Coping Skill: Urge Surfing in Eating Disorder Recovery

August 5, 2014 Jessica Hudgens

One of the things that I have had to learn (over and over again) throughout the course of my recovery from anorexia, is that urges don't last forever. Regardless of how strong the desire is to use a certain behavior, it will pass and I can get through without derailing my eating disorder recovery. "How?" you might ask. That's right, folks -- we're talking about coping skills again.

Sometimes it feels like beating a dead horse, talking about coping skills. But it really is impossible to recover without them. Honestly, it's sort of impossible to live life without them. In fact, you have been using a coping skill: your eating disorder. And it's been really effective. But I'll tell you a secret: the feelings would have gone away anyway -- even if you hadn't used an eating disorder behavior.

And that's all an urge is: a desperate attempt to rid yourself of an uncomfortable feeling by using X, Y, or Z behavior.

Feelings Are Like Waves -- They Can't Last Forever

It doesn't matter what the feeling is, it can't last forever. It may feel like it at the time, and you may briefly be convinced that feeling will kill you, but it won't. Feelings and urges will come and go naturally, like waves in the ocean. But using an eating disorder behavior creates a negative feedback loop -- you feel something uncomfortable, you use a behavior, the uncomfortable feeling goes away (it would have anyway), and you think, "Oh, I must feel better because I binged/purged/restricted/ran/cut/whatever."

The next time that feeling and urge come up, you assume, "Well, if bingeing/purging/restricting/running/cutting made me feel better last time, I'm sure it will work this time." And it will -- and the connection between the behavior (urge) and feeling is just a little stronger. Over a period of time, you may even cease to recognize the feeling -- all you know is you want to use an eating disorder behavior and it feels like you will die or go crazy if you don't.

Coping skills are necessary in recovery from eating disorders. The best coping skills are those you cannot do while engaging in eating disorder urge behaviors.

[True story: early in recovery, I was so accustomed to using behaviors to get rid of the feelings, that I didn't even know I was feeling anything. I just assumed that I was feeling urges because, I was. No rhyme or reason and I absolutely had to give in. My therapist had to work with me to understand that an urge is really a red flag -- it means I'm feeling something. Even now, I use this logic. I have an urge? Okay, what am I feeling? Urges never come alone.]

So the trick is to learn to surf the urge. It won't last forever -- it can't. Your body cannot keep feeling things at that intensity indefinitely. It will crash eventually. Even a 20 foot storm surge will crash and dissipate eventually. You just have to hold on until it does.

Choosing Behaviors Incompatible With Your Eating Disorder

When you are looking for a new way to cope that doesn't involve eating disorder behaviors, your best bet is to find a coping skill you cannot do while you're "doing" your eating disorder. For example, I can easily read or sing (two great coping skills) while I am at the gym working out. However, I cannot go for a run and knit a sweater simultaneously. (Well, actually, I can't knit at all, but I think you see my point.)

These incompatible behaviors are going to be different for every eating disorder urge. I can read and work out at the same time, but I can't [mindfully] read and purge at the same time. So different urges need different coping skills. Which is why you need a very long list of coping skills.

Eating Disorder Coping Skills

Here are some of my favorites from a list I made a while back:

  • Write a two paragraph review of your favorite movie. Be sure to include essential characters, plot points, and anything else that makes this movie particularly incredible. Call your mom/dad/sister/therapist/best friend and read him/her the review.
  • Read (out loud) "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. Then, look online for another poem of hers and read that as well. Come back to this page and leave a note in the comment about which poem you chose!
  • Watch all of the videos on this playlist. (Yes, I have a playlist just for coping.) If you didn't laugh, let me know. I owe you a letter.
  • Complete one crossword puzzle, sudoku, or math puzzle of your choice. Time yourself. Send the puzzle to a friend (or to me on Facebook) and see how long it takes him/her to complete it.
  • Go here. Dance and sing along. (Or just laugh at me. That's okay, too.)
  • You are a pirate -- not a scary pirate, think cartoon pirate. Describe your perfect day.
  • Answer the following question in the comments section: Would you rather live the rest of your life with a little pair of feet dangling from under your chin or with a full set of teeth under your arm. (Just one arm -- let's not be ridiculous here.) Why?

Hopefully that gives you a place to start. My contact information is at the bottom of the blog, so feel free to send me your answers, or get a hold of me if you need more ideas. I've got plenty.

What are some of the best "incompatible behaviors" you have found for surfing eating disorder urges?

Jess can also be found on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Hudgens, J. (2014, August 5). Coping Skill: Urge Surfing in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Jessica Hudgens

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