Urge surfing is a technique from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that happens to be one of my favorites. It helps give you a solid technique to use during one of the hardest moments: When you feel the urge to binge. [This is a technique that can be used for the urge for emotional eating and the urge to purge. Insert those words if that is what you struggle with.]
The whole concept of urge surging is to “surf out” the urge to binge or having compulsions around food. Below is a step by step guide on how to urge surf when you feel it come up.
Surfing a Binge Urge in 4 Steps
1. Become Aware: Becoming aware that you are having an urge to binge eat can take some practice and mindfulness. The urge to binge can begin hours before the actual binge occurs. In therapy it can be helpful to identify when the urge actually begins. Did it begin when you got into an argument with a co-worker? When you ate that salad at lunch that you never actually wanted? Did the urge hit when you felt lonely?
Binge eating is a very numbing activity. It serves its emotional purpose: which is to distract and numb. So becoming aware of emotions, triggers and patterns can be challenging for someone suffering with binge eating, as feeling numb has often been the go-to coping mechanism and becoming self-aware feels foreign. Which is exactly why therapy helps!
2. Acknowledge & Observe: This is when you learn to detach from the actual urge and ride the wave without reacting to it. There are many coping skills to use during this step. The easiest one to turn is deep breathing. This helps relax your central nervous system and “ready” you to ride the wave. We want to detach the urge from the action. This will train the brain that simply because it feels the urge to binge, this does not equate to the behavior of bingeing.
3. Have a Plan: Create a plan of what you can do to help you ride the urge out. It might be leaving your kitchen (this is a must in the beginning), going for a walk, taking a relaxing bath or journaling.
For most people the urge to binge lasts about 20-30 minutes. The urge will have a peak (just like a wave) where it feels the strongest and then will start to dissipate.
Knowing this is very empowering and helps you feel like you have some control over the situation. Have a plan of what you can do for 20 minutes to help ride out the urge. Write out the plan on an index card, along with some affirmation that resonate with you. Tape the index card on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or in your car. Identify spots where the binge is most likely to rise and have your plan ready for you to view.
4.Finish Urge Surfing: Once the urge has passed reflect on what helped you surf it in a journal. What worked? What didn’t work so well? What did you learn from this experience? And then praise yourself! This is a really tough skill to learn to implement and you deserve a reward for trying it.
The entire purpose of urge surging is to train your brain that you do not have to respond to urges as you have done so previously. When you have the urge to binge and act on it, it reinforces the link between the urge and the behavior of binge eating. You want to retrain the brain that simply because the urge is there does not mean you have to act on it.
You can step back and ride it just like a wave, watching the urge rise higher and higher and then start to fall.
Working with an Eating Disorder Therapist Is Key
Working with an eating disorder therapist to come up with a plan on how to surf the urge is important. Reading these instructions, verses putting them into place during an actual urge can feel very different. I’ve seen many people master this skill and it’s a complete game changer in overcoming binge eating.
Also note, that you want to work with a professional to make sure you are not restricting as this is often the very reason why binge eating occurs. Urge surfing is a great skill to implement but there are many other layers to overcoming binge eating that should be worked through as well. I encourage you to reach out to an eating disorder professional who can help you on your journey.
If you are a Maryland resident and are looking for online counseling for binge eating contact me today to start your journey to recovery.
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About Danielle Swimm, LCPC: Danielle is a therapist in Annapolis, MD. She enjoys helping others improve their relationship with food and their body. Her areas of concentration include eating disorders therapy, anxiety, and body image improvement for adults and adolescents. She also works with a variety of disordered eating and has a passion or mind-body health. If you are interested in eating disorder treatment, please reach out to Danielle today, by filling out the contact page.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or mental health services. This is for educational purposes only and should be in used only in conjunction in working with a licensed mental health professional. If you are a Maryland resident and want to set up online counseling, feel free to reach out using the Contact Me page. If you outside the state of Maryland use PsychologyToday.com to contact an eating disorder therapist in your area.