Even if you don’t know what the term “body checking” means exactly, I bet you’ve done it! Most of us have… or still do.
Body checking describes obsessive or compulsive (meaning, you feel compelled to do it) behaviors intended to assess something about your body weight, shape, size or appearance. Some examples of things that can be body checking are:
- Weighing yourself
- Measuring body parts using a tape measure, your hands, or something else
- Checking your reflection in mirrors or windows multiple times a day
- Pinching or squeezing body parts
- Repeatedly trying on certain clothes to see how they fit (aka using clothes as a way to measure your body size)
- Seeking reassurance about your body from others
- Feeling for fat, muscle or bone
- Comparing your body to past pictures of yourself or to other bodies
Body checking might seem benign, but it can actually be pretty harmful. Let’s explore why.
First, it’s important to recognize that body checking is typically an attempt to relieve anxiety that has come up about your body. Wanting to relieve anxiety is total normal! The problem is that it can perpetuate body anxiety in the long run, even if it relieves the anxiety in the short term… and it doesn’t even always do that.
That’s because the behavior itself is focused on the body. In other words,
Instead of training your brain to divert those obsessive, anxious thoughts to something else or to relieve the anxiety in a different way, it stays focused on the body as not just the problem, but also the solution to your discomfort. That means you’ll stay stuck in those body checking patterns, or they might even get worse.
If you’re happy or relieved with whatever your body checking finds, the neural pathways in your brain that want to cope with body anxiety by body checking get deepened because it technically worked.
Each time you use body checking as a way to soothe your anxious feelings, those neural pathways in your brain get deeper and stronger, and you get more hooked on the process.
BUT… As you know all too well, the feeling of relief is only temporary. The next time you feel anxious about your body, your brain is going to want to body check because that fixed your anxiety before.
Your body shame and anxiety is never healed by this cycle.
So I know it’s hard, but I encourage you to stop body checking when you’re anxious about your body and find a healthier way to manage your feelings. We’ll talk in the next email about strategies to reduce body checking.
Because the good news is, if we do that, those neural pathways that want to body check will mostly—if not completely—die off over time and you eventually won’t feel such strong urges to to do it. That will also make it easier to move toward real, long-term body image healing.
If you’re looking to deep-dive into transforming your body image, you won’t want to miss the body image course I’m working on! It will bring together all the successful tips, tools and exercises I’ve used to help people heal their body image. Sign up to be on the VIP list and get first access to the course when it releases!
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.