button up as easily, or their favorite jacket fits tighter in the arms. Body changes are a normal and natural part of life. But, when checking on body changes becomes frequent and compulsive, it can get in the way of living a healthy life. Obsessive thoughts and behaviors surrounding weight, body shape, size, and appearance are clues to body image problems and body dissatisfaction.  Over time, they foster a cycle of poor body image and negative self-esteem, which don’t do anybody any good. Learn more about body checking and how to overcome it in this article. 

Body checking meaning

Body checking comes from excessive concern over one’s body and may be an early sign of a future eating disorder diagnosis. However, people without eating disorders can have problems with frequent body checking. Here’s how a 2019 review published in Frontiers in Psychology describes body checking. 

Body checking definition: A behavior that provides information about weight, size, or body shape.

Signs of body checking:

  • Measuring the size of body parts
  • Obsessively weighing on a scale
  • Feeling the body for bones
  • Grabbing and pinching fleshy parts of the body
  • Seeking reassurance about body shape (i.e., does this shirt make me look big?)
  • Checking how clothes fit
  • Constantly looking into mirrors

A small 2017 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that body checking in women was associated with a fear of weight gain after eating. 

Body checking has a close relative called body avoidance, another sign of distorted body image.

Body avoidance meaning

Unhappiness with weight and shape may cause a person to try to hide their body with hoodies that are far too big or baggy pants to cover up their perceived flaws.. While body checking fixates on body areas, body avoidance attempts to remove focus and attention from the body. You might notice body checking and body avoidance are opposites, yet some people have a habit of doing both.

Body avoidance definition: A behavior that blocks the opportunity to gain information about weight, size, or body shape. 

Signs of body avoidance:

  • Hiding the body with oversized clothing
  • Avoiding or refusing to get on a scale
  • Staying away from mirrors or other reflective surfaces
  • Avoiding taking photos or being in photos
  • Not participating in activities where there’s less clothing (i.e., swimming)

These signs are less noticeable and can be challenging to detect, but avoiding the body perpetuates a vicious cycle.   When you avoid  your body, there’s little opportunity to find body love, self-compassion and appreciation for all it does for you.

Body checking and body avoidance are safety behaviors, which means people do them as a form of protection against what’s feared. While they may lessen stress and anxiety in the short term, they can worsen body image and self-confidence in the long term. On top of that, these behaviors may prompt an eating disorder or be an eating disorder sign.

Body checking and eating disorders: What’s the link?

Frequent body checking and body avoidance behaviors are harmful for many reasons. They fuel people’s dislike and disgust over their bodies and distort their overall view of themselves. If a person weighs themselves every hour, there’s a chance their self-worth and self-esteem will gradually erode. 

Obsessing over shape, weight, and appearance can also lead to altering eating and exercise habits. Some may skip meals, use laxatives, or work out excessively to change their body into what they view as attractive.  These behaviors describe eating disorders, potentially fatal illnesses that confuse a  person’s eating routine.  Although there are multiple types of eating disorders, such as anorexia, rumination disorder, and ARFID, people with bulimia are more likely to be overly critical of their bodies. Therefore, body checking is a key feature in bulimia disorders. 

Multiple studies show that body-checking behaviors are more prevalent in people with eating disorders. In fact, both body-checking and body avoidance help maintain eating disorders and keep people from recovering by causing eating disorder relapses

A 2017 meta-analysis (research that summarizes groups of studies) published in the Journal of Eating Disorders noticed that patients with anorexia engaged in body-checking behaviors more often than people without anorexia. Significant decreases in anorexia body-checking were observed and linked with improved concerns about shape and weight.  That said, addressing body checking and avoidance are critical points of eating disorder treatment because they help get to the root of body dissatisfaction. 

Tips to lessen body checking and avoidance in your life

  1. Identify your body-checking or body-avoidance habits.

The first step to cutting back on how often you engage in body-checking and avoidance is recognizing your usual behaviors. Maybe you pinch your waist while getting dressed in the morning or avoid the mirror while undressing. Whatever it may be, increasing your awareness of your personal challenges will help get you on track to taking control of them.

  1. Track how often you’re doing these behaviors and how they make you feel.

Consider how often you do these and how they impact your daily life. Keep a record in your journal of when you engage in the habit and what emotion you feel when you do it. Doing this can help reveal how these behaviors impact your life.If you choose  to seek professional help, sharing a record of your behaviors and feelings may be beneficial.n   

  1. Consider what triggers these body-focused behaviors.

Reducing body avoidance and body-checking behaviors takes some inner work. What’s triggering you to engage in these behaviors? Do you often look at old photos of yourself? Have you been watching a show that overvalues thinness? Are you spending too much  time on social media? Once you’ve identified triggers, you can work on ways to reduce them. 

  1. Take scheduled social media breaks.

Cultural influences tend to determine what’s beautiful, and the media⸻especially social media, which perpetuates it. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research Public Health found that disordered eating attitudes were strongly linked to body image, self-esteem, and social media use. Another study also found posting selfies on social media heightens poor body image and mood. Schedule social media breaks by temporarily deleting apps to help preserve your mental health. 

  1. Seek professional help

If body checking or body avoidance habits are happening at all times of the day, causing you distress or anxiety, and getting in the way of work, school, health, or social life, seek the help of a professional.

How Nourish can help

Whether you are dealing with body checking or body avoidance, the dietitians at Nourish can help you overcome these harmful habits and enhance your feelings of self-worth. Our dietitians will meet you with compassion and create a nonjudgmental space to help you identify the root cause of your body checking and avoidance. We’ll help you make a step-by-step plan to support your healing process. With sessions fully online and covered by insurance, Nourish dietitians can help you wherever you are. Get started today

Sources:

NIMH 

Pubmed

Wiley.com

NIH 

NIH

Science Direct

Wiley.com

Wiley.com