#008: How to cope with an urge—part 1

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This is how to navigate urges to binge

If you struggle with overeating or bingeing, urges to eat can feel particularly scary and overwhelming.

Discover strategies to cope with those full-on urges and the two most powerful ways to understand them and get through them, in this episode and the next.

Because, when you’re able to experience a strong urge to binge AND know you’ll be ok without turning to food—that’s the taste of freedom!

Click here to download your 100 Urges worksheet!

View the full episode transcript

The strategies I’m going to offer in this podcast and also in the next episode directly act to reduce the fear of and resistance to an urge to eat so that, when an urge does arise, you don’t end up in that metaphorical ditch. 

You may need to slow down slightly, but you can continue on your journey pretty much as planned.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Hello and welcome to the YYF podcast!

Today we’re going to talk though an issue that can be particularly scary and overwhelming for people who struggle with binge eating and overeating.

And that issue is the intense, overpowering urges to eat and to binge.

The urges that can seem impossible to resist and cause you to eat all the foods that the reasoning part of you knows will make you feel absolutely terrible afterwards,

An urge can seem as if it comes from nowhere and, when it does come, it’s as if there’s nothing else you can do but go and get and eat that food. 

Sometimes, the thought of experiencing an urge is so scary that people make sure they don’t feel it at all by eating in advance of the urge coming up—a sort of preemptive form of eating which isn’t due to hunger but is due to anxiety or fear.

So being able to cope with urges is a fundamental part of moving beyond bingeing and overeating.

I actually wasn’t planning on talking about urges just yet but, after episode 7 on food restriction—which covered an simple change that can help reduce bingeing and overeating fast— it was suddenly clear to me that urges are the next key issue.

I guess I think of it as providing The most bang for your podcast-buck!

So in this episode and in the next episode I’m going to talk about how to cope with those full-on urges and the two most powerful ways to understand them and get through them.

One way to conceptualise an urge is as a front seat passenger in your car. 

You’re the driver, you’ve got your route mapped out, planned your timing for a relaxing, enjoyable, safe journey to your chosen destination. 

In other words, you have an idea of what you want to eat and when, and how you’d like your day and your food to pan out.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, your passenger reaches over and yanks the steering wheel causing you to lose control and the car to lurch off the road and straight into a ditch.

No matter what the original plans for your journey were, they’re not happening like that today!

So an urge or a craving—most likely for sugary or high carb processed food—is like that unruly, out of control passenger. They feel dangerous, unpredictable and frankly frightening if you don’t know how to negotiate them. And when they hit—when they grab your steering wheel—you lose control.

I don’t want to over-egg this driving analogy but another element is that, when your passenger is grabbing your steering wheel, dealing with that passenger becomes your only focus.

Similarly, an urge to eat can take up your entire attention span. It can feel as if there’s no space for what you might know or intend, no space for rationalising—you just need to get to that food as soon as possible.

For me, when I was in the grip of a craving and had that laser focus on food, it took over everything I was doing. It didn’t matter what my other responsibilities were at work, or studying or even at home with my kids when they were little—I mean, I kept them alive, but I can’t pretend for a moment that I was an engaged, responsive, pleasant mum to be around when I was craving my binge foods. I most likely bundled them in the car and drove straight to the grocery shop or the fast-food-drive-through because I just needed to get my hit.

Given what an urge can be like, it makes a whole lot of sense to not what to experience it.

  • To avoid it or try to side-step it
  • To work hard to suppress it or make it go away
  • As I’ve already mentioned, to attempt to prevent it from coming up at all by eating in advance
  • And, if an urge does come up, to make it stop as soon as possible … by doing what the urge is demanding—in other words, by eating the food you end up wishing you hadn’t eaten.

The problem with and the pain of those options is that the fear of the urge still remains AND it’s almost certain to come back with equal or increased intensity.

So it continues to be overwhelming and scary. It still has control over you and it absolutely has the power to keep you stuck in eating patterns you’re so desperate to change.

