Where Urges Come From (Part 3)

How do you stop feeling so bad and out of control around food when your urges come on?

Answer: look for options ahead of time.

You always, always have options

You don’t have to feel so terrible when an urge appears, you don’t have to exhaust yourself fighting them or tolerating them, and you don’t have to feel so defeated thinking they’ll never go away.  You can get unstuck.  You can get out of that.

And the way to do that is realizing that you have more options than you’re using now to deal with your urges.  You don’t have to resist them, outsmart them, or avoid them.  You don’t need to rely on willpower to “get you through them.”  

When most people are trying to lose weight and feel the urge to eat something that isn’t on their plan, but don’t want to eat off plan, they bring on reinforcements, known as willpower.  They use every ounce of energy in them to push away the urge with willpower and hold off on feeling the urge for as long as possible. 

The thing is, willpower does work but only temporarily, but the reason it runs out is because it physically wears you out.  You’re clenching your teeth, you’re on alert for every urge you might feel, you’re tense… you eventually tire yourself out.

But if you keep giving in to urges, and you’re here with me now, then it means you haven’t tried the one thing that will stop making urges a problem in your life.  

Instead, you can let the urge be. 

You can let it be there.  You can let it be as it is in your body.  You can physically feel the urge in your body and begin to realize that it’s normal.  Nothing is wrong at all.  In fact, it’s just part of the pattern that your brain put together, that’s all. 

All an urge means is that your brain thought it was getting something it expected that was really important.  And if you’re trying to lose weight, then extra food isn’t important.  

Because you know what happens when you don’t give your body extra food?  It finds food regardless… and that food is the fat on your body.  You are completely fine.  And you are going to lose weight.  

You have the ability to tell your brain this.  To remind it that it’s OK, that you are OK, that what is happening is really OK, and that everything is going to be OK. That the dopamine it was used to getting isn’t coming and that’s totally fine.

Feeling instead of eating

So, you may be thinking now, “So if I let the urge be there, if I don’t make it go away by giving in to it and eating food, then what is it that I’m doing instead?”  

When you stop resisting urges, when you stop relying on willpower to make them go away—meaning, when you stop thinking they’re a big problem—what will happen is that you will start understanding your urges.  You’ll start finding out why they’re there in the first place.  And the greatest thing is when you do this, you can find out what’s creating it.  

You’ll begin to see how what you’re thinking is what is bringing up the urge.  You can even begin to see how your thoughts are connected to the urge and how your thoughts may increase the intensity of the urge.  

Better yet, and this is what will help you forever, is that you’ll see how your thoughts are what truly control the urge, what determine how you deal with each urge and your ability to say no to an urge no matter how strong it may feel.  

It’s when you resist and try to outrun your urges where you won’t be able to see the thoughts creating them because you’ll still be believing they’re a problem.

You get good at what you practice

So, let’s get into the real work that will help you understand and control your urges.  You need to know what you think about your urges and what you’re thinking in the moment of an urge.  

For a lot of people, the most common thoughts about their urges are:

They’re too hard.

I can’t do this.

They’re intolerable.

I can’t tell if I’m hungry or if it’s a craving

I just want them to go away

I want what I want.

Or eventually, “Just eff it.”  

You have to know what you’re thinking about an urge and what you’re thinking in the moment of an urge because it’s your thoughts that are going to determine whether you just let the urge be there OR if you’re going to resist or outrun the urge.  

Simply, this is what it comes down to: you get good at what you practice.  

If you are feeling an urge and rewarding it with food, no matter how much or what kind of food that you didn’t plan, then your habit will be reinforced, it will get stronger and the habit will become more and more automatic.  Really strong habits are the ones that feel so natural to you that you don’t know how else to be.  But they’re still just habits that have been reinforced over time.  

So, if you want to change the habit of giving in to an urge to overeat when you’re trying to lose weight, then you have to think differently about the urge than you are now.  The way to do that is to have an urge and not reward it and believe that that’s OK.  

