I would never claim that I’m cured of my eating disorder, as it isn’t something that will ever truly leave me. My eating disorder will always be a voice in my head, a doubt before I bite, a discomfort in my body. But I’ve reached a point where I’m learning to love my body as it is, rather than see it as what it could be. I no longer count the calories in my head or see food as a treat or punishment. I remind myself that I deserve to eat, and that food is what fuels my passions and life.
That’s why I was so surprised to realise that I’ve been engaging in an eating disorder behaviour every single day for as long as I can remember.
One Tiktok about body checking made me realise that I’m not as far along as I once thought.
At its core, body checking is the habit of examining your body’s weight, size, shape or appearance. Nowadays, that doesn’t seem like the strangest thing. We live in the era of selfies, so we’re often checking how we look in the mirror or examining our makeup in our phone screen.
But body checking is a common habit with those suffering from eating disorders, who will engage in this behaviour repeatedly and allow it to impact their day.
For me, this occurs every day before I shower. Like clockwork, I’ll get undressed and then examine how my body looks in the mirror. Not out of vanity, but simply to take stock of how I look. Often it will make me feel slightly sad, or disappointed. I’ll note areas that I’d change if I could. I do this every single day, no matter how rushed I am, or how early it is.
Somehow this never struck me as strange. I assumed everyone does this. I felt like I had progressed with my eating disorder as I ate normal meals and saw exercise as a treat for my wellbeing rather than a way to burn calories.
But I can’t stop body checking. It’s a habit ingrained so deeply that I wouldn’t know how to start. After discovering that body checking was an eating disorder behaviour, I tried to skip it the next time I went to shower. I felt unnerved, and my eyes kept flicking to the mirror of their volition. I found myself patting down my body once dressed, as if confirming what was there.
As I mentioned, body checking can be a normal behaviour for some, while an issue for others. There’s a difference between checking your outfit in a mirror and assessing your shape. When do we know that body checking is a problem?
That last point really hits home for me. I had never realised that my body checking had become a control for me. I thought I was welcoming my larger body as I returned to normal eating, but really I was just pushing the limit slightly further. I was allowing this size, but nothing bigger. I was still aware of my body and viewing it as my currency to the world.
The first step is recognising it for what it is. I always thought it was a harmless look in the mirror, and now I recognise it for the symptom that it is. So be honest with yourself and address the fact that you’re body checking, you’re not just taking in your reflection.
Consider what leads you to body check. Keep track of the thoughts or behaviours right before it. For me, it’s a habit that happens each morning. But for someone else, it might follow time spent on Instagram, which could suggest taking a step back from social media. Some body check after meals, which shows disordered eating at play and a struggle to accept the role of food.
You could try alternative coping methods for body checking, like a behaviour you replace it with. I plan to try playing music and getting right into the shower. I also want to see if getting undressed in my room rather than the bathroom helps, as it reduces the time I could be body checking.
And if need be, always seek help. You deserve to feel good in your body, and you can. You can find more information about eating disorders on BEAT, and it can help to open up to someone in your life. You might want to consider speaking to a professional, which was instrumental in recovering from my eating disorder. I also recommend checking out ‘You Are Not a Before Picture’ by Alex Light*.
Many eating disorder habits can seem harmless, just like body checking or leaving something on your plate at all times. But they’re also symptoms of a larger issue, a reminder that we still have further to heal. The danger comes in how normal these symptoms seem, barely like symptoms at all. We’ve come to a point where we’ve normalised disordered eating and body dysmorphia to an extent that they no longer seem like exceptions, but the norm.
But you have more to offer the world than your body, and you are not the issue here.
*This is an affiliate link.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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