First of all, I just want to let you know that we had our first Zoom Online Inwardly Renewed Support Group this past Sunday and it was AWESOME!!! Ladies (men are welcome too!) from all around the world joined and we spent time connecting, encouraging, empathizing and laughing! We also learned a coping skill and set some goals for the next couple weeks!
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. One of the things that kept me going throughout my recovery was the idea that I had to push through and recover so I can support others in recovery and start my own groups! Also, one of the things that got me to the point to be able to do that was my support group!! God is GOOD! AMEN?!
If you didn’t make it to this support group and want to check it out, our next one is Sunday, February 21st at 4pm EST. Simply send me a message on here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, on to the juicy stuff.......
I’m going to be very vulnerable in todays post. If you know me in person and read this, I do not want you to know this! However, this is something pretty much everyone with an eating disorder or in recovery does so alas I am going to talk about my struggle with it. I'm going to talk about BODY CHECKING.
First of all, you may be wondering what exactly is body checking? Maybe you do it and don’t even know it! Body checking is pretty much what it sounds like...checking out your body! Your first thought might be to picture a man flexing his muscles in front of the mirror or maybe you are thinking, “Sara, everyone checks out there body...how is this a problem?” Sure, everyone looks in the mirror and makes sure they look ok, or check in to see if they are making progress with whatever their goal might be, but it’s when body checking becomes compulsive that it can cause a lot of problems.
Body checking is highly prevalent in people with eating disorders. It becomes something that we almost HAVE to do in order to feel ok. It is not abnormal for a person with an ED to body check hundreds of times a day. For me, it’s something that is automatic and I don’t even realizing I’m doing it. It takes a true conscious effort for me to stop or keep myself from body checking.
Some ways that people with ED’s body check are....
constantly looking in the mirror and assessing every part of the body
pinching or grabbing parts of the body
measuring parts up of the body (wrapping fingers around wrists, to measure or literally measuring with a measuring tape)
trying to feel bones
looking into reflective surfaces to assess size
constantly weighing oneself
taking photos from all angles to check size and how one looks
comparing the shape or size of ones body to others
asking others opinion about ones body shape, size or weight
sitting down and feeling legs and measuring the width of the body compared to the chair
As I said before, it isn’t uncommon for a person in recovery or struggling with their eating disorder to do the above things HUNDREDS of times a day. I know when I was in the most severe time of my anorexia I would weigh myself over 20 times a day. Sometimes it would be just getting on and off the scale five times in a row to see if it would go down. If I saw a scale in someones home I would HAVE to get on it. I would grab my wrists to make SURE they were small enough. I would bend over and make sure I could see all my ribs on my back or feel my hip bones at all times. I could not walk past a car without body checking my reflection in the windows. I took selfies or timed photos of myself all the time, comparing them to previous photos. I knew my measurements always and if you ask my sisters on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being it never happens and ten being it never stops) how annoying I was asking about my weight or comparing my body to others they would say a 20! Body checking was (and still is to a certain degree) a HUGE problem for me.
Not only was/is it time consuming, it also leads to anxiety/panic attacks, depression and can really wreak havoc on your life. If I didn’t get the result I desired when I body checked I would restrict food, exercise excessively, cancel plans and not go out, have an anxiety attack or even get an argument with my hubs because I wouldn’t know what to do with the emotion of panic or didn't like his answer if I used him to body check. I would punish myself if the result of the body checking was negative. Let me tell you a secret.....it is/was ALWAYS negative. I truly can’t remember a time when body checking led me to feel positive about my body in any way. The only times I have truly felt positive about my body is when I have NOT body checked and just moved forward with my day, accepted my body and lived life.
Most of us with eating disorders struggle with BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). We don’t see ourselves correctly at all, most of the time regarding ourselves as much larger then we actually are. We then believe that body checking will help us to feel safe and in control. We falsely believe it will reassure us that we are OK. It doesn’t. It leads to further dissatisfaction and increased anxiety. How do I know this?? I live it!! Because of my BDD I don't think I have ever body checked and not seen myself as HUGE, even when I was far from huge. I can only see myself as I am months later when I don't have an emotion connected to it. So why do I do it?!?! It's like this anxiety driven ED behavior that seems to serve a purpose but just makes it worse.
Just the other day I was hanging out with my sister. We had a whole Harry Potter weekend and it was so much fun! We played this game called “We’re Not Really Strangers.” I highly recommend this game (I’m not even sure if it’s really a game as much as a get deep with others sort of thing) for close friends! One of the questions my sister had to answer was to let me know three things that she thinks I should do over the next month to be happier. Her first answer was......drum roll please....don’t look in mirrors! HAHA She knows me all too well. I laugh about it but in all honestly it was pretty good advice. I struggle really bad with body checking and although the goal is not to totally avoid ever looking at myself, I do need to get a handle on it because it effects me a lot.
When I was in treatment my therapist worked on this with me a decent amount. I even started to do the Body Image Workbook (it’s on the references page of my blog if you want to check it out yourself). I couldn’t get through it because I was in the extreme gaining part of my recovery and nothing was able to get me to relax about that. Maybe now that I’m further along it’s time to reopen the book and give it a second try?
This isn’t going to be one of those blogs where at the end I tell you I have overcome this issue and here is how I’ve done it! Sadly, I struggle with it to this day. It’s one of the last parts of my eating disorder that just keeps hanging on! I’ve overcome SO much of my eating disorder, but for some reason this just isn’t kicking the can like I want it to. As I said above, half the time I don’t even know I’m doing it. I have made progress though, and progress is better then no progress right? I do not own a scale and most of the time refuse being weighed at a doctor unless it is necessary. So the weighing myself 20 times a day is no longer a thing! (You can clap for me!!! It’s worth celebrating!!) While I don’t weigh myself compulsively and it’s currently not possible for me to feel my bones now that I’m no longer skeletal, I do still struggle with mirror checking, selfie checking, asking others about my weight and comparison to others. If I'm at World Market walking past the mirror section I have to FORCE myself not to body check. For me it isn't as simple as just seeing myself. It becomes a whole judgement thing that leads to anxiety. I just keep looking straight.....when I remember!
I guess the first step to overcoming something is at least to see and admit there is a problem. So here I am, admitting I have this problem! I recently read a few things that have inspired me and given me advice on how to get my body checking in CHECK. So here is my plan...
Become more aware of my body checking. Where, when, how and why am I doing it? Keep track of the checking to see how bad it is and where I need to go.
Challenge my body checking. What am I looking for? Is this helpful? Has anything changed since the last time I body checked? What is making me want to body check.
Note feelings, emotions and thoughts I have before, during and after body checking.
Limit my time on social media. I mean.....we all know why.....
Try something new to manage the anxiety and create a more helpful behavior or skill to replace the checking. For example, count to ten, take ten deep breathes when I feel the urge, compliment myself,
PRAY - I know many think prayer doesn’t do much but I’m a believer that it does. The more time I spend with God and pursing His desire for my life as well as reminding myself how loved and beautiful I am to Him, the less time I have to body check and the less urge I have to body check.
Alright. There it is. Hold me accountable ya’ll. I promise to report back and let you know how I’m doing. If you struggle with this and have any tips feel free to pass them along! As always, if you are recovering from an eating disorder...KEEP GOING!!!! Also, join the support group if you want! It’s truly wonderful!
- Sara -