Because it really is.  

Letting an urge come and go without rewarding it with food is the way to begin undoing your urges for more food than you need if you’re trying to lose weight.

So starting today, I encourage you to practice feeling an urge and not rewarding it.  But I’m not just going to leave you with that without more guidance, because you’ve tried letting an urge come and go in the past but you’ve used willpower to tolerate that experience, and that’s not how we’re going to handle our urges from now on.  We want to practice something new and get good at that instead of reinforcing something that isn’t working, like resisting our urges or trying to run away from them.  

The best way to start thinking differently about your urges is to ask questions that invite a different answer than you’re currently using.  

And the best way to answer questions is to write them down.  And I mean it.  If there is a magical formula anywhere in the world for weight loss it’s water and writing. Drink water and write your thoughts. 

So grab a pen and paper and WRITE.  Have a glass of water at your side while you’re doing this if you want to, but I really want you to WRITE down the answers to these questions.  Be thoughtful and deliberate with your answers, don’t blow through them or answer them in your head because that won’t help you.  The only way you will be able to undo your urges is to become more aware of what’s behind them.  And when you know that, your body and your way of thinking through things will be so much different than where you’re at now.  Doing this work is where the incredible, legitimate, and long-lasting transformation happens.

What to do

So, these are the questions I want you to answer for yourself:

  1. Where on your body do you feel an urge? This is one of the most important answers you’ll find because once you locate it, you’ll know to recognize it and begin to undo it.  

Once you’ve located the area of your body where you feel urges the most, what exactly does it feel like?  Describe it as though the muscles around that urge are describing what they’re seeing and feeling.  This is beyond saying that the urge “feels terrible.”  That’s not a description of it, it’s an opinion.  Describe the urge with as much detail as you can imagine when it’s there.

  1. The next question for you to think about and answer is, “What does it feel like when you say no to an urge?” Answer this for yourself.  When you say no to an urge, when you feel that desire for food but don’t eat the food, how do you feel?
  1. The final question has less to do with being more aware of an urge physically in your body.  The question is, when you have the urge to eat food that you didn’t plan to eat, what thoughts do you notice you are having?

And these thoughts can be ANYTHING.  Don’t judge your thoughts when you’re having an urge.  Some thoughts can range from, “I don’t want to be feeling this,” to “I just really want that right now.”  When trying to lose weight, you’re in the perfect place to become aware of what you’re thinking.  

Most of the time when we’re dieting, we just want to get through the process as quickly as possible—get through the discomfort of urges and hunger—so that we get to our end goal as soon as possible.  When we’re rushed like that, though, we get in the habit of staying rushed, and we don’t give ourselves the necessary chance of finding out what our thoughts are that are leading to overeating.  And remember, overeating leads to either stalled weight or to weight gain, so we want to know what we’re thinking so that we’re in control of the outcome that we truly want, of permanent and sustainable weight loss.

So, answer these questions when you can.  Like, maybe it’s the middle of the day right now and you’re not feeling the urge to overeat.  Your urges may come later in the evening, and that would be the BEST time to grab your pen and paper (and water) and answer these questions.  Do your best to not judge yourself when you’re doing this.  By answering these questions, you are exploring.  You’re just being curious and maybe cautious, but not judgmental.  

This will be the beginning of what changes everything for you.  Because what you’re doing is showing your brain that there are other options available than the two it’s relied on for so long, which are to either give in to the urges or to resist them. Those aren’t the only options, but your brain needs some help seeing that for itself.  That’s what this work is intended to help you with.

You are doing something you’ve never done before, which means you’re going to get results like you never have before.  The more you do this work, the more in tune you’ll be and the more control of your outcomes you will have.  

So, go through these questions and answer them for yourself and see what you notice.  Doing this work to undo urges that are leading to outcomes that aren’t what you want will change your life, it will be amazing.