Body checking involves a person repeatedly seeking information about their body shape or size using scales, mirrors, or other methods. This behavior may become unhealthy and lead to eating disorders.

This article explains body checking and how to know when it has become compulsive. The article also discusses the links among body checking, eating disorders, and anxiety, as well as what the evidence says about how to reduce body checking. It also answers some common questions about body checking.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Body checking is a behavior that people use to gain information on their body shape, size, or weight.

People sometimes check their appearance in the mirror or occasionally weigh themselves. However, if someone obsessively checks their body, the behavior may be unhealthy.

Body checking may range from mild to debilitating, severely affecting a person’s mental health. In addition, experts recognize an association between body checking and eating disorders or other mental health conditions.

Some research indicates there may be a link between social media use and body dissatisfaction and body image disorders. Social media trends may encourage people to engage in body checking, reinforcing unattainable beauty and appearance ideals.

To help support your mental well-being and that of your loved ones, visit our dedicated mental health hub for more research-backed information and resources.

The authors of a 2019 review note an association among body checking, body dissatisfaction, and body image disturbances. Body checking manifests as excessive concern with shape, weight, and body size. Additionally, people may check and have concerns about their skin, hair, or facial features. The behavioral symptoms include:

  • compulsively weighing oneself
  • feeling for bones
  • pinching flesh
  • checking in the mirror
  • measuring the size of several body parts
  • asking others for opinions on appearance

The authors explain that although body checking affects both males and females, people who identify as women may be more vulnerable to body image-related influences.

They also state that females most commonly rate their thighs, hips, and stomach as negative body parts, while males focus negatively on their stomach, waist, and hips.

Evidence suggests a strong relationship between body checking and eating disorders.

In a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers found that people with eating disorders experienced significantly more body checking and body avoidance than people who did not have eating disorders.

Furthermore, a small 2013 study suggests that people with anorexia nervosa who engage in body checking may also engage in dietary restriction on the same day or a subsequent day.

Internalized weight bias (IWB) has an association with body image disturbances and the development of eating disorders. Estimates suggest that 20% of adults in the United States report high levels of IWB. Body image avoidance and body checking may be related to IWB.

Another review indicates that body checking and eating disorders in males and females tend to differ. Females tend to focus on body fat, while males focus on muscularity.

Additionally, body checking may have a link to anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. A 2022 study suggests that body checking may serve to reduce the high stress that people experience in conditions such as anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

A person may also perform the checking behavior to avoid outcomes or events that they fear or to reduce short-term distress. However, the study authors note that body checking may worsen long-term negative feelings and body image.

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects that they or a loved one has an eating disorder can contact the National Eating Disorder Association for advice and support via:

  • phone or text at 800-931-2237
  • online chat, by going to this link

These services are only open during specific hours. Someone in crisis can text “NEDA” to 741741 at any time to get support from a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.

Alternatively, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) run a Disaster Distress Helpline that people can contact on 800-985-5990 for 24-7 support.

Many other resources are available, including:

Research suggests that someone who has body dissatisfaction may reduce body checking by:

  • self-monitoring to increase awareness of triggers
  • engaging in stimulus control training to reduce engagement in body-checking behaviors
  • expressing gratitude for their body
  • restructuring distortions in the way they think about their body

Additionally, research suggests that enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy may be effective for body checking in patients with eating disorders.

A mental health therapist or another health professional may be able to help a person put some of these strategies into practice.

Social media may contribute to a person feeling inadequate or negative about their body after comparing themself to others. Therefore, structuring social media to avoid accounts or feeds that trigger these feelings may be beneficial.

However, it is important not to completely avoid looking in the mirror or other body checking methods, as this could lead to body avoidance. Body avoidance involves avoiding situations that cause someone to interact with their shape and weight. Research suggests that this behavior may also lead to eating disorders.

A person who is concerned about their body checking behavior should speak with a healthcare professional for further guidance and support.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about body checking.

Is body checking unhealthy?

Occasionally checking the body using mirrors or a scale is a typical part of life. However, if someone is body checking obsessively or has consistent negative thoughts about their appearance, they may need to seek professional help.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has an online eating disorders screening tool that someone may wish to use.

How can someone stop body checking?

A person needs to become aware of their behaviors and triggers. Seeking professional help to address this may be useful. Additionally, a person may want to evaluate whether their social media habits contribute to negative thoughts about their body or encourage body checking behavior.

People should speak with a healthcare professional for further advice if they are concerned about their body checking behavior.

What causes body checking?

Experts suggest that body checking may have a link to anxiety disorders and be a result of negative attitudes and thoughts toward a person’s shape and appearance. In addition, pressure from social media to reach unattainable appearance goals may contribute.

Body checking is when a person seeks information about their shape, weight, or appearance. If someone does this repeatedly or obsessively, the behavior may become unhealthy.

The behavior has a connection to anxiety and eating disorders, and health professionals may treat someone using therapy and behavioral techniques. Those who think their body checking is unhealthy or have negative thoughts about their weight or appearance can talk with a healthcare professional for further guidance and support.