Body Checking Explained, Plus How to Address It

Young woman looking in the mirror

Getty Images / Yadira G. Morel

Body checking is the act of examining your body through various practices including in the mirror, by weighing yourself, touching your body parts, or pinching yourself.

While nothing is inherently negative about checking your body once in a while, when it affects how you feel about yourself or becomes impulsive, it can lead to psychological well-being issues.

People who engage in body checking might focus on specific areas of their body that they dislike or begin to compare their bodies to other people's. Some people habitually practice body checking up to hundreds of times per day which can interfere with your mental health and quality of living.

Knowing the signs of body checking and seeking help from a professional is vital.

Body checking can be associated with eating disorders. If you are struggling with body image and it is impacting your daily life, speak to a qualified health care practitioner.

Body Checking Can Interfere with Your Quality of Life

The practice of body checking can become an obsessive cycle of physically checking your body and having obsessive and negative thoughts about your body as a result.

Body checking has been shown to directly lead to body dissatisfaction, regardless of what body part is being checked. Furthermore, body checking can cause mood changes and make you more critical of your body weight and shape.

"Body checking keeps us preoccupied with our bodies and reinforces the idea that the shape and size of our body is the most important thing about us," explains Alexis Conason, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and author of The Diet-Free Revolution.

Conason says that body checking often begins as a way to relieve anxiety. "We believe that if we check, it will somehow help us feel better, but, most of the time, it leads to negative thoughts about our body, and by extension ourselves," she says.

The relief that may result from body checking is not sustained, and soon enough, the compulsion to check arises again along with the anxiety. "This takes up more and more of our mental space and energy and can drastically impact our mental health," notes Conason.

Body Checking and Eating Disorders

While body checking can be an issue regardless of eating habits, research shows that the behaviors are often interconnected. Body checking can be used as a way to maintain disordered eating habits, especially restriction.

Dr. Alexis Conason

Body checking is often seen in the context of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image dissatisfaction. It is important that we treat the full range of symptoms, not just the body checking.

— Dr. Alexis Conason

Researchers believe that addressing body checking behavior may help reduce eating disorder symptoms as well. It's vital to treat these behaviors as they are connected to poor mental health, depression, lower quality of life, and poor self-esteem.

Overcoming Body Checking Behaviors

Body checking is often compulsive and done to relieve the anxious feelings that arise about your body. For instance, if you eat a meal, you may feel the compulsion to pinch yourself or look in the mirror to see if your body has changed afterward.

Conason stresses that each individual struggling with body checking is different. Still, it can generally be helpful to develop a capacity to notice the urge to body check without acting on that urge using mindfulness.

"Mindfulness practices can be really helpful to increase our observational capacity, become more aware of the thoughts and urges, and create space to make conscious choices versus automatic reactions," explains Conason.

"For example, notice the urges to body check and gently explore them without acting on that," Conason says. It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • What thoughts arise when you feel the urge to body check?
  • What emotions arise?
  • Do the urges vary in intensity as you explore them?

Conason recommends doing this work with a licensed psychotherapist with experience treating body image issues from a Health At Every Size ® informed perspective who has the skills to support you as you work to change this behavior. 

Your therapist may recommend additional ways to overcome body checking. Some possible solutions include avoiding social media accounts that make you feel negative about your body or trigger the compulsion to perform body checking behavior and removing triggering objects such as scales, mirrors, or measuring tapes.

A Word From Verywell

Those who perform body checking are more likely to restrict their food consumption and have baseline eating disorder symptoms. The fear of gaining weight can lead to dietary restriction and eating disorders can cause compulsive body checking.

Body checking often becomes a compulsion, leading to increasingly negative mental health issues, including lower self-esteem and body image dissatisfaction. Much of the time, body checking is connected to disordered eating habits that can progress into dangerous eating disorders if not addressed.

If you are struggling with body checking, especially in the context of other symptoms of an eating disorder, disordered eating, or body image dissatisfaction, consult with a licensed mental health professional in your area.

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3 Sources
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