What is Body Checking? (Eating Disorders)

Sober Link sobriety monitor

Body checking is a problematic behavior often associated with eating disorders and body image disturbances.

It refers to the:

frequent scrutiny of one's physical appearance. Such behaviors enable individuals to pick up more “flaws” in their appearance.

It is a self-destructive behavior pattern that leads to unhealthy choices and beaten-up self-esteem.

Recognizing this habit in the early stage is crucial. It helps in adopting coping strategies for managing its negative impacts on mental health and overall well-being.

Understanding Body Checking Behaviors

Body checking encompasses various activities related to obsessive thoughts about the body’s shape, body’s weight, and size. These behaviors range on a wide spectrum. They can include constant mirror checking, frequent weighing, measurements, comparing body parts with others, and seeking reassurance about one’s physical appearance. Or it can be about body avoidance, completely avoiding looking at oneself in the mirror due to self-perceived flaws.

Some of these behaviors may sound mundane to you. And they are. Comparing your body shape or body weight after a few days is completely normal for most individuals. Like everything else, it’s the increasing frequency of body-checking that can become problematic if not addressed timely. Constantly obsessing over loose skin, checking for weight gain multiple times a day, or staring in the mirror for hours throughout the day are some problematic body-checking behaviors.

Causes Of Body Checking

Body-checking behavior often stems from low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. However, several environmental causes may have contributed to an increase in body-checking behavior. 

Some notable ones include:

  1. Social Media Influences: Society often places a strong emphasis on appearance, and media, including social media, can perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards. The constant exposure to images of idealized bodies can contribute to individuals feeling the need to constantly assess and compare their bodies. Normalization of the “Kardashian body type” and fat diets play an important role in influencing young women who often hold celebrities to high standards. 
  1. Peer Pressure: Social and peer pressures can significantly impact an individual’s body image. The desire to fit in or conform to societal expectations may lead people to engage in body-checking behaviors. The fear of fat-shaming or body-shaming (which have sadly become very common) can further increase the chances of such disorders/
  1. Cultural Factors: Different cultures have varying ideals of beauty. Such cultural norms can influence one’s perception of their body image. For instance, in Asian cultures, only skinny and fair women are considered beautiful. This has led to an increase in obsession with body shape and color in that part of the world.
  1. Psychological Factors: Individuals with low self-esteem, perfectionism, or a history of trauma may be more susceptible to body-checking behaviors. They may view it as a way to cope with negative emotions. It may help them gain a sense of control over themselves. 
  1. Mental Health Conditions: Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are mental health conditions that often involve body checking as a symptom. Individuals with these disorders may engage in these behaviors as a means of coping with distress or attempting to achieve a sense of control over their bodies.

While these factors may not be directly causative of the rise in body-checking disorders, they surely contribute to it. In most cases, it is the combination of several factors that manifest as toxic behaviors such as body checking.

Diagnosing the Problem:

Body checking itself is not always problematic per se. But as mentioned above, it often intermingled with more serious conditions that need a timely diagnosis for guided treatment.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Eating Disorders: Compulsive Body-checking behaviors are often considered diagnostic criteria for various eating disorders. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Frequent weighing, obsessive measurements, strict dietary restrictions, and compulsive comparisons of body parts are common indicators.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): BDD includes engaging in excessive and distressing inspection or comparing of perceived defects in certain parts of your body. This includes repetitive behaviors like checking the mirror, seeking reassurance, and camouflaging or fixing the perceived flaws, all of which are body dysmorphic disorder symptoms.

Determining Severity: The frequency and intensity of body-checking behaviors often correlate with the severity of the underlying disorder. Higher levels of body checking are associated with increased distress, greater impairment in daily functioning, and more severe psychological symptoms.

Treatment Outcomes: Body-checking behaviors can impact treatment outcomes for eating disorders or BDD. Patients exhibiting strong body-checking tendencies might experience slower progress in treatment. Such individuals may have more difficulty engaging in therapeutic strategies.

Psychological Impact:

Problematic body checking can have a severe impact on one’s mental health. These impacts can be seen even in the absence of underlying disorders.

Here’s how obsessive body checking can impact us psychologically:

  • Maintenance of Negative Body Image: Body-checking behaviors reinforce and perpetuate negative body image and dissatisfaction. Continuous scrutiny can lead to an unattainable pursuit of an idealized body shape, contributing to psychological distress and dissatisfaction. And as long as we keep engaging in body-checking behaviors, we only serve to make matters worse.
  • Anxiety and Depression: Body checking often leads to increased levels of anxiety and depression. The distress and anxiety associated with these behaviors can significantly impact an individual’s emotional well-being. Which in turn, gives birth to a vicious cycle of body checking, anxiety, and body checking again.
  • Social Withdrawal: Body-checking behaviors are often deep-rooted in low self-esteem. Constantly indulging in it can further destroy our self-esteem, leading to an avoidance of social situations such as going out, engaging with peers, and interacting publicly. 

Treatment and Interventions:

As mentioned above, body checking is usually indicative of underlying conditions. Treating those would require substantiating body checking as well.

Target for Intervention: Understanding and addressing body-checking behaviors are essential in formulating treatment plans. Therapeutic strategies often target reducing and managing these behaviors to improve overall mental health.

Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches: Therapeutic interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), often focus on restructuring negative thought patterns associated with body image. They also address the compulsion to engage in checking behaviors.

Addressing Co-occurring Disorders:

Other than eating disorders and body dysmorphia, other conditions may be associated with body checking. Knowing these associations can help us get a better understanding of the problem and devise effective treatment plans accordingly.

Conditions that may coexist with body checking include:

  • Other Mental Health Conditions: Body checking is also observed in conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders. It may also be seen in individuals who have a major depressive disorder. Clinicians need to address these co-occurring conditions when treating patients with body-checking tendencies.
  • Substance Abuse and Self-Harm: In some cases, body-checking behaviors can coexist with other harmful behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-harm. This may lead to complex clinical presentations that require specialized interventions. Knowing the possibility of such coexistence can help health providers look out for them accordingly.

Future Research and Understanding:

The recognition of body checking is still a fairly new concept. Further research focusing on the root cause and the development of effective interventions to reduce body-checking behaviors is vital. Understanding the cognitive and emotional processes underlying these behaviors can significantly contribute to the improvement of treatment approaches.

recognition of body checking

The clinical implications of body checking are multifaceted and underscore the importance of early recognition.

Coping Strategies for Managing Body Checking

If you or someone you know has a body-checking problem, here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Professional Support for Disorder Recovery

Seeking help from a health professional specializing in eating disorders and mental health is crucial. This will help with managing compulsive behaviors and addressing negative body image issues.

  1. Mindfulness Techniques

Being aware of triggers and using mindfulness exercises can help reduce body checking. It can also lower anxiety and negative thoughts associated with body image disturbances.

  1. Avoiding Social Media Triggers

Ever heard of social media detox? Limiting your social media use. Try to stay away from platforms that promote unrealistic body standards or trigger body image dissatisfaction. This can help significantly reduce body-checking tendencies.

  1. Building Body Neutrality

While body positivity is ideal, it may be too far-fetched for some individuals. Instead, try to adopt a body neutrality stance. Shift your focus from appearance to what the body can do, such as its capabilities and strengths. This helps mitigate over-evaluation of body shape and body size.

  1. Developing Healthy Self-Esteem

Working on self-compassion, setting realistic goals, and understanding that positive change takes time. This is vital for improving self-esteem and reducing body-checking behaviors.

Society’s Role In Mitigating Body-Checking Trends

It is important to understand that we, the society, have an important role in normalizing body acceptance. It involves systemic changes across various domains, including education, media, healthcare, and social environments. 

Here are several strategies that can help in reducing body-checking behaviors at a societal level:

  1. Education and Awareness

Starting at the root level may be a good idea. For instance, we can implement comprehensive educational programs in schools to promote body positivity, self-acceptance, and self-esteem. We can teach young people about diverse body shapes, and sizes. This way, we are breeding a society that is more accepting of all body types and can stop body shaming.

We can also include mental health education in school curriculums. This can help raise awareness about body image issues, eating disorders, and the potential consequences of body dissatisfaction and obsessive behaviors. We can teach children how such behaviors are unhealthy and how they can cope with these feelings instead.

  1. Media and Advertising:

We need stricter regulation of messages in the media. We need to encourage the media to promote diverse body types and realistic body images. They can propagate more positive body representation rather than idealized or airbrushed standards.

It is also important to enforce ethical guidelines on advertising and promotional content. This can help us avoid perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards that trigger body dissatisfaction and checking behaviors.

  1. Healthcare and Clinical Practices:

Healthcare providers and schools should collaborate to offer regular screenings. This can help us detect signs of body dissatisfaction and body-checking behaviors in children. Leading to early intervention that will consequently prevent their escalation.

Educating healthcare professionals about recognizing and addressing body image concerns is also important. This includes body-checking behaviors to facilitate effective support and treatment.

  1. Social Support and Inclusivity:

We can develop community-based programs that offer support and resources for individuals struggling with body image issues. This can help in promoting inclusivity and support networks.

We also need to encourage peer-led support groups in schools and communities. This helps by creating safe spaces for discussing body image concerns and sharing coping strategies.

  1. Advocacy and Policy Changes:

Encouraging and supporting legislative measures that aim to regulate harmful practices is also important. This applies to the fashion, beauty, and entertainment industries. We need regulations that promote healthier and more inclusive beauty standards.

We can also run public health campaigns that focus on body acceptance, mental wellness, and the dangers of body shaming. This is a great way to address the negative impacts of body checking on mental health.

  1. Technology and Social Media:

We can work with social media platforms to develop and enforce guidelines that promote positive body image. This will also help combat cyberbullying and restrict harmful content that triggers body-checking behaviors.

The tech-savvy of us can help develop digital tools and apps that promote body positivity, offer mental health support, and guide users away from negative body comparison behaviors.

In conclusion…

Body-checking behaviors and their impact on mental health are a growing concern, particularly in young people and young adults. Utilizing coping strategies and seeking professional help can aid in managing such habits. It is also important to advocate for a healthier relationship with our body.

It’s essential to address body-checking behaviors and their causes early on. This helps us understand the need to reduce exposure to triggers such as diet culture and social media platforms. We can then build a positive association with our bodies and unlearn toxic behaviors.