By Kristen Hung, MPH, RDN
As you head off to the beach this summer to enjoy the sunshine and warm
weather, take a moment to watch the surfers. See how a surfer catches
a wave, rises and glides on the moving wall of water, then falls back
into the sea as the wave breaks. While you may not be inclined to get
out on a surfboard, consider learning a different type of surfing this
summer: urge surfing.
Urge surfing is a technique ascribed to Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., a leader in
the field of addictions treatment. Urges can be thought of as impulses
to engage in certain habits or behaviors, often accompanied by and experienced
with physical sensations in the body. When it comes to food, you might
experience urges to eat quite frequently – triggered by the sight,
smell, presence, sound, even thought of certain foods – some describe
food calling their name. Urges to eat are often followed by conscious
or unconscious decisions to eat, however, these decisions may be followed
by feelings of regret or guilt in addition to excess weight that can be
hard to lose and can impact your health and quality of life. But urges
are like waves that rise in intensity, peak, and eventually crash. Learning
to surf these urges can be a helpful tool to improve your health and manage
Adopt a curious attitude about your urge and watch it rise, peak, and fall
and the urge will subside. Fight the urge or try to suppress it and it
will take longer to subside. Give in to the urge and you strengthen it
and also tend to lose confidence in your ability to change your old habits.
Try the following tips for learning to surf an urge:
- Notice your physical experience of an urge to eat. Where in your body do
you experience it? Does your mouth water? Your stomach flutter? Your hands
get clammy? There is no right or wrong experience. The goal is to identify
how your body responds to urges.
- Once you’ve identified the part of your body most connected to the
urge, focus your attention on it. What do the physical sensations feel
like? Is there pressure, tingling, warmth, or coolness? Try to describe
the sensations without judgement. Notice your breath for a few minutes
as you inhale and exhale. Toggle between focusing on your body sensations
and your breath for another few minutes.
- Imagine the sensations related to your urge to eat as a wave. Watch the
wave rise and fall repeatedly with the ebb and flow of your sensations.
Use your breath as a surfboard to ride the waves, practicing for at least
a minute or longer.
- Get out of the water! If possible remove yourself from the environment
containing the cues and triggers contributing to your urges to eat.
- Take a moment to affirm yourself for being willing to try something different
with your urge to eat besides eating. With continued practice, you’ll
find urges are easier to ride out, and you will build confidence in your
ability to act according to your values rather than at the whim of your urges.
Interested in learning more about urge surfing and other tips for healthful
eating and weight management? Consider signing up for Torrance Memorial’s
CORE4 Adult Weight Management Program. Click here to learn more or sign up: