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Few people get through a day without looking in a mirror, assessing the fit of their clothes or taking stock of their overall appearance.

Body checking, in the era of continually updated selfies, may be more common now than ever. But how do you know if it’s healthy — or if it’s become a compulsive behavior?

This article may have some of the answers.

Body checking is the habit of seeking information about your body’s weight, shape, size, or appearance.

Like many behaviors, body checking exists on a continuum. It can range from completely avoiding looking at your body, to casual checking as part of your preparations for the day, to compulsive and anxious check-and-check-again behavior loops.

Everyone checks the mirror in the office restroom before a meeting or in their bathroom before a Zoom hangout to be sure there’s no spinach in their teeth. Lots of people step on a scale every few days to make sure they’re in a healthy weight range for them. And plenty of people take measurements or before-and-after selfies to track their fitness journeys.

According to research, though, this can lead to negative feelings when done too often. Compulsively pinching loose skin, measuring body parts, weighing yourself multiple times daily, and other monitoring behaviors can all end up worsening your mood.

Body checking can become problematic if it:

  • interferes with your ability to think clearly or concentrate
  • takes up too much of your time
  • makes you stop or strictly limit your eating
  • creates problems in your work, academic, or personal life
  • causes you to isolate yourself from others
  • becomes a way to control fear and anxiety about your body

Body checking is common among people of all genders. But a 2019 study found that for people who identify as women, body checking is likely to cause body dissatisfaction, no matter what part of the body is being monitored.

And a 2018 meta-analysis suggests that compulsive body checking can leave you feeling more dissatisfied with your body and may worsen your mood.

It may also lead to an inaccurate or unrealistic view of your weight and body shape.

In a 2004 study, researchers found that body checking is closely associated with disordered eating. For people with disordered eating, body checking can become a way to try to reduce anxieties about:

  • weight gain
  • food
  • eating
  • calories

Thoughts about food or weight may trigger a threat response. As a result, checking the body repeatedly may become an attempt to cope with the physical and emotional symptoms that go along with confronting a perceived threat.

Experts say that too much body checking, or checking in a ritualized way, can worsen symptoms for someone with disordered eating. When the threat response prompts body checking, it can:

  • intensify feelings that your body is imperfect
  • increase the fear of losing control
  • lead to continued limitations on what you eat

According to a 2013 study, body checking often leads to eating restrictions on the day that the body checking was done — and the next day, too.

If food and eating are disordered for you, one therapy to consider is exposure and response therapy.

This method, which is undertaken with a licensed and trained therapist, is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy in which you experience small, measured exposure to things you’ve identified as causing you anxiety.

Your therapist works with you to analyze your response in the moment and develop helpful management strategies.

Excessive body checking is also associated with some other anxiety-related health conditions.

A 2019 study involving 386 participants showed that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, illness anxiety, panic disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder all experienced anxiety they felt could be reduced if they engaged in checking behaviors.

Researchers asked the participants in the above-mentioned study to recall a checking episode. They were asked to rate their negative feelings before, during, and after the body checking behaviors.

The participants rated their negative feelings higher before checking and lower afterward. Researchers think that completing the check brought a temporary feeling of certainty that eased the worries of these participants.

However, this outcome — which relied on participants’ memories of what happened before and after checking episodes — conflicts with evidence from other studies.

Other research using real-time data, such as a 2013 study and a 2015 study, found that body checking increased negative feelings instead of reducing them.

If body checking is adding to your worries or interfering with your day-to-day life, you may want to consider some of these strategies to reduce your dependence on this coping mechanism:

  • Take a break from social media. In a 2018 study, researchers found that posting selfies and other social media behaviors can worsen anxieties about body size and shape.
  • Notice what makes you want to body check. Figuring out what situations provoke the impulse can help you avoid those triggers or find ways to reduce their impact.
  • Keep track of the checking behaviors for a day. Noting how many times you body check in a 24-hour period may help you understand how much time you spend on the behavior. It can also help you set a target for reducing the number of times you’re doing it.
  • Try something new to manage anxiety. Once you know when you’re vulnerable to body checking, you can prepare some alternative coping strategies to try instead.
  • Consider talking with a therapist. If body checking is increasing your anxiety, lowering your self-esteem, or interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to talk with a professional therapist — whether it’s online, in person, or in a group setting. A trained therapist may be able to help you understand your motivations and develop healthier strategies for managing your worries.

Body checking involves examining, measuring, or monitoring something related to your body — usually your weight, size, or shape.

A certain amount of body checking is completely normal. But it can become problematic if the behavior is compulsive and interferes with your ability to go about your daily life.

You may be at a higher risk of compulsive body checking if you have disordered eating, an anxiety disorder, or an inaccurate view of your body or health. Social media exposure can also make the problem worse.

If body checking leaves you feeling anxious or depressed, or disrupts your work or social life, there are strategies that can help, including working with a trained therapist.