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How To Use Urge Surfing In Binge Eating

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Binge eating can be overwhelmingly stressful and incredibly difficult to refrain from. Urge surfing in binge eating can offer some relief in the midst of a very stressful urge to binge. 

For anyone that has ever experienced a binge, you have likely experienced: 

You may also have experienced food hoarding such as sneaking away to eat food or hiding food.

If you’ve experienced a binge, you’re likely trying to fight that feeling that just won’t GO AWAY. But what if – we didn’t have to try to make the feeling of an urge to binge go away? 

Finding the right coping strategies through a binge is no joke!  Experiencing a binge episode can be EXTREMELY stressful for someone (I’ve experienced this first hand. My heart goes out to all of you!)

Urge surfing can be one effective tool in our toolbox we can use to reduce or eliminate binge episodes.  

We’ll dive into what urge surfing is, how to use urge surfing for binge eating, and the steps to urge surfing in the content below. 

What is Urge Surfing? 

Urge surfing teaches someone how to manage a wave of desire by intentionally visualizing a wave as they refrain from engaging in undesirable behavior.  The idea is that a wave has a beginning, a peak and an end.  We do not need to do anything to get rid of an urge aside from simply letting it go away.  

Here are some of the basics of urge surfing: 

  1. Label an internal sensation as they start to feel an urge or craving come on
  2. Treat the urge like a waves in the ocean
  3. Create detachment from the urge as it escalates

The idea behind urge surfing is that just like the waves of an ocean, an urge or craving comes on quickly, grows rapidly, peaks, and then dwindles.  

Just like the waves in an ocean, urges or cravings are short-lived.  

For most of us, we experience an extreme level of discomfort when an urge or craving comes on.  We want to do something to fix or compensate for the problem immediately to provide relief from the extreme discomfort. 

Urge surfing is based on the idea that we actually don’t have to do ANYTHING to fix an urge or craving for it to go away. 

As time passes-so will the urge. A strong urge typically lasts a couple of minutes to 10 minutes. 


How Can I Practice Urge Surfing In Binge Eating? 

First Step of Urge Surfing for Binge Eating

Visualize a wave and think of your urge like a wave (starts small, grows to a peak and decreases).

Acknowledges that urges are normal. Urges are a part of a strong behavior or habit (in this case, triggers to eat a large amount of food at a certain time.)

Say out loud the behavior we are trying to eliminate (binge eating). 

As we begin to go into urge surfing, we need to acknowledge and believe that the urge will dissipate with time after a short span. 

You MUST let yourself get to the point of decline! The urge may feel unbearable for a short time span. But trusting it will go away is key to being successful with urge surfing.

Second Step Of Urge Surfing for Binge Eating

Identify triggers for urges. 

Create an urge trigger list. For example, someone with an urge to binge may feel an urge coming on when they are driving home from work, at certain times during the day, or when they are around certain people. 

This will help you to be prepared to go into urge surfing when these triggers come up. 

Third Step of Urge Surfing for Binge Eating

Identify what happens during an urge.

  • Where in the body are we experiencing the urge sensation (mouth, stomach, etc)
  • Does your urge to binge move around to different places in the body?
  • Identify the sensation in the body. Is it tingly?  Burning? Painful? Pressure?
  • Notice your breathing
  • Stay curious about the sensations in your body

Write these things down once you have completed the urge surf.

Fourth Step of Urge Surfing for Binge Eating

Reflect. 

What types of thoughts came up while you were surfing the urge? 

Reflect on how you feel following urge surfing after each time practicing..  

You can keep an urge surfing journal to help you navigate your experiences. 

By keeping an urge surfing journal, you are able to see how your urges changed as you’ve practiced urge surging in frequency, duration and intensity. 

It’s really important to know that when you initially start the practice of urge surfing, you might experience an increase in urges or the intensity of urges.  

This should NOT deter you from using urge surfing as a coping skill! 

If an increase in urges to binge comes up, remember the reasons why you wanted to abstain from the binge behavior in the first place. 

Challenges of Surfing A Craving In Binge Eating

Experiencing a binge episode might be a very challenging and discouraging behavior for you. 

You might feel skeptical about the idea of truly allowing the urge to binge to happen. 

Urge surfing for binge eating should not be used in times of high stress or anxiety.

Some common thoughts of those that use urge surfing for binge eating might include 

  • Believing that your binge episodes are far worse than others that have been successful with urge surfing. 
  • You might think withstanding the urge is just too tough to endure! 
  • Feeling completely out of control, and uncomfortable not giving into the binge.

If this happens, ask yourself for the evidence! How do you know that your binges are worse than others than have gone through the process? 

Ask yourself when you have been successful in having a few minutes of discomfort or doing hard things in the past? 

If you’ve been successful with urge surfing in the past-shout it out! You’ve done it once and that’s proof you can do it again!                

Remember that urges only get stronger when we give into them!

Does Urge Surfing Work? 

If done correctly, urge surfing can be a very effective tool in reducing the frequency of binge eating episodes. 

Urge surfing involves going all the way through the urge.  While we may engage in some sort of unrelated task, talking, or mental imagery during urge surfing the idea isn’t really to eliminate or avoid urges. 

The idea is instead to go all the way through the urge.  

Is Urge Surfing the Same As Restricting For Binge Eating? 

No!  In fact, I’m not even suggesting that you refrain from eating the foods you are craving.  We can urge surfe a binge without restricting by: 

  • Using it to slow down with our meal or snack
  • Putting the fork down between each bite.  
  • Stopping mid-meal to assess how your body feels
  • Trusting yourself to put a smaller portion on the plate, take a break, and go back for seconds if you desire it
  • Experimenting with a new routine (for example if it’s common you binge on Taco Bell after work, can you practice having a meal ready to go at home?)
  • Practicing pushing off a binge for 10 minutes

Can urge surfing align with intuitive eating? 

Absolutely.  While at a first glance, it might seem that urge surfing is an avoidant or restrictive practice, it is in actuality simply helping us to connect even deeper with our body. 

If we are overwhelmed with triggers, disconnection from our body, and behaviors that set us up for binge behavior, we simply cannot get intuitive with our food and our bodies. 

Urge surfing aligns with intuitive eating because it allows us to truly feel the sensations in our bodies and our emotions that might typically be associated with a binge.  

Many times when we are engaging in binge behavior, we are using the food as a coping tool or as a way to emotionally or physically numb ourselves.  

Urge surfing will help us to identify what is coming up in our bodies and in our emotions. 

Other Tools To Reduce Binge Eating

Urge surfing is one tool that can be effective in reducing binge eating episodes. 

However, it’s very important to remember that it is not our only tool!  There are times when it might not be appropriate to use urge surfing as we feel a binge coming on. That’s okay. 

Some other great tools we can use for reducing binge eating episodes are: 

Lets explore our bodies and how they feel as we go through urge surfing when a craving to binge comes up. You can also check out some of these eating disorder recovery books to see how others have worked through urges to binge.

Drop your experiences in the comments below to help others!   

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!