What Is Body Checking?

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Body checking is when a person repeatedly checks their weight or body shape. This might involve frequently weighing themselves, checking their body in mirrors, or looking at different parts of their body. Body checking is common among young people with eating disorders.

Teenagers and adolescents with eating disorders usually over-evaluate their shape and weight. Instead of placing their self-value in different aspects of their identity and personality, all or almost all of their self-worth relates to their body. Behaviours like body checking may reinforce a young person’s distorted beliefs about their own bodies, increase body dissatisfaction, and cause them to place even more self-value in their shape and weight.

Body checking is a behaviour that may both contribute to and maintain eating disorders. But there is help available. With effective treatment, young people with all types of disordered eating behaviours can reclaim fulfilling lives.

This blog offers some more information about body checking, what causes it, and how it affects teenagers and young adults. It also outlines some of the different eating disorder treatment approaches that can support young people in lasting recovery.

What Are the Signs of Body Checking?

Teenagers and young adults may check their bodies in various ways. Body checking is often done secretly or hidden from others, especially if a young person experiences shame about their eating disorder.

Some types of body checking include:

  • frequent weighing
  • using clothes to see if their body shape has changed
  • looking at parts of their body directly or in mirrors
  • body measuring 

Young people who engage in body checking may check their bodies several times every day. If you notice a young person frequently body checking, it may be a sign they have an eating problem or disorder. 

You might want to have an open, non-judgemental conversation about the feelings towards food and their body. If you think they may have an eating disorder, you should seek professional help and advice as soon as possible.

What Causes Body Checking?

Young people with eating disorders, or who are at risk of developing EDs, place a lot of their self-value in their body shape and weight. They may compare their own bodies against what they perceive to be an ‘ideal’ body, a concept that is heavily influenced by the media and cultural norms. 

These ideals are usually very specific and unrealistic or impossible for most young people to obtain. Moreover, many teenagers and adolescents perceive their body shape differently from how others perceive it. This causes body dissatisfaction and low body self-esteem.

Within this framework, young people use body checking to assess and control their body shape and weight. Because a young person’s thoughts are often preoccupied with ideas about their bodies, they may body check several times each day.

Research shows that body checking is significantly higher among people with eating disorders than among those without. Body checking is also associated with disordered eating attitudes and behaviours, including an over-evaluation of shape and weight, a ‘drive for thinness’, and diet restriction.

What Are the Effects of Body Checking?

When young people who over-evaluate their shape and weight use body checking, they may experience intense emotional distress and feelings of failure if they perceive their body to be different to their ‘ideal’ body. This can cause and maintain disordered eating behaviours like diet restriction or excessive exercise that they use to try and change their body shape.

These negative feelings also reinforce teenagers’ body dissatisfaction, beliefs about their bodies, and preoccupation with shape and weight. This leads to more body checking, maintaining a cycle of thoughts and behaviours that underpin eating disorders.

Understanding Body Avoidance

Body avoidance is another behaviour rooted in an over-evaluation of shape and weight. Unlike body checking, body avoidance involves consciously avoiding looking at or checking one’s body.

Body avoidance can provide adolescents and young adults temporary relief from negative thoughts and psychological distress about their bodies. But in the long-term, it prevents young people from challenging or overcoming body dissatisfaction, overevaluation of shape and weight, and other disordered eating attitudes.

Some examples of body avoidance include:

  • covering mirrors
  • wearing over-sized clothes
  • refusing to be weighed
  • avoiding looking at their body

Is Body Checking More Common in Some Eating Disorder Types than Others?

Research on how body checking varies in different types of eating disorders is still lacking. But the evidence collected so far suggests that body checking is about as common in each type of eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

These findings support the idea of a transdiagnostic model of eating disorders, where different types of eating disorders share the same core attitudes and behaviours (although some eating disorder symptoms are different in each disorder). According to this model, each type of eating disorder can be treated using similar interventions and approaches, such as CBT-E (enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy).

Eating Disorder Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that require professional medical support. The good news is that with effective treatment, teenagers and young adults can recover from eating disorders.

There are now a variety of evidence-based approaches available to help young people overcome body checking and other disordered eating behaviours while addressing the thoughts, feelings, and memories that lie underneath.

Some of these treatment approaches include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT-E)
  • Family-based treatment
  • Integrated trauma treatment
  • Nutritional support
  • Psychoanalytic therapy

Addressing Body Checking

Body checking can play a big role in maintaining the attitudes and behaviours that underpin eating disorders, intensifying feelings of body dissatisfaction, diet restriction, and an emphasis on shape and weight. This means that interventions that reduce body checking can also reduce these symptoms, helping young people to recover from eating disorders.

Binge-eating, bulimia, and anorexia eating disorder treatment may all address body checking during therapy sessions, as part of a wider eating disorder recovery program. 

Professionals may also offer interventions addressing body checking for young people who are at risk of developing eating disorders. Treating body checking early can help to prevent disordered eating attitudes and behaviours from increasing or intensifying.

This may help protect young people from eating disorders and make the recovery process easier.

The Wave Clinic: Specialist Anorexia Eating Disorder Treatment for Young People

The Wave Clinic is a Global Centre of Excellence for the treatment of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa. We offer specialist residential and outpatient mental health care for young people with eating problems, drawing on the experience and expertise of professionals from around the world.

We recognise that eating disorders are about more than just food or bodies. Our programs focus on the underlying emotions and memories that cause and maintain disordered eating behaviours. We address experiences of trauma from the start of our treatment program, encouraging inner healing that transforms a young person’s behaviours, relationships, and quality of life.

Our centre is fully equipped to treat anorexia nervosa and other eating disorder patients at the highest risk. We offer 24-hour medical support, intensive care beds, monitoring, and emergency interventions. 

Our eating disorder programs aren’t just about overcoming disordered eating behaviours. They’re about discovering new life paths, building self-confidence, learning, and developing life skills. 

We understand that navigating future challenges requires strong foundations and resilience. We help young people build a secure sense of self and a stable future that ensures their recovery will last.

If you’d like to find out more about our programs, get in touch today.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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