Urge-surfing

What would you do with nine boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the house? Eating them is probably not weight-loss friendly, freezing them only makes them taste better, and parting with a few would send your household into rebellion.

A technique developed in the 1980s to treat addiction may come in handy here. It’s called urge-surfing. The root of the technique is in the realization that cravings, or urges, will come and go. Just like a wave, they become most intense at the crest and then wane until they eventually go away. When you have a craving, are you conscious that if you just wait it out it will go away?

The first step to surfing your cravings is to identify what they are. Do you crave cookies? A glass of wine? We won’t keep listing possible cravings, because that’s just mean, but you get the point. Next, make a list of urge-surfing activities to do whenever the craving strikes and make a pact with yourself that you will do 2 or 3 of these activities next time you have a craving.

Possible urge-surfing activities include:

  • Calling a friend
  • Taking a walk around the block
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Reading a chapter from a book
  • Ironing your clothes
  • Another house chore
  • Playing a computer game
  • Run up and down the stairs 5 times
  • Work on a puzzle for 15 minutes
  • Play 3 songs on the guitar
  • Any other activity you enjoy (but be specific on your list)

Edit the list as you try the activities out. Perhaps doing chores makes you crave comforting foods more, so take those out. Others may be sufficiently distracted by the chores and lose interest in the craving.

What do you do if you finish your predetermined activities and the urge remains? You can give in without feeling guilty because this is the mother of all urges! Additionally, the technique is most effective if you believe the craved outcome is there. But try the technique again with different distraction activities until you find something that works!

Another benefit to urge surfing is that the more you resist the craving, the less the craving will occur. When your brain sends a signal for a craving and you give into it, that craving is rewarded and the signal pathway gets stronger in your brain. The opposite is true when you resist cravings, the behavior is not reinforced and therefore less likely to occur again.

What activities have you tried to distract you from giving into urges? Let us know what worked and didn’t work for you!

 

Forman EM, Butryn ML, Juarascio AS, et al. The mind your health project: a randomized controlled trial of an innovative behavioral treatment for obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(6):1119-26.

 


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