Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Resisting the Urge to Surf

Surf? You probably saw the title to this week’s Monday Motivator and thought, “What does surfing have to do with a blog about recovery, health, and wellness?”

Not much, if we are talking about the kind of surfing that comes with an oblong flat board, sleek black wetsuit, and a bank of high, toasty waves.

But when it comes to facilitating a continuity of wellness that exhibits consistent restraint in the face of compulsive, urge-like addictive tendencies, we can learn a lot from surfing.

“Urge surfing” is a term coined by Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. The technique was developed by Marlatt to combat the “abstinence-violation effect,” or the feeling of internal powerlessness we get after we have transgressed against our self-imposed health or wellness standards. Once we have crossed that internal line over into following our urges instead of exhibiting restraint, Marlatt explains, we may feel an intense discouragement and reason that our course is already set, so we might as well continue down the damage path rather than correcting our course.

This, as you might imagine, not only feels awful, but has fairly unpleasant effects upon our lives and in our relationships.

In Marlatt’s many years of experience as one of the leading authorities on preventing relapse, how we relate to our lapses is the primary contributing factor as to whether we will engage in further urge-type behaviors.

To combat the downward spiral that the abstinence-violation effect induces, Marlatt suggests a healthy and consistent application of “urge surfing.”  Urge surfing refers to an effective relapse prevention technique we can use to “ride out” the relatively brief span of time in which our urges feel powerful enough to potentially overtake us.

Urges, Marlatt explains, are like waves. They roll in, and then they roll out again. Most urges arise and subside within a thirty minute time period. So if we learn how to “ride out” the urge without resisting, judging, or otherwise jumping on the urge bandwagon, it will eventually subside naturally with no undue ill effects.

When practicing urge surfing, Marlatt teaches, we do not fight with our urges. Fighting with our urges gives them additional power and potency in our awareness, which just makes it that much harder for us to resist them.

So instead, we just observe them, like a surfer would observe a wave that he or she did not want to catch. Eventually, the wave would unfurl itself completely and dissolve back into the ocean, leaving us with calm seas in its wake.

So the next time you feel the temptation to engage with urge-related thoughts that have the potential to lead to relapse behaviors, follow these simple steps to try urge surfing instead:

  1. Simply observe the urge as it arises. Tell yourself, “There is no harm or judgment in acknowledging that I am feeling an urge. It is just a wave. I will watch but not act.”
  2. Pay attention to your breath as an aid to keeping a big-picture perspective. This helps you avoid the tendency to develop “urge tunnel vision,” which focuses your awareness so intensely on the urge that it begins to feel unstoppable and overwhelming.
  3. Notice the types of thoughts you are having around the urge…for instance, “Wow I sure would love to (fill-in-the-blank) right now. Boy that would feel/taste/etc good. Hmmm. Yes. I sure wish I could do/say/experience (fill-in-the-blank)right now. Yup. Very interesting.” Keep observing and notice how your own experience of having the urge shifts and changes in intensity, focus, and duration as the wave continues to roll in and then right by you.
  4. Instead of fearing the sensation of the urge and of the consequences should you choose to follow it, maintain an objective, scientific, “research” mindset. Study the urge as if you were a scientist noting down observations so you could write up a report about it later. If it helps, pretend it is not your urge, but someone else’s urge that you are documenting.
  5. As the urge subsides, be prepared to journal about your findings. Note especially how the craving eventually subsided and how the experience of watching and observing the urge was different from the experience of fighting with, resisting, or attempting to ignore the presence of the urge.
  6. Be sure to congratulate and celebrate yourself for trying on a new approach to your urges!

Urge surfing is a powerful, empirically-supported relapse prevention technique that has helped many individuals change their relationship with their urges to smoke, binge eat, use substances, drink, and other self-damaging, unhealthy behaviors. Marlatt encourages first time urge surfing practitioners to remember that learning any new skill is like learning to ride a bicycle – we are bound to fall off a few times as we learn. But as we continue to persevere, the skill feels more natural and innate, and slowly but surely urge surfing becomes part of our repertoire of trusted tools we can use to reclaim the health and balance in our daily lives.

