girl concerned with body image
  • February 10, 2023

How Do I Stop Body Checking? | Imbodi Health Eating Disorder Dietitian Clinic

Scrolling social media, taking photos and scanning our appearance is something that most people do multiple times a day.  For […]

Scrolling social media, taking photos and scanning our appearance is something that most people do multiple times a day. 

For some people, frequently doing this can trigger negative feelings about their body and can lead to compulsive and/or obsessive analysis of their body. This is a behaviour known as “body checking” (1).

Please note, this article discusses eating disorders and disordered eating. If these topics raise any difficult feelings or are triggering, there are support resources available to help you. 

Speaking with a healthcare provider like a doctor, dietitian and psychologist is always recommended, however, organisations such as the Butterfly Foundation provide support for immediate assistance as well as written resources.

In the case of an emergency, always call 000 for emergency services.

 

 

What is body checking?

Body checking is a broad term for a number of behaviours and habits that involve looking for and finding out information about one’s body. This may include analysing size, weight, shape, and appearance. 

 These behaviours may take over an individual’s thoughts and prevent them from doing their regular daily tasks (2, 3).

It is important to remember that specific body checking habits can be normal and not harmful for some people. They are categorised as body checking and considered unhealthy when they become compulsive, obsessive and/or ritualistic. 

 

Some examples of body checking are:

  •       Weighing oneself frequently
  •       measuring particular body parts
  •       pinching skin
  •       looking for bones that stick out
  •       checking the space between one’s thighs (2, 4).

 

girl body checking in the mirror

Who experiences body checking?

Looking at your body and looking for information on your body is something most people do, and many people do this without any harm to their health.

These behaviours can impact mental and physical health negatively. When the habits become obsessive and invasive and influence other parts of life, they are considered body checking (2, 3).

Body checking has been linked with disordered eating habits and eating disorders in people of a range of genders, sizes and other health conditions.

 

Why is body checking harmful?

Research over the past decade shows that body checking is one of the key indicators of an eating disorder. Body checking often occurs with restrictive habits – another harmful behaviour that occurs with eating disorders. 

Many researchers have suggested that body checking could now be used during eating disorder diagnosis (3, 5, 6). It has also been found through research that the more frequently an individual body checks, the more likely it is that they also struggle with dietary restriction or disordered eating habits (4).

Body checking has been found to increase negative feelings towards their body, even in people who do not struggle with disordered eating (7). Negative body image is strongly associated with the development of clinical eating disorders (7).

 

Body checking and eating disorders

Overall, there is a significant link between body checking behaviours and disordered eating.

Note – this does not mean body checking behaviours always result in or automatically mean an individual has an eating disorder. Rather, compulsive checking of the body has been found to often exist alongside disordered eating and eating disorders.

It is important to acknowledge this link has serious consequences to both physical and mental health which occur with the presence of eating disorders and disordered eating.

An eating disorder can be diagnosed by a qualified healthcare professional such as doctor or psychologist by using the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders (8, 9).

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

What are some of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are diagnosed based on habits and symptoms – including physical, emotional and psychological (6).

The impact of eating disorders and disordered eating habits on health are serious and more varied than just extreme weight loss, as often stereotyped or seen in the media (6)

 

The following examples are just some of the symptoms an individual might experience (8, 9, 10):

  •       Tooth decay and low bone density
  •       Loss of period (in individuals who experience menstruation)
  •       Poor immunity
  •       Muscle and organ breakdown
  •       Irregular heart beat, dizziness and fainting
  •       Constipation, nausea and vomiting 
  •       Rupturing of the stomach, blocked intestines and pancreatitis 
  •       Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (as a result of long term binging/purging)
  •       Hair loss
  •       Kidney failure
  •       Increased suicide rate 

 

body checking is harmful

Body checking versus body avoidance – what is the difference?

Body avoidance is the opposite of body checking. Rather than hyperfocusing on their body shape/weight/size, body avoidance involves habits such as wearing loose clothes and avoiding reflections so that an individual does not see their body (11).

These habits can be as problematic as body checking. Avoidant behaviours are still based on an obsessive focus on the body, and are aligned with fear and negativity surrounding body shape, weight and/or size11

 

Some examples of body avoidance are (11):

  •       avoiding reflective surfaces or covering mirrors
  •       wearing loose or baggy clothing
  •       wearing long-sleeve clothing to cover the body,avoiding having photos taken
  •       avoiding physical contact with other people.

 

By engaging in body avoidance, an individual may continue to feel intense fear or negative feelings about their body. 

Concerns surrounding avoidant behaviours can be brought up with healthcare providers like a doctor, dietitian, psychologist or other specialist.

 

 

How do I stop body checking?

If you feel like body checking is something you struggle with or is a behaviour that is controlling parts of your life, there are strategies that can be helpful to take back control of the behaviours and reduce their occurrence: 

  • Goal setting – set goals relating to how many times a day a particular behaviour is performed. Keep tally in a notebook or on your phone. Remember, start small with your goals and build on them as you feel they are being achieved.

This might look like setting a goal of only checking your body once before leaving the house, or taking photos of your body once a week instead of every day. 

  • Limit screen time/social media – studies have found that social media and taking photos of yourself can increase negative feelings towards your body and body checking behaviours. 

Setting screen time limits on your phone or on particular social media apps can help reduce the time spent scrolling which is linked with improved mental health and body image.

  • Revise your ‘following – do particular accounts that you follow frequently post things/images that increase your checking behaviours or negative thoughts? Cull these from your ‘following’ list to create a more positive social media experience. 

On the flipside, pages run by healthcare professionals like eating disorder dietitians and pages with body positive themes may support you on your journey with more tips and strategies. 

The Imbodi podcast and Instagram page are run by online dietitians who specialise in eating disorders. They cover a range of topics around body image and disordered eating. Tune into  Episode 10 of the podcast where they discuss body checking in more detail. 

  • Reach out – talk to someone you trust about your concerns. This could be a friend, flatmate or family member. You can use your support network for positive reinforcement, holding you accountable to your goals and open discussions about your feelings.
  • Seek professional guidance – speaking to a professional who has experience and/or knowledge of body checking and eating disorders is highly recommended. Your GP or regular doctor is a great place to start, as they can refer on to psychologists and eating disorder dietitians to better support you on your journey. 

Summary

Body checking can become harmful to health if these behaviours are not addressed.

Frequent and compulsive checking of body can have a negative influence on individual’s relationship with their body. 

There are strategies that can be implemented to reduce and treat body checking. Episode 10 of the Imbodi podcast – available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify – discusses body checking, the harms of these kinds of habits and strategies for reducing them.

If you, or someone you know may be struggling with body checking and other disordered behaviours, reaching out to a healthcare professional is strongly recommended. 

Early detection is key to treating body checking and preventing any possible negative health consequences that may arise from checking behaviours.

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Article written by: student dietitian Lilee Lunney

Reviewed by: PNW Clinic dietitian Jade Wrigley

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