Body Checking
Monday, August 16, 2010

By: Debra Cooper

Women and girls struggling with anorexia and bulimia often exhibit telltale signs of these disorders.  Anorexia is sometimes easy to recognize because the impact of the disorder is so visible. Due to severe weight loss, those with anorexia may look ill. Yet some with anorexia conceal their extreme thinness under layers of clothing and therefore remain less noticeable to other people. Bulimia is even more difficult to detect, unless you are aware of the warning signs, such as scrapes or bruising on the fingers or swollen glands in the neck. It is therefore worth knowing about a more subtle sign of both eating disorders—body and weight checking. 

The truth is, everyone checks their body on occasion; perhaps it’s taking note of how clothes fit or grabbing a quick peek at the reflection in a store window.  However, those with eating disorders repeatedly check their bodies in ways that are unusual.  In fact, for these people, body and weight checking becomes second nature.  Often individuals with eating disorders don’t even realize they’re doing it. Typically, they check to feel for fatness, bones and any physical change in their body.  And the problem is, this checking rarely results in anything positive.  These are not people who glance in the mirror and think, “I really look good today.”  On the contrary, due to low self-esteem and negative body issues, they will undoubtedly say to themselves, “I am fat,” or “This sweater makes me look huge.” 

Excessive weighing is also typical for those with eating disorders.  They will turn to the scale at frequent intervals, sometimes multiple times a day.  As a result, they become obsessed with the daily weight fluctuations that are a normal part of the body and would otherwise pass unnoticed.  The numbers on the scale then determine their subsequent mood and eating patterns.

Body checking plays a major role in maintaining dissatisfaction with shape and appearance.  Other common behaviors associated with body checking include:  looking in mirrors, or any reflective surfaces; measuring body parts with tape measures or hands; pinching or touching body parts; assessing the tightness of particular items of clothing or accessories; looking down at one’s body and touching collar bones to check for boniness.

The problem with this excessive checking is that it perpetuates the eating disorder cycle and increases self-loathing and low self-esteem.  The person looks in the mirror and perceives fatness—whether or not there is any objective weight issue—then she restricts or binges, then she checks again, which has the same result.

Body checking is prominent in females, but males also engage in this behavior. Often, this is done by measuring how a belt, or even a wristwatch, fits at any given time. 

Such behaviors can be addressed by posing the following questions: 

·  What are you trying to find out when you check your body?
·  Why are you checking yourself so frequently?
·  Do you ever look at parts of your body that you like?
·  Do you feel better after checking your body?
·  Do you think your body checking has any adverse effects?
·  Do you trust the mirror?
·  How do we know what we look like?
·  Do you believe what we see?

These questions can serve as starting points for useful discussion. For those with eating disorders and others at risk, there’s a need to assess the time spent on body and weight checking behaviors as well as the consequences of such behaviors to determine if there needs to be change in this area. 

If you, or someone you know, is involved in excessive body or weight checking, professional help is probably indicated.  It is believed that if the thought processes behind body and weight checking can be uncovered and corrected, the eating disorder behaviors will be substantially reduced.

Author : Remuda Ranch Anorexia and Bulimia Treatment
By: Debra Cooper
Remuda Ranch Programs for Eating and Anxiety Disorders