Body Checking and Mirrors as an ED Behavior

Contributor: Camille Williams, LCPC – Clinical Therapist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

In an eating disorder (ED), the behaviors that may first come to mind include bingeing, purging, restricting, exercise, diet pills, laxatives, chewing and spitting, etc. However, body checking behaviors are just as dangerous and need significant attention in recovery.

Standard body checking behaviors include the use of the scales, measuring tape, hand measurements, or the mirror. These can be considered “pre-behaviors” because many of these behaviors can lead someone to the overt actions first listed. Addressing “pre-behaviors” is an opportunity to interfere in the cycle of addiction and prevent or manage behaviors earlier in the process.

The typical recommendation for someone with an eating disorder who steps on the scale excessively is to smash and/or throw away the scale. The number is not significant and only promotes ED behaviors.

A person’s treatment team can monitor weight and address any concerns they have without the person in recovery needing to know or concern themselves with that unimportant number. Mirrors are not that simple, though, because mirrors can be found all over the place and may not be easily removed.

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Mirrors are similar to food, in that someone in recovery needs to create a new relationship with them. Abstinence is encouraged for scales and mirrors and requires some more thoughtful changes around new ways of engaging.

Overall avoidance is not recommended in the recovery process. However, avoidance of mirrors in early recovery can actually be beneficial. Taking time away from mirrors and working to avoid them may help in determining a new way to face the mirror.

Maybe start by making a commitment to not look in the mirror and to walk away as soon as awareness of body checking behaviors occurs. This may help reveal how powerful the mirror is.

  • Does it have similar powers to the scale?
  • Does the reflection determine food behaviors for the day, overall mood, engagement in social life, and other things?
  • Has the mirror become another tool for self-criticizing and bullying?

The next step is to determine the intention and appropriate use of mirrors. Mirrors can effectively be used to check for food in teeth or on the face, to put on or take off make-up, or to style hair.

Mirror in Entryway used for Body CheckingInterestingly, sometimes people stand in front of the mirror when it isn’t needed. For example, a person does not need to look in the mirror while brushing their teeth even though many people do.

This could be an opportunity to look at something else rather than the mirror. Maybe looking at a recovery-focused poem, a pretty piece of artwork, or listening to a song while dancing in the bedroom would result in feeling better emotionally and improving a sense of self-worth. It is essential to be intentional about time that is spent with the mirror.

There are also lots of creative ways to start having a different relationship with the mirror. It can help to cover it with quotes or pictures that align with recovery. It may be helpful to completely cover up the mirror with pretty fabric or get rid of extra mirrors around the house.

It is essential to think about what is meaningful and productive because each person’s struggles and needs are different. ED recovery is challenging, and addressing body checking as “pre-behaviors” can decrease the intensity of urges and struggles with ED behaviors.

About Our Sponsor:

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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and various mental health concerns. Our residential treatment and partial hospitalization programming (PHP) help our residents achieve lifelong recovery by combining clinically excellent treatment with spiritual and emotional growth. We provide care that is holistic, personalized, and nurturing, empowering women to be active participants in their wellness journeys.

Camille WilliamsAbout the Author: 

Camille Williams, MA, NCC, LCPC is the Eating Disorder Program Coordinator. She supports the development of curriculum, supervises the eating disorder specialist, and provides group therapy. She also educates and trains all staff on campus and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications.

Camille started at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist. She then transitioned into the Eating Disorder Specialist (EDS) role. In this position for nearly five years, she developed her skills and competence in working with the eating disorder population.

Camille received a Bachelor of Arts degree in both psychology and sociology from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. She then went on to earn a Master of Arts in Clinical Professional Psychology from Roosevelt University, IL.

Camille is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP).

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published June 3, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on June 3, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC