Body Dysmorphia and Body Checking: Self-Care Tips to Overcome Them

Updated: Nov 18


It’s not uncommon for people to have something they don’t like about themselves. Whether they don’t like the shape of their nose, the type of hair they have, or the size of their feet—it’s normal for us to perceive these “flaws” about ourselves.


However, for those that experience body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), these thoughts about themselves become so invasive and persistent that it affects their daily lives. More often than not, the fixation on one or more particular “flaws” that someone with BDD sees in themselves, other people do not see.



What is Body Checking?

The difference between someone just not loving one part of their appearance and BDD is essentially how much time and energy is spent worrying about or trying to correct the “flaw.”


Repetitive behaviors are commonly seen in people with BDD, one of which is body checking. Body checking involves being preoccupied with one's size, shape and weight, and is typically done repetitively in various ways. The Emily Program’s website provides a list of what some of these behaviors include:

  • Checking weight

  • Fixating on specific areas of the body in the mirror

  • Measuring body parts

  • Feeling the body for fat or muscles

  • Pinching or squeezing “problem” areas

  • Wrapping hands around certain areas of the body, such as the waist and arms

  • Frequently examining how clothing fits to assess body shape

  • Comparing one’s body to others or photos of themselves

  • Seeking out reassurance from others about one’s size



According to the International OCD Foundation, “Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects more than 5 million people to nearly 10 million people in the United States alone. BDD is about as common as, or perhaps more common than, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.”


With this issue being so widespread, it’s important to educate ourselves and raise awareness to not only help people with BDD, but to let them know they’re not alone.


What can cause body dysmorphia?

There is not one single factor that stands alone in the cause of BDD. “The cause of body dysmorphic disorder is thought to be a combination of environmental, psychological, and biological factors. Bullying or teasing may create or foster the feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear of ridicule” (The Johns Hopkins Hospital).


Bullying is a very real and dangerous factor that can initiate the beginning of BDD in people, as well as other mental illnesses, for that matter. Michelle Threadgould bravely shares an experience she had as a young person that caused the beginning of her battle with BDD and eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia.


“Hey, you with the blue hair.” When I turned around, I saw that it was Mike. He’d been suspended several times and got into regular fights. “What?” I said. “Come here.” A group of middle schoolers began to crowd around us. I had just gone through a growth spurt and was one of the tallest girls in my school. I had hips and breasts and weight to me. I knew I didn’t look “normal,” but I also didn’t want to show Mike I was afraid. So I walked slowly up to him.
Before I knew what was happening, Mike grabbed my wrist and said, “Who wants to see her arms jiggle?” Cue the nervous laughter of dozens of tweens ready for a show. He slapped my underarm and my skin betrayed me. I pulled away, but this time he grabbed me, both hands on my wrist, spun me around and repeated, “Who wants to see her arms jiggle?” He started shaking me as he spun me out. I pushed him away and walked as fast as I could past the softball fields, towards home. I walked the two miles alone, replaying “Who wants to see her arms jiggle?” like a damaged video tape stuck on the same part.


At home, I took a look in the mirror. My arms were growing. I felt like I was in a funhouse, and my arms kept expanding. They were so big and so fat, and disgusting. I felt disgusting. I promised myself I would never look like this again. That year, I ran five miles a day, lost thirty pounds, and fainted at school regularly. I was really skinny, but I never felt that way.
Not yet a teenager, I experienced what would be my first of three bouts of anorexia bulimia, and began my lifelong recovery from body dysmorphic disorder… Seven years after my first psychology session, I still don’t have a full-length mirror in my bedroom; although I still live with BDD, when I do catch myself in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I remind myself: what you see is not there. I finally believe that.

 



Self-care tips you can try to overcome body dysmorphia

Full treatment of BDD will depend on the individual, the extent to which they suffer from BDD, and other mental health issues that may be present. If you think you are struggling with BDD, it is always best to seek help from a medical professional. Here are a few self-care strategies you can try on your own to cope with BDD:

  • Use self-help materials to develop your coping methods. Mind.org provides some examples of self-help resources you can try on your own! Some examples of these resources are books and computer programs.


  • Become more aware of your body checking habits. Consider writing down the ways you check your body on a daily basis. What parts of your body are you giving the most attention to? How do you feel before, during, and after you check yourself? How would you feel if you were unable to check your body? This also gives you a good starting point to see where you are at in your journey.

  • If you do make a list, choose one or two behaviors you want to work on first. Then set yourself small goals based on your choice. For example, maybe you want to cut the number of times you check yourself in the mirror in half.


  • Practice doing things that can boost your self-esteem like writing a list of things you like about yourself (not just physical things), asking others what they like about you, and acknowledging your successes along the way.


  • Put self-care first. The more structure you have in your routine, the more you set yourself up for success! Getting enough sleep, eating and snacking regularly, going outside, and staying active will help you feel good.


After some time and practice, challenging body-checking behaviors can help you become less preoccupied with the areas of yourself that you perceive to be flawed. Always remember to give yourself grace and show yourself compassion. The fact that you made it to the end of this blog post means you deserve some credit! Be proud ❤


 

This post is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For additional help, call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264, find an online or in-person OCD support group at the International OCD Foundation, or an Anxiety and Depression Association of America support group.


 

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Sources:

Mind.org. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).” Information and Support, 2022,

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/body-

dysmorphic-disorder-bdd/self-care/

Phillips, Katharine. “Prevalence of BDD.” International OCD Foundation,

https://bdd.iocdf.org/professionals/prevalence/

The Emily Program. “Body Checking and Body Avoidance.” Blog,

https://www.emilyprogram.com/blog/body-checking-and-body-avoidance/

The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” Health,

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/body-dysmorphic-disorder

Threadgould, Michelle. “A Day With: Body Dysmorphia.” Headspace,

https://www.headspace.com/articles/body-dysmorphia

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