Body Checking and What You Can Do About It

Headshot of Abby Langer, RD in a Green shirt and dark background, talking about body checking

Abby is passionate about all aspects of nutrition, from physiology to teaching to cooking. Her approach to nutrition is permissive and relaxed, and she is a true believer in living your best life without dieting. Abby’s counseling and writings focus on body respect and intuitive-style eating. She has written in depth about debunking fad diets and nutrition myths. You can learn more about her here.

If you’ve spent five minutes on social media lately, chances are you’ve come across content that contains body checking. Body checking is essentially when a person repeatedly checks their image in photos or a mirror, to assess the size or shape of their body.

What does body checking look like?

Body checking is mainly driven by insecurity and anxiety around weight and body size, and it can show up in different forms:

Body Checking and what you can do about it. (credit: Abby Langer, RD)
  • As mentioned above, repeatedly checking your own body in the mirror.
  • Focusing on the size of certain parts of your body and checking to see if they have changed in short periods of time.
  • Pinching or touching parts of your body to feel if they’re the same as the last time you checked them. 
  • Obsessively focusing on your ‘flaws’ in photos.
  • Content where the creator shows their body to their followers.

Although research has shown that body checking can be normal behavior for people who do not have eating disorders, repeated body checking is intimately linked with eating disorders, with the frequency of the behavior being associated with food restriction on that day and the day following.

This 2022 study in the Journal of Eating Disorders hypothesizes that part of the body checking mentality is an intolerance of uncertainty, which is linked with anxiety. 

When we feel anxious and aren’t able to resist uncertainty around our body, this means we may feel compelled to reassure ourselves that we haven’t changed in size, even though it may be minutes or hours between body checks.

It’s a vicious cycle: research shows that body checking creates more anxiety around your body, which leads to more body checking.

We may intellectually know that this behavior is irrational, but emotionally and even chemically, it may be very hard to stop.

What’s the harm of body checking?

Because body checking is borne out of anxiety, it may perpetuate and feed into this emotion. In fact, some theories explain that body checking may be a way to maintain food restriction. 

If you have kids, commenting about your own body and the bodies of others can have a negative effect on their own relationships with their bodies. For example, if they see you checking your image often, or they hear you making negative – or even positive – comments about other bodies, this may instill a fear in them that their bodies have to look a certain way. 

This can lead to disordered eating and body image as they grow up.

Body checking and the assessment of your own and others’ bodies follows the line of thinking that only certain body types are acceptable, while others are not. This core belief is one that needs to be neutralized in the process of finding peace with food, eating, and our bodies.

The habit of constantly judging our body can also consume our emotional health, and cause a significant disruption in our daily living and quality of life. We can’t live a full and happy life, when we’re obsessed and distracted by our anxiety around the size of our body.

How can I stop body checking? 

If you have symptoms of an eating disorder or disordered eating, the first thing you should do is consult a licensed professional. A doctor or a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and can initiate an assessment.

Unfollow social media accounts, ditch the scale, and helpful language…

As a registered dietitian, one of the first things I have clients do is unfollow social media accounts that make them feel inadequate, triggered, or negatively impact their mood. Because body checking is so prevalent on social media (especially on Instagram and TikTok), it can be hard to scroll around it or not encounter it. 

I also ask clients to put away their scales. This can be overwhelming for them, so we establish a time frame in which they will not weigh themselves or have the scale out in the open. 

One phrase I teach my clients is, ‘this is not for me, right now.’ It acknowledges that although a behavior (ie. weighing themselves) is not encouraged at this time, there is no hard-and-fast rule that they can’t do it forever. It’s often easier for us to devote ourselves to learning how to release a harmful habit, if we don’t immediately feel pressure to give it up forever.

It’s important to understand that body checking and the size of your body are not a ‘failure’ of any kind, nor do they determine who you are as a person. At Way, we want you to be able to release the anxiety you have around food and your body, and experience freedom and peace with these things.

Identify what you’re doing most often. Are you constantly checking your body in the mirror? Looking at photos of yourself? Engaging with content that shows others’ bodies, or comparing yourself to bodies that aren’t yours?

Think about why you’re engaging in this behavior. Does it temporarily relieve the anxiety and fear that you have around your body?

How does your body checking behavior make you feel in the long-term? Even shortly after you do it, do you again feel anxiety creeping up on you?

Flip the Script on Body Checking:

Can you flip the script? This is an exercise to help you neutralize the feelings you’re having that are behind the body checking behavior.

Next time you feel like you need to body check, I want you to stop, breathe, and stay in the moment. Instead of body checking immediately, think of a positive or neutral thought about the part of your body you’re focused on. It can be helpful to focus on something good your body has done for you in the past, and what it has achieved. 

Remember that our bodies are supposed to change throughout our lives. This is normal. 

 If you’re having trouble with body checking and/or disordered eating behavior, you can work on this with a therapist as well.

If you’re tempted to comment on or compare your body to another person’s, ask yourself if you would say the same thing to someone you love. You deserve that same treatment! Instead of something negative, find something positive to say about your body and that person’s. 

Find a point of gratefulness in your day. Instead of body checking, write down something you’re grateful for. Body checking might seem harmless, but it can actually be quite harmful to your physical and emotional health. A dietitian and/or therapist specializing in eating disorders can help you manage it, and remember: habits like body checking don’t disappear overnight. They can take a considerable amount of time to unlearn, but it will be worth it.