3 body checking behaviours that impact self-worth

If you have an eating disorder, your self-worth has become extrinsically linked to your body image. This essentially means that to feel good enough or worthy, you need your body to be looking a certain way. This might be down to a specific number on the scales or focusing on a body part meeting a specific standard. This results in you thinking about your body aesthetics pretty frequently and these thoughts may take up an unhealthily disproportionate level of head space.

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When body goals are central to self-worth, it is incredibly hard to win at feeling good enough. Instagram or TikTok might tell you otherwise, with their filters and favourable photo angles displayed on smiling faces. Remember that influencers can feel high anxiety about living up to their curated images when real life is far from perfection. Nevertheless, the seduction of chasing body image accomplishment to feel better can attract us powerfully like a magnet.

If your body is on your mind, you will likely be preoccupied with micro changes in it. You may give your body scrutiny and dissection with constant reassurance behaviours or checking. Conversely, you might even avoid looking at your body altogether and hide under baggy clothes. Neither approach is particularly beneficial for your mental well-being. Here, I will focus on the former issue when body checking has become unhealthy.


Three checking behaviours that are detrimental to body image

1. Analysing your body in the mirror multiple times per day.

You might be looking in the mirror or other reflective surfaces and focusing intense attention on one body part. In doing this, you are inadvertently gathering evidence to prove that your body is unworthy, and you’re not gaining an accurate perspective of your body with this focused analysis. Research indicates that if you struggle with an eating disorder, you are probably not viewing your body as a whole or even noticing your background environment. You are zooming in on detail in an unhelpful way.

To improve body image, work to reduce body checking in the mirror. You might need to cut this down very gradually. Also, try to view your body as a whole, rather than dissecting specific parts. Begin to notice things that you can accept about your body. It might be beneficial to focus on function over aesthetics.

2. Comparing photographs of yourself at different points in time

You may be caught in a destructive habit of scrutinising old photos of yourself and making micro comparisons with the body you have today. This is another behaviour that tends to fuel body dissatisfaction and create a feeling of inadequacy.

To improve body image, don’t do this. Begin to focus on other life areas to evaluate your worth. Are you improving at a particular skill or are you working on something in your relationships? Begin to take the focus away from your body and realise that this comparison analysis does not fuel worthiness.

3. Asking for constant body reassurance

Do you find yourself asking others for their opinion about your body? A reassuring compliment might ease anxiety in the moment, but this doesn’t tend to stick permanently, and you will need a constant stream of reassurance to feel okay. It’s like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom as external validation doesn’t tend to stick around. 

Work towards going inwards and taking baby steps towards self-evaluation. Begin on the bottom rung of the ladder with possible acceptance of body movement or strength. You don’t have to be body positive to feel significantly better in your well-being and self-worth. Working to be body neutral, simply with less focus on the body can be highly beneficial.

If you are feeling trapped in negative cycles around body image or eating, do get in touch for some support around this. Counselling can provide a safe space to explore the roots of poor body image and to learn skills and strategies for change.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
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Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @theeatingdisordertherapist_; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist Podcast

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