A focus on food, fat and dieting is often driven by concerns we have about our body shape and weight. This focus can trigger a Part of us who feels compelled to engage in body checking in an attempt to soothe these concerns.
What is Body Checking?
Our Body Checking Part engages in three main activities to monitor or track body shape and weight:
Body Checking includes using our reflection in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, photos or clothing to assess for change and for some of us may also include pinching our body.
Body Comparing includes comparing our weight and shape with others or comparing specific parts of our body that we may have particular concerns about.
Frequent Weighing brings particular challenges and for some of us this can intensify to weighing ourselves numerous times a day.
Why Do We Body Check?
We live in a fat phobic culture where smaller, leaner bodies are often promoted as being more worthy. This link between weight and worth is repeatedly reinforced and we internalise this message. As the majority of us have a body that does not fit this narrow body ideal, we are left feeling uncomfortable in our body and uncertain about our worth.
To ease the body discomfort and uncertainty that we feel inside, our Body Checking Part engages in the various strategies mentioned above, in an attempt to assess or measure our worth in the moment.
Although the intentions of our Body Checking Part are positive, body checking often increases our body discomfort and uncertainty around our worth and we feel worse than before. It also maintains a focus on the body reinforcing the link between weight and worth.
It can take a little practice to stop body checking completely but by working together with our Body Checking Part we can resolve these unhelpful and harmful behaviours.
Working with Our Body Checking Part
To resolve body checking, we offer both education AND support to our Body Checking Part. Let’s get started by looking more specifically at:
Relying on our Perception
For those of us who have more negative thoughts and feelings about our body, we tend to use mirrors differently to those who have more positive or neutral thoughts and feelings. When we look in the mirror, especially to body check, we tend to have a negative bias and often narrow our focus in on areas of our body that we feel more negative about.
Scrutinising ourselves and focusing in on our body in this way, magnifies the particular body part. We can often 'see' these body parts, as larger than they are. The same happens, when we catch our reflection in glass, or become aware of our clothes on our body.
I often use the example of a spider to explain the impact of magnification. When we have anxieties or fears around something (many of us do around spiders), this fear and anxiety narrows our lens, and we no longer see the spider in context. We get tunnel vision and even the smallest spider can appear big and scary due to magnification.
The same thing happens when we use a mirror to body check. Because we are already fearful and anxious about what we are going to see this leads to magnification.
Mirrors are also not as they seem. We often assume, a mirror will reflect an exact copy of our body back to us, and this is simply not the case. Mirrors are complex and the image we see reflected back at us is often much smaller in size, around 2/3rds. The image is also not to scale, we can often appear taller or shorter, wider or narrower, which is why we can look different in different mirrors.
Widening the Lens
As mirror use can be highly triggering, I support my clients to cut down on mirror use as much as possible. However, we’re not looking for this to stop completely as there is a more supportive way to use the mirror.
We can support our Body Checking Part to widen the lens. This involves looking at the whole body, rather than focusing in on specific areas. It also includes bringing the background into view, so we see our body in context. This approach reduces magnification and its negative impact. I suggest that you try this out for yourself.
Relying on our Perception
Our perception varies greatly in its accuracy and is often influenced by our mood and expectations. If we are feeling low, believe that our body is not good enough as it is and expect to experience it in a negative way, this significantly increases the likelihood of this happening. The opposite is also true. If we are feeling more upbeat and have expectations that our body is good enough as it is, we are much more likely to experience our body in a more positive way.
Selective Perception is also relevant. Our Body Checking Part can often be selective with who it compares us too. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, yet it is common for our Body Checking Part to choose others who fit our expectations, especially when we are feeling negative. For example, if we hold an expectation that a particular part of our body isn’t as small, big, strong, toned or curved as others, we are likely to ‘see’ this difference as if it’s everywhere, reinforcing the negative view of our body.
Given the way we narrow our focus and scrutinise our bodies, the inaccuracy of mirrors, our negative bias and the role our perception plays, what we ‘see’ when we body check is often inaccurate and misleading. There is also no accurate way to know if our body has changed simply by looking. Whether it was an hour ago, yesterday, last week or last year, our memory is unable to store an exact copy of what we believe we saw, and overlay this on to the ‘new’ image.
Our Body Checking Part is often relying on selective perception which has strong negative bias and reinforces the negative view we have of our body and the uncertainty around our worth.
The numbers on the scale can so often impact our thoughts, feelings and behaviours around food, our shape and weight concerns and our worth. Whatever the reading on the scale, there are usually consequences as we cannot help but make meaning (often negative) from the number.
Our weight naturally fluctuates, hour to hour, day to day. For example, having a drink of water or going to toilet will change the reading shown on the scale. We are also naturally lighter in the morning and heavier in the evening. Although these changes have no impact on the external appearance of our body, our Body Checking Part can respond as if our external appearance has changed.
Given we have no control over these natural fluctuations we are at the mercy of our selective perception and negative bias. Over time, we can become so concerned about these changes, that our Body Checking Part feels compelled to check the number on the scales numerous times day, each reading dictating how we think, feel and behave.
I often recommend to my clients that they stay away from the scales, unless there is a clear medical reason for regular weigh ins e.g. because we are underweight and are engaging in structured plan to gain weight. If another health professional needs to weigh us, then this can be done 'blind' (they don’t have to tell us what the number is). I align with the research, that shows that knowing our weight is not only unnecessary, it can delay, prolong and sabotage progress towards a healthy relationship with food and our body.
Although we can experience a little discomfort initially with ‘not knowing’, we often begin to feel some relief at being free from the number on the scale. If you find you are unable to tolerate ‘not knowing’, cutting down to weighing yourself once a week can be a supportive place to start. Over time this can be extended to fortnightly and then monthly.
Moving focus away from weight, gives us the space to learn how to focus inside of ourselves (rather than externally) helping us to learn how to attune to our own unique needs.
Connecting with our Body Checking Part
Whenever the urge to body check arises, we can begin by noticing where in our body the urge shows up. As we bring our attention to this urge we can get curious and ask our Body Checking Part the following questions:
What are you trying to find out?
Can you find out this way?
How are you trying to help me?
Does it make sense to do this so often?
What do your fear will happen if you don’t body check?
We can also…
Let our Body Checking Part know that we are here too.
Offer acknowledgment and recognition for how hard it has been working on our behalf.
Let it know how grateful we are for its attempts to reduce our body discomfort and the uncertainty of our worth.
Let it know that our Wise Adult Self is here now and offer reassurance.
Let it know that we’ve got this and that together we can begin to reduce the body checking one day at a time.
If you’d like to get started on healing your relationship with your body you can access my FREE 10 page guide Working with Body Image through a Parts Lens here.
If you are a professional interested in my 6 week training course you can find out more here.
Celia Clark is a Food and Body Image Specialist, Therapist and Course Creator who uses a Parts Work approach to help smart, sensitive women find true nourishment from within. She loves to share what she knows, so that women around the world no longer have to battle with food, their bodies and themselves.
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