Body checking is a behaviour where one is consistently evaluating their body, checking certain characteristics they deem unacceptable. Oftentimes, body checking occurs when one is preoccupied with the amount of fat on their body. This may look like weighing yourself multiple times a day, pinching areas of skin looking for fat, comparing your body to someone else’s or studying yourself in the mirror frequently1. This may be as simple as trying to join your index finger to your thumb as you wrap your fingers around your wrist. You may not even be aware you are body checking. Body checking can be a natural way of self-grooming (such as occasionally checking your reflection in the mirror), however, when it is done in excess it may have negative consequences.
When you are focused on what you deem a flaw, you are much more likely to zero in on it and find something else you don’t like. Studies show that those who engage more frequently in body checking have lower body satisfaction2. Body checking may perpetuate weight loss behaviours as it causes one to focus solely on the parts of their body they believe are not satisfactory. Constantly evaluating one part of your body is likely to cause you to be more critical of that particular area and not even see how beautiful your whole body is. Body checking occurs in somewhat of a vicious cycle: finding a part of your body you don’t like, constantly evaluating and criticizing it, then seeing that body part in a negative light and becoming even more dissatisfied with it. The constant evaluating of one’s body intensifies the perception that there is something wrong with one’s body and enhances one’s awareness of that body part throughout the day.
Imagine you have freckles on your face but have never looked in a mirror before so you are not aware you have freckles until someone tells you. The presence of freckles on your face displeases you so you keep going to a mirror to see if they are still there. The more you see the freckles, the more dissatisfied you are. It’s not that the freckles are multiplying in number that causes your displeasure with them to increase, but the fact that you hope they won’t be there each time you check and then realizing they still are. The more the behaviour is perpetuated, the more dissatisfied one becomes. Frequently evaluating a body part is meaningless as it will usually not change within the time since it was checked last. Being highly critical of your body will only cause you to find more things you don’t like about it if you narrow your perception as to what is acceptable1. If you think a part of your body is too big and look into the mirror with that perception, you will likely see what you expect to see and not an accurate representation of your body.
In a study, 99% of participants focused on a disliked body part when body checking instead of looking at their whole body3. In the same study, only 5% of participants said that body checking actually improved their mood3. All this to say, body checking may seem like it will make one feel better about themselves but in reality it leaves one feeling even worse and offers and unrealistic view of one’s whole body.
If you find yourself body checking, what can you do? One way to reduce body checking behaviours is to be mindful of when they are occurring. Make a list including the body checking behaviour as well as how many times a day it occurs. Once you are aware of body checking behaviours and the frequency in which they are happening, begin trying to reduce the frequency of these behaviours. Start with a small reduction and over time, seek to phase out these behaviours entirely. Another way to reduce these behaviours is to remove scales, mirrors or anything else that allows you to evaluate your body conveniently. You can also make a list of situations you would feel anxious in based off body checking behaviours, such as wearing a certain clothing item that exposes the body part you are unsatisfied with1. Once you have this list, begin to put yourself in the least anxiety provoking situations and work your way through to the higher anxiety situations. As you work through these exercises, you will build confidence and be able to attempt behaviours that prompt the most anxiety. Next time you look in the mirror, try saying something positive about yourself. The more you repeat this positive affirmation, the more likely you will come to believe it.
Remember that evaluating one part of your body does not do your whole body justice. What you view in the mirror may be skewed by previous perceptions and not an accurate representation of your body.
- Overcoming Disordered Eating – WA Health. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2018, from http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=4B2101EA3D1F493AB986FF6F111AD601&CID=368432DF353564860879392A34C865DF&rd=1&h=dNByR4yVgoKpnabSp-uwCBIAV4sL5bop6InD_BmWfPk&v=1&r=http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/4 0910 Checking, avoidance and feeling fat2.pdf&p=DevEx.LB.1,5120.1
- Walker, D. C., White, E. K., & Srinivasan, V. J. (2018). A meta-analysis of the relationships between body checking, body image avoidance, body image dissatisfaction, mood, and disordered eating.International Journal of Eating Disorders. doi:10.1002/eat.22867
- Shafran, R., Fairburn, C., Robinson, P. and Lask, B. (2003) Body checking and its avoidance in eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, [online] 35 (1), pp.93-101. Available at https://journals-scholarsportal-info.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/pdf/02763478/v35i0001/93_bcaiaied.xml[Accessed 20 May 2018].