Mar 16, 2022

Do you ever notice that sometimes you are not thinking about food, and then suddenly you have an intense desire to eat something?  If you have urges to overeat, you have unintentionally taught yourself to over-desire certain foods.  Urges are feelings/strong desire in our bodies that are triggered by our thoughts. It can feel as if urges are out of control.  The good news is you can learn to gain control over urges with practice. 

Remember all feelings are caused by thoughts.  An urge is simply a feeling caused by a thought.  After a busy day an innocent sounding thought “I deserve a treat” might trigger an urge.  You find yourself in the pantry, and after eating you feel better (thanks to dopamine).  A few times you have this thought, you start to make this automatic.  Also, you might beat yourself up after eating something “you shouldn’t,” and the guilt makes everything worse.

When you have an urge, an involuntary cycle of reinforcement can be created by responding with food (think Pavlov’s dogs).  If you want to break this cycle, you can learn to allow the desire or urge to be present without rewarding it. 

When you have an urge to eat something because of a thought, there are 3 things you can do.  Resist, react, or allow.  Resisting is trying to push the urge away, but often this makes the urge more intense.  Reacting is giving in to the urge as described above.  If you react to or resist an urge, you ultimately reinforce the urge and make it stronger.  

The goal is to unlearn this desire by “allowing” urges to be present without responding to them.  We can allow an urge in different ways. One way I recommend is just by “watching” or observing our thoughts and feelings.  If an urge pops up, you can notice it, explore the thought creating it, and allow this discomfort to be present.  Most urges pass quickly and can last anywhere between 10 seconds and 10 minutes.  The more you allow urges to “just be” without rewarding them, the weaker they become.

Take these steps to help eliminate urges in your life:

  • Notice your thoughts and thought “errors” that trigger your urges,
  • Feel the urge, notice it and do not resist or react,
  • Pre-plan your thoughts that will help you navigate the urge in real time (“I am strong, nothing has gone wrong, my brain is doing what it is supposed to”),
  • Accept the urge.

A tool I use with many of my clients is an “Urge Jar.” After you have allowed an urge to be present and then allow it to pass, you can reward yourself with a small pebble or marble in a jar. 

Another option is to write down your allowed urges in your journal or keep a list of “100 Allowed Urges.”  It’s fun to watch the unanswered urges build up on a list or in the jar; it’s a sign you’re on the right track! 

If you want to explore tackling urges on a deeper level, send me an email or PM to learn more about my exciting group coaching program. I am offering an 12-week group coaching program to help you navigate urges, plan for upcoming events and make decisions ahead of time. 


DISCLAIMER: Sarah Smith MD is a medical doctor, but she is not your doctor, and she is not offering medical advice on this website. If you are in need of professional advice or medical care, you must seek out the services of your own doctor or health care professional.