A well-known DBT Technique, “Urge Surfing,” was created by psychologist G. Alan Marlatt. Surfing the urge is vital in beating Emotional and Bingeing urges.
It’s safe to say that, as humans, we don’t always eat when we’re hungry. Sometimes we eat because the food looks delicious. Other times, the cells in our bodies crave certain nutrients like vitamins or minerals that need replenishing. Occasionally, you may eat because it makes you feel good emotionally. We will look at how to differentiate between real hunger and the desire to eat for Pleasure or squash down an Emotion.
Physical Hunger Versus Emotional Hunger
Real hunger occurs when your body desperately craves sustenance and nutrients to get back to normal functioning. This state typically follows a sudden drop in blood glucose levels or insulin after a few hours without food.
Interestingly, the body and mind both show “real hunger.”
The most noticeable sign that you’re experiencing real hunger is hunger pangs. You’ll feel an ache or discomfort in your empty stomach and understand that eating something is the only way to relieve the pain. Hunger pangs also tend to come with a rumbling sensation in your stomach, often described as a “growling.”
The low blood sugar that comes with real hunger produces other uncomfortable side effects that’ll last until you nourish your body. You may develop a nagging headache, feel light-headed or as if you’ll pass out, become easily angered or frustrated (irritability), and feel generally fatigued.
We must understand when we are Full and stop eating just as much as when we are hungry, indicating we need to eat. The clear-cut sign that this is real hunger is if these symptoms disappear after eating a meal. This feeling will return within a few hours when your digestive system empties the stomach, and your body needs nourishment.
Emotional hunger Void can’t be filled with food. Physical hunger usually comes on gradually and is guilt-free. You get full, and it satisfies your need for food. Eating may feel good in moments of pain, loneliness, boredom, and stress. Still, you will likely experience shame, guilt, and powerlessness, and the feelings that triggered the emotional eating are still there.
Food is not a healthy or effective coping mechanism for negative emotions. It never has been and never will be. Once you recognize and accept this fact, you can learn healthy coping skills for your emotional issues and see food as sustenance for the body.
Sometimes we might Eat just for Pleasure.
Eating for Pleasure is also the opposite of eating to care for natural hunger, although it is different than emotional eating. You don’t eat that slice of cake or an extra serving of macaroni because you don’t feel full — you continue eating because you want to eat. Maybe you are at a social function, or it is your favorite cake that your grandmother makes. Curbing Eating for Pleasure is not something that needs addressing if it is not a problem for you.
Eating to cope with uncontrolled emotions and feel better about yourself is commonly used by Binge Eaters. This improved mood from eating your favorite foods, even when you’re not hungry, is due to endorphins that the body releases after eating.
These endorphins give you a “natural high” that helps your body and mind see the connection between eating a particular food and feeling better emotionally. As a result, you develop a dependence on the food that mimics any other addiction, turning to food as a source of happiness and fulfillment.
This result explains why many will eat to cope with breakups, divorce, a new baby, a death in the family, a stressful job, and financial difficulty.
To figure out if you’re eating for Hunger or Emotional, think about your answers to the following questions:
● Do you eat because you’re hungry? Or do you eat because it makes you happy?
● When you feel stressed or emotional, do you use food as a coping mechanism?
● Do you crave foods with certain textures and flavors?
● Will you continue to eat, even when you feel full?
● Do you feel a sense of emotional relief and comfort after eating?
Once you have decided you are eating for emotional reasons, that is the time you would want to practice the Urge Surfing Technique.
How to Practice the Urge Surfing Technique.
In the book I co-authored, “Eating Secrets,” we explain the technique: “This urge for comfort can be described like surfing. You feel the tension build as you are paddling out, fighting the incoming waves of emotions as you paddle to get out to the back of the waves. These emotions are where you believe you can’t cope, and something has happened to cause the urge to binge. You finally find yourself out the back at the set of waves. You see the perfect wave coming, so you paddle to jump on it and get swept up in the bingeing, feeling euphoric and excited as you eat your favorite foods. But then comes the wipeout, where you feel shame and disgust with yourself. You Crash”
Follow the 6 steps to start Surfing the Urge.
- Be Curious – notice whether it is a genuine hunger or emotional hunger. Staying in the present moment and listening to the cues your body is giving you
- Rate the urge as one being low you can easily ignore and ten is high you are feeling out of conrol
- Find a place where you can practice some mindfulness and take your attention to your breath. Concentrating on the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe just like the waves in the ocean
- Notice the physical reactions as the urge to eat hits and send your attention to those physical feelings sending your breath to those areas.
- Notice the emotional reactions, and send your breath to those emotions. Feeling your breath filling the emotions sending them the love and attention they are seeking.
- Use your imagination and to See you paddling out in the surf. Feel the exiliration as the wave rise and you are catching the wave back to the shore, Hear the ocean as the surf crashes against the shore knowing that when you arrive back on the beach, you are safe and the urge will have indeed passed.
- Take a deep cleaning breath and re-rate the urge.
- If the urge is still uncomfortably high, repeat the process
Humans need to eat to get the proper nutrients for energy and life. It’s not uncommon for people to eat when they have a food craving or desire to cope with emotional stress rather than feeling the physical effects of real hunger first.
Eating purely for Pleasure is okay in moderation, but it does pose serious health risks if you continue long-term. There’s a risk of overeating, weight gain, and a dependence on food rather than other coping strategies.
If you recognize that you eat for Pleasure or emotional reasons too often, then the Urge Surfing Technique is something you will want to practice.
If you struggle with recognizing whether you are truly hungry, I also offer you a FREE resource you can print and attach to your fridge. Download your copy of the Hunger and Fullness scale to help you understand when you are hungry and when you are full
The “Hunger and Fullness Scale” describes varying levels of hunger and fullness, which can help you rate your level of hunger before you eat and fullness after you eat and allow you to recognize the best times to stop and start eating throughout your day.
Click Here to Download