The alternative I’m going to offer is not to react to the urge by eating, or try to get rid of it immediately, but instead to move a little closer—to get to know it a little. 

To experiment with beginning to let it be ok that the urge is there for a short time.

To understand more so that you can learn how to cope with and urge—how to navigate it.

The strategies I’m going to offer in this podcast and also in the next episode directly act to reduce the fear of and resistance to an urge to eat so that, when an urge does arise, you don’t end up in that metaphorical ditch. 

You may need to slow down slightly, but you can continue on your journey pretty much as planned.

And, as you explore these strategies, it’s worth remembering that, over time, as urges become more familiar and better understood—-as you’re able to stay with them for longer—-the power they hold over you lessens. 

The urges really do become less intense and urgent and, eventually, they go away altogether.

That sounds amazing, right? The taste of freedom!

But how to go about it?

The first step is to become more curious about the urge.

Ask questions and see what answers come.

Questions like:

  • What does the urge feel like in my body?
  • Where do I feel it? 
  • What physical sensations are associated with it?
  • How intense is this urge on a scale of 0-10? With 0 being non-existent & 10 meaning NOTHING–not even an army–could get between me and the food!
  • How else would I describe it? 
  • What is happening with my breathing?
  • Where’s my focus? 
  • Might it be possible to let this urge be here for just a few seconds and not try to ignore it or push it away? 
  • If I can slow and deepen my breathing and let the sensations of the urge be with me for 10 seconds or 30 seconds or 90 seconds, what do I notice? 
  • Does the intensity of the urge change at all over time? Again, use the rating scale of 0 to 10 to reflect that intensity.
  • What would I need to believe about the urge for it to be ok to be here with me?

The more you can stay with the experience of an urge, the less power it has over you.

It’s obviously fantastic if you can notice how long it lasts—to stay with the urge until it’s moved right through your body and mind and dissipated. 

AND staying with an urge for just 5 seconds or 10 seconds or 30 seconds is also incredibly valuable. It’s a stepping stone—another movement toward being able to experience urges until they lessen in regularity and intensity and eventually disappear altogether.

To help you stay present with urges and also to give you a visual of the progress you’re making, I love a tool called (rather unimaginatively!) One-hundred Urges. 

You’ll find a download of the 100 Urges worksheet in the show notes for this episode at yoyofreedom.com/8

The idea behind it is, if you can stay with an urge for any amount of time—starting with only, say, 5 or 10 seconds—it will make a difference to how you experience urges moving forward and gradually lessen the control they have over you.

In fact, over time your brain will adjust and adapt to reestablish a lower baseline for desire. In other words, the power of your urges will diminish.

I’ve linked to a book that details the research to support that in the show notes for this episode if you’re interested. You’ll find it at yoyofreedom.com/8

So the way to use this one-hundred urges tool is to answer the questions I’ve just talked about for each urge or part of an urge you’re able to stay with, fully experience and allow to be with you. 

By the time you’ve repeated the process for 100 urges, you’ll be in a very different place from when you started.

And jotting down what you notice as you go will enable you to look back, become way more familiar with how an urge shows up, you’ll be able to see the changes that happen as you allow an urge to unfold and it’ll end up giving you more insight, confidence and so more control.

Again, if that’s something you’d like to try, just go to the show notes at yoyofreedom.com/8 and download the 100 urges worksheet.

In episode 9 I’m going to offer you another tool that’s equally and sometimes even more powerful in helping people understand and move through urges to binge or overeat. So stay tuned for that!

To wrap up, urges to binge or overeat can be super-intense and frankly scary because they have the potential to cause you to lose control over your eating.

But they don’t need to stay scary or something to be avoided.

When you’re able to truly be with and experience an urge as it arises and when you can allow that urge to pass right through your system, it puts you in a whole new place.

With practise, you’ll end up in the driving seat and in control! 

If an urge arises, it’ll be a back seat passenger. It might shout loudly and that’s ok, because you’re calm and you’re in charge. 

And, with practice, that back seat passenger will eventually fall asleep.

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.

Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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Links mentioned in the episode

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

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