Proud2Bme | Dear KJ: How Can I Break My Body Checking Habit?

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Dear KJ: How Can I Break My Body Checking Habit?

"Dear KJ" is a weekly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist.  She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR's "Tell Me More," and "On Air with Ryan Seacrest," among others. Find her at

What is your advice on breaking the habit of body checking/pinching during recovery?

I remember struggling with this issue myself, many years ago. When a person is suffering from an eating disorder one of the key symptoms is an unhealthy obsession with body size and shape.

The obsessive nature of eating disorders can show up in many areas, from counting calories to frequently weighing oneself to, yes, obsessively pinching areas of the body to check for leanness. Pinching is not only an obsessive behavior, but for some people it also becomes a form of self-harm and punishment through pain. Needless to say, it’s an unhealthy behavior that should be taken seriously.

Pinching, like other obsessive behaviors, is best addressed under the guidance of a trained therapist or clinician. Sometimes medications can ease the urge to pinch, and talk therapy is an important resource as well. Regardless of what steps are taken to work on the psychological urges, it will be helpful to find positive or at least neutral behaviors that can substitute for pinching when the urge occurs.

Because pinching is an action done by hands and fingers, the most effective replacement behaviors will similarly occupy one’s hands. Knitting and/or crocheting accomplish this, as will squeezing a stress ball or playing with silly putty. I used to keep a small tube of hand lotion in my bag so I could slather it on my hands as a distraction.

Writing notes or journaling can also help occupy hands until an urge passes, and might even help you identify any triggers that lead to pinching. Good luck!

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