Body Checking and Body Avoidance
Many eating disorders involve a preoccupation with body shape and weight. This preoccupation often results in distorted thoughts and beliefs, as well as disordered behaviors around food and eating. Some common and well-known behaviors that may indicate the presence of an eating disorder include: rigid food rules, denying hunger, hiding or stockpiling food, and eating in secret.
Body checking and body avoidance are some less-discussed behavioral signs of an eating disorder. In this article, we will cover the definition of body checking and body avoidance, as well as how those behaviors relate to an eating disorder and ways to overcome them.
It is important to note that anyone can exhibit body checking and body avoidance behavior whether they have an eating disorder or not, and not everyone with an eating disorder exhibits those behaviors. Additionally, it is not always the case that a person will only experience either body checking or body avoidance; it is not uncommon to experience both at the same time or go back and forth between the two.
What is Body Checking?
Body checking is the habit of seeking information about your body’s weight, shape, size, or appearance. This is not a casual habit, but instead a compulsive one that feels all-consuming. Similar to other behaviors, body checking exists on a continuum; it can range from casually checking yourself before going out for the day to compulsive and constant checking. Some examples of body checking include:
- Frequent weighing
- Fixating on body parts in the mirror
- Measuring body parts
- Feeling for fat, muscle, or bone
- Pinching or squeezing flesh
- Wrapping hands around the stomach, waist, thighs, arms, etc.
- Repeatedly assessing the fit of clothing to judge shape or weight
- Comparing body to past pictures of self or to other bodies
- Seeking reassurance about weight or shape (e.g., “Do I look like I’ve gained weight to you?”)
What is Body Avoidance?
Body avoidance is the opposite of body checking. Instead of constantly evaluating your body size or shape, you completely avoid seeing your weight or shape. It is not that thoughts of weight and appearance aren’t present, however; it is just a different way of coping with these intense feelings. Some examples include:
- Covering all mirrors in the house
- Averting eyes when passing reflective surfaces such as windows
- Avoiding form-fitting clothing or wearing baggy clothes to disguise shape or size
- Avoiding weather-appropriate clothing (e.g., short sleeves, shorts) or activities that may bring attention to weight or body (e.g., swimming, clothes shopping)
- Avoiding close physical contact with others
- Avoiding photographs of oneself
A common recovery goal is to eventually reach body neutrality or body acceptance, but it is essential to note that some of these body avoidance behaviors may be necessary and even helpful in certain stages of healing.
How to Overcome Body Checking and Avoidance
Addressing these body checking and avoidance behaviors head-on is the way to resolve them, but understandably, this can be very challenging. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Observe your body checking and avoidance behaviors.
A possible first step is to take one day a week, for example, and observe any body checking or avoidance behaviors. Ask yourself, in what ways are you checking or avoiding your body and weight? Which body parts? How often? How do you feel before and after doing so? Write down the answer to these questions. You have then completed the first step of simply noticing how you’re acting.
2. Pinpoint which checking and avoidance behaviors you’d like to work on.
Next, consider taking a look at the list of behaviors you’ve noticed, then identify two or three that you are going to try to challenge.
3. Set goals for how you are going to challenge this behavior.
This last step is all about action. What are you going to do now to combat these harmful behaviors? What feels like a manageable change to you? Start small and then keep upping your goals. If you need some ideas, start here:
- Try looking at yourself 25% less in the mirror, then up it to 50%, and so on.
- Challenge your avoidance behavior by letting yourself be photographed a certain number of times a month.
- Limit the use of baggy clothing to cover up your body to only a certain number of times a week.
- Assign yourself a small window of time during the day to check your body.
The purpose of reducing body checking behaviors and facing avoidance ones is to challenge your obsession with weight and shape, an obsession that is often encouraged by our appearance-focused culture.
Body checking and body avoidance behaviors can amplify the importance of perceived body flaws and may also fuel and maintain anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) in those susceptible. Everyone deserves to experience a life that is not weighed down by their appearance.
If you or a loved one seems stuck in a loop of fixation on body shape and size, reach out to Veritas Collaborative for help. Call us at 1-855-875-5812 or fill out our online form if you’d like us to contact you.