Surf Urging

Many people who get the urge to start binge eating try and use distraction strategies (cleaning out your closet, solving a puzzle etc) as a way to fight urges. However, studies have found that the more we try not to think about something, the more we think about it. (Wegner et al, 1987; Cioffi & Holloway, 1993).

Urge surfing is a concept that came from Alan Marlatt, a psychologist and pioneer in the area of alcohol addiction. It is based on the practice of mindfulness. The idea is that we do not try to forget about the urge, rather we stay closely with it. In fact , we try and get to know it, feel it, ride it and see it through to the end. It is the same principal as being afraid of a dog. If you keep avoiding dogs, you will continue to be afraid of dogs. If you stay in the presence of a dog and learn to overcome your fear, the fear will eventually become less intense and eventually fade away.

Many people who experience a strong urge to binge feel and tell themselves that it will never go away until they act on it. Cravings to eat can be so strong that they drive everything else from your mind except that food. However, no matter how strong they are, urges pass. In fact, they rarely last longer than 30 minutes. Those of you who have had strong urges but have not been able to engage in them can attest to the fact that you get through that moment and the urges dissipate and disappear.

Those who speak about “urge surfing” liken the urges to a wave. They start small, grow, crest, subside and dissipate.
So the next time you get a strong urge to binge, go sit in a chair, get comfortable, close your eyes, breathe and get very curious about what is happening inside of you.

Ask yourself the following questions:
What are the physical sensations I am experiencing? Does it feel like pressure, tingling? Where are the physical sensations? Is it in my mouth? Abdomen?
Does it have a temperature? Is it cool, warm?
Does it have a colour?

In your imagination, draw an outline around where the sensations are. Do the sensations have any movement?
Notice the sensations with each passing breath. How do they change? Are the urges getting larger? Smaller?
Notice any other sensations in your body. Is your heart beating faster? Is your neck tense, your jaw?
Notice any emotions that may be present?
What are you actually craving in this moment?

If your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to the breath. Don’t force your breath in any way, just notice it.
Imagine your breath as a surf board, helping you stay on top and riding the urge.

Notice how you have stayed present in the past couple of minutes.
Realize that you always have this choice.
Remember, by giving in, we strengthen urges and lose our confidence in our ability to fight them.
By getting to know our urges and not acting on them, they will become less intense and less frequent.


Cioffi, D & Holloway, J. (1993) Delayed costs of suppressed pain, Journal of Personality and social Psychology 64, 272-282

Wegner, D.M, Schneider, D.J., Knutson, B. & McMahon, S.R. (1991). Polluting the stream of consciousness: The effect of thought & suppression on the mind’s environment. Journal of Cognitive Therapy & Research 15, 141-151