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Body Checking: What is it and How to stop

Nov 03, 2021
woman measuring her hip circumference

Body checking can feel completely automatic and you may do it unknowingly 100s of times per day. It’s something I did for years without actually even knowing it was a ‘thing’. I didn’t realise that other people didn’t constantly check how bloated their stomach was or how full or sunken their cheeks felt. Becoming aware of what body checking is, why we do it, when it’s harmful and how to stop can help you find true body freedom. Learning to stop body checking has helped me shift focus away from my body and towards more important things in life. It’s also helped me become less anxious and controlling towards my body. In this article, I aim to help you gain clarity and steps toward stopping body checking.

 

WHAT IS BODY CHECKING

Body checking is the seeking of information about your body, size, weight and appearance. You’re essentially checking your body, gathering information. Body checking lies on a spectrum. Most people body check in some regard; we look in the mirror when brushing our teeth to make sure we reached all areas. We check if there’s something in our teeth after a meal. We check if our clothes look and fit right when we get dressed in the morning.

Further towards the more compulsive, harmful side of the body checking continuum, we become more excessive. It’s the overvaluation of your body. 

 

WHAT DOES BODY CHECKING LOOK LIKE

Examples of Body Checking Include:

  • Looking down at or pinching your belly.
  • Grabbing fat on your body.
  • Feeling for bones (e.g. hip, jaw, ribs or collarbones) or muscle tone.
  • Weighing yourself often.
  • Measuring body circumference often.
  • Excessively looking at yourself in the mirror.
  • Asking family/friends for opinions on how they think you look (e.g. do I look fat today?)
  • Comparing your body to others.

WHEN IS BODY CHECKING HARMFUL

If you resonate with any of the above then stick around because we’re going to discuss when and why body checking is a problem. Plus, importantly, how to stop!

 

If you’re body checking a few times a day, it’s likely not an issue. But if you find yourself automatically checking your body 50, 100, 200+ times a day, it can truly be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Body checking is a problem when you:

  • Feeling out-of-control: The compulsive, habitual aspect of it can make you feel out-of-control, like you can’t stop body checking.
  • Lack of concentration: Body checking can interfere with concentration. If you’re constantly looking at yourself in the mirror or pinching the fat on your body or comparing yourself to others, it’s likely that you’re losing focus on tasks at hand. 
  • Reinforcing that your weight/body is important: By stopping what you’re doing to body check many times per day, you’re subconsciously telling yourself that the most important thing right now (and often) is how you look and the meaning you assign to that.
  • Dictates your mood: When you body check, you’re essentially gaining information about your body/weight/appearance. If you ‘like’ the results of the body check (e.g. you feel more toned or thin), then you’ll feel good about yourself. But if the results don’t agree with what you want (e.g. you feel bloated or more fat), it often affects your mood. 
  • Leads to restriction: If you don’t like the results from your body check, you’ll likely feel bad about your body and want to take action on that to regain a sense of control. This points to restriction or over-exercising. Even if you’ve just eaten, and therefore naturally have a more protruding belly, you may body check and feel like you’ve gained weight and need to skip dinner, for example. This restriction can then lead to binge eating.

 

  • Isolate: Due to your affected mood from body checking, you may then decide to isolate yourself. E.g. If you weighed yourself and noticed it had gone up, you might cancel plans with friends because you feel ‘gross’ in your body.

 

WHY DO I BODY CHECK?

You may be feeling like body checking is a bit of a waste of time, it’s clearly harmful and most of the time doesn’t make you feel great. If you want to go back to the ‘normal’ side of the body checking spectrum, let’s first understand why we body check. That will later inform the steps towards how to stop body checking. 

 

You may notice that when you body check and like the result, you feel good. You feel in control. But when you don’t like the result, it gives you a sense of dread, anxiety, low self worth, even panic.

 

Body checking is an attempt to feel in control, reassured and feel better about ourselves.

 

When you assign a lot of value to your weight/how you look/thinness, you’ll check that part of you often to gain reassurance that we have/haven’t gained weight or that something has/hasn’t changed.

 

So even though we body check to gain a sense of control and satisfaction about our bodies, it often backfires and actually leads to a sense of loss of control.

 

HOW TO STOP BODY CHECKING

If you’re sick of being stuck in this endless cycle of body checking that often leads to body anxiety, weight preoccupation, and a feeling of less control, I’m going to share 6 steps to stop body checking.

 

Before we jump in, I want you to remember that body checking can be seriously ingrained and automated. It’s a habit at this stage. So stopping will take consistency and consciousness. Don’t expect an overnight change but do expect that you can break free from body checking.

STEP ONE: AWARENESS

Because body checking becomes so ingrained as a habit, that, by definition, means it’s no longer a conscious act. When we habitualise something, our brain pushes it into our subconscious into auto-pilot. When we body check so often, our brain says, “Ok, this is something we do all the time, let’s automate this to save energy”.

So we must bring awareness/consciousness into the equation - bring body checking from a subconscious act to a conscious one. The first step is simply becoming aware that you are body checking when you do. Do your best to notice it without judgement, it’s a simple - “Ah! There I am body checking” when it happens.

You may notice just how often you body check, it might be much more than you even realised. That’s ok! I want you to objectively be aware in the moment as best you can. Notice how often you body check and which ways you body check.

 

STEP TWO: CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Once you’ve started getting the hang of bringing consciousness to the body checking moment, start to challenge yourself. Get curious! Ask, “why did I just do that?”. Do so without negativity or shame. Ask, “What was I looking for? Did body checking help me? Was it helpful? Is it serving me? Do I really want to keep focusing on my body?”

 

A question that helped me a lot when breaking the habit was, “Has anything actually changed since I last checked?”. Oftentimes nothing has changed because we check so often - so it really was unnecessary. Sometimes something has changed but it’s simply because we ate a meal or just went to the toilet!

 

Personal example: I used to always check how flat my stomach was when I’d pull my pants up after using the toilet. Every time it was flat, I’d feel good about myself because I had the belief that a woman’s belly should be flat. I would feel reassured and safe to move on with my day without changing the way I was eating. So every time I body checked in this way, I’d reaffirm the belief that I was actually working to release. Starting to ask yourself questions as you body check and understand what’s really going on underneath can be insightful. 

 

STEP THREE: REPARENTING

Your motives behind body checking likely stem from some belief you have about your body and how it should look. You body check to see if it’s still in line with this belief and this dictates how you feel and how you act (e.g. eating less or more).

 

Try to uncover the beliefs driving you to body check. Discover when you first absorbed these beliefs. It was probably early in childhood or your teen years when we start to shape our beliefs based on society, our parent-figures, peers, social media etc. Now is your chance to start reparenting that little girl who may still live by the belief that she needs to look thin to be popular/loved/sexy.

 

Every time you body check, that little girl is coming ‘online’. While on the surface it seems like you want to be thin / toned / pretty - what you’re really seeking is the feeling that you feel those things offer you. Feelings of safety, connection, acceptance, love. When you reparent that little girl, you want to give her what she really needs. She needs that compassion and motherly love. She is yearning for validation.

 

So instead of feeling like you’re messed up for constantly body checking, we want to view it from a loving place. See yourself as that little girl who just wants a flat belly or thin thighs because she saw other’s get love and acceptance for it in the past. Flood your system with so much love when you body check. Teach yourself that you are safe in this body, you don’t need to check, you don’t need to change a thing.

 

It can be as simple as a soothing breath and a “You’re safe as you are”.

 

STEP FOUR: GET SUPPORT

Changing such a deep-seated habit can be tough so reach out for help if you want! Talk to a therapist, coach, mother, best friend, sister. Talk it out loud, get support and guidance, release any shame. 

 

One last thing! Don’t forget to notice your progress - it can be incredibly exciting and motivating to see over the weeks/months that you are body checking less and feeling more ok with your body.

 

If you ever need any help with body checking, binge eating and food freedom - I have incredible resources on this website including online courses, the blog, podcast and plenty of freebies.

 

With Love,

Bríd

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