A few months ago a weight loss client came in for a visit. I couldn’t help but notice something odd looking falling out of her purse. I could only make out what looked to me like straw hair – it seemed like an odd doll for a mom of teen boys to be carrying around. My curiosity got the best of me and so I asked what it was. Out came ‘surfer dude’. “OMG, that’s amazing,” I said. “He is just perfect”. A few weeks earlier I had taught her Alan Marlatt’s concept of urge surfing, part of relapse prevention nomenclature for addictive behavior of any kind, including compulsive overeating. If there is no opportunity to “use” Marlatt says, a craving typically lasts for less than thirty minutes. If there is no opportunity to use, there is no inner struggle, and it’s the inner struggle that feeds the cravings. This is true for everyone, but few people give themselves the chance to prove it.
Ok, so where’s the surfer in this story?
Anyone who has struggled with food cravings knows that there are times that no matter what we do we to fight the cravings, we feel it’s just not possible to resist them. It’s like trying to stop a waterfall from flowing. Marlatt says, “Don’t try to stop the flow because you can’t. Step back and become an observer of the waterfall, or your cravings, impulses, and urges for the peanut M and M’s. Just watch the cravings come and go without judging yourself for having them. Don’t berate yourself for your lack of willpower. Simply use mindfulness (moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness) to experience your urges without giving in to them. The urge may come very strongly, and still, you simply watch it, describe it to yourself in full detail, and let it go. Some people think about sending the craving down the river on a bed of leaves. Others send it off into a bubble in the sky. Still others send it on a conveyor belt and watch it go by. It may come back; and when it does, simply put it back on the belt and watch it go round again. Did it change the second time around? Did you experience your urge exactly the same way or did it get more or less intense? It doesn’t matter, as long as you are an observer without self judgment. And if you notice yourself judging, simply say “judging” to yourself and put your judgments on the belt and watch them go by as well. The waterfall may feel like it’s going to come crashing down on you. Out comes “surfer dude” who teaches you to ride the wave of the craving without getting caught in the undertow of emotions. Our feelings can be strong sometimes just like food cravings, or urges for alcohol. Get out “surfer dude”. He or she will help you observe your emotions without going under. You can ride the crave wave! Keep practicing. Go out to the ocean and watch what the surfers do when they fall.
Next week: Peeling away the layers of the onion–the thoughts that keep us crying. Don’t forget to check out HealthyWage, the website that pays you to be healthy.