3 most common types of urges when dieting

urges and urge surfing

If you are trapped in a cycle of dieting, consumed by the desire to lose weight, or struggling with an eating disorder, chances are you’ve experienced an urge. I have heard weight-related urges described as overwhelming, exhausting, and never-ending. Urges have the ability to throw off attempts at recovery. The truth is, there are ways to deal with them, but before we get into that, let's look at what exactly is an urge.

Webster dictionary defines ‘urge’ as

  • To serve as a motive or reason for, or
  • A continuing impulse toward an activity or goal

In the context of individuals who are dealing with an intense desire to lose weight, an urge would be the impulse that drives them to engage in an activity that will presumably help them lose weight.

Let’s look at the common urges: 


 Limiting the amount of food or energy intake is restriction.

Typically a person will restrict food in an effort to lose weight, but other reasons are to deal with a perception of being out of control or other difficult feelings, like anxiety or depression.


 A binge is defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time. For it to be considered a binge, the amount of food must be larger than the average person would eat in one sitting and the person must feel out of control while doing it.

You may be thinking, how could someone thing a binge would make them lose weight! Well, there are so many different reasons why a person may binge.

Some individuals find it impossible to stop a binge when overwhelmed by intense feelings or stress. Depression and anxiety are also major factors in increasing the likelihood of a binging episode.

Sometimes a person might binge because they are extremely hungry. A statistic from the National Eating Disorder Association says a person is 12x more likely to binge if they have been dieting.


Most often a purge is referring to self-induced vomiting. However, if a person is attempting to “purge” the calories they have recently ingested, purging may also include a laxative, diuretic or other medication abuse, exercise, or fasting.

Purging can be incredibly dangerous because of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

The urge to purge is most common immediately after a person eats and can be accompanied by feeling out of control, mood swings, anxiety and depression.

How do I stop it?

Common tools used for surviving an urge are distraction and self-care, but getting the urges to abate takes practice. Most people will start out urge surfing before the urges subside or go away.

Urge surfing means holding off the urge as long as possible.

Urges are similar to waves: they build, crest, and crash. So, if a person could pretend they were jumping on their surfboard and riding the urge (hence the name urge surfing), then eventually the urge would crash and go away. It’ll come back though, so what then?

When the urge comes back, grab your surfboard and ride it again. Research has shown that the less a person fights an urge, the faster it goes away, and surfing is definitely NOT fighting. Another thing research has shown is that the more you practice riding the urge, the better you will be and the faster it will go away. Eventually, you’ll be able to deal with an urge before you register that you even had it. How cool would that be?

If you would like some tips for surviving an urge, sign up to stay connected with Get Centered Counseling and you'll immediately get a free Surviving the Urge PDF download.


Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.