If you are struggling to relate in healthy and life-affirming ways to the presence of your urges, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate, skilled professional staff is well-versed in Mindfulness techniques like urge surfing. We know what it feels like to confront a significant life challenge such as relapse in a recovery or health program, and we have supported many individuals to make lasting positive changes in their relationship with their bodies, minds, relationships, and environments. Contact us today to learn more about how urge surfing and Mindfulness can be an aid and a support to you in saying “no” to urges and “yes” to wellness and balance in 2011 and beyond!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Finding a Reason to Recover, Part II

In the first part of our exploration of finding a reason to do the hard work of recovery, we investigated the meaning and purpose of reasons themselves. What is a “reason”? How do we begin to uncover our reasons for staying sick, and our reasons for getting well? Perhaps most importantly, what recourse do we have if and when we discover our reasons for staying sick conflict with our reasons for getting well?

In this second part of our exploration, we will look at the word “choice”. The most commonly accepted definition of this word is “the power, right, or liberty to choose; option”. Yet in many cases, the power of choice feels less like a right or liberty and more like a burden or obligation.

So stop for a moment now and think of how you commonly experience choice in your life. Does choice feel like a human right, a liberty, an option you have for exercising your own powerful, personal freedom? Or does choice feel like a burden, an obligation, an exercise in overcoming almost impenetrable fear?

Eleanor Roosevelt, a strong and empowered woman who lived through one of the most tumultuous times in American history as she supported her husband in rebuilding the hopes and dreams of a nation wrecked by economic depression, is famous for her choice to maintain her personal optimism in the face of the direst of circumstances. She once stated, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

While it is unlikely that any of us will ever make a decision to “reach out eagerly” and not encounter fear, Mrs. Roosevelt’s statement points to the possibility that this experience is not impossible to achieve – but it is also not going to be easy to attain.

The simple fact is that each and every day we encounter many reasons that could support our choice to stay stuck, and we encounter just as many reasons to choose to pursue health, recovery, and wellness…and it is our power of personal choice alone that will determine which path we will take.

So the challenge then becomes to decide what is in it for us to make one choice over another.

As I have had the privilege of working with so many individuals over the years, it has become clear to me that human beings are most likely to choose positive change when the pain of staying stuck exceeds the perceived pain of breaking free.  I have witnessed how each of us, over time, develops a sense of our own personal pain threshold – the line in the sand over which we may be willing to step if the pain of staying stuck outweighs the fear of trying something new. This personal pain threshold is determined by our cumulative past experiences of hope, joy, triumph, frustration, disappointment, and emotional injury. When staying stuck does not inflict enough pain to push us above our personal pain threshold set point, we will most likely choose to maintain our status quo. However, when staying stuck pushes us past our own personal pain threshold, we may actually experience that we have no choice but to step across that line and try something new.

So now it is time to contemplate the impact it will have on your life if you exercise your human right and option to choose to stay stuck in close companionship with your eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. You can contemplate or even journal about how your own choice not to do the hard work of recovery will impact your life, your relationships, your career, your daily life, your valued activities.

Next, you can consider and jot down your thoughts about the impact to your life if you choose to invest your time and energy into meeting your recovery, health, and wellness goals.

Now, take a look at what is on either side of your line in the sand determine where your current pain threshold is. If you find that your threshold is not activated enough to make the choice to do the hard work of choosing recovery, then ask yourself what kind of support you need to help you access your human right to choose to give yourself the gift of recovered life.

 At Southlake Counseling, we have both the expert training and the firsthand experience to know that you have the power to say “no” to living with an eating disorder and YES to recovered life – whether you begin your recovery journey believing that recovery is possible for you or not. We also have more than two decades of clinical expertise in implementing the very latest treatment methods for helping our clients to achieve and even exceed their recovery, health, and wellness goals. Most importantly, over the last two decades, we have had the privilege of witnessing thousands of courageous individuals like you harnessing the power of professional support to help them break free from their fears and limitations and break through to recovered life. 

So this holiday season, visit us at and give yourself the most precious gift of all –the gift of choosing YOU!

Be Well,


Recent Research Reveals Sugar More Addictive than Cocaine

Hi everyone, Kimberly Krueger, here In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about the addictive nature of sugar. I think the research findings are important and fascinating, so I’m going to share it with you.

Researchers have learned that rats overwhelmingly prefer water sweetened with saccharin to cocaine, a finding that demonstrates the addictive potential of sweets.

Offering larger doses of cocaine did not alter the rats’ preference for saccharin, according to the report.

Scientists said the study, presented this week in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, might help explain the rise in human obesity, which has been driven in part by an over consumption of sugary foods.

In the experiment, 43 rats were placed in cages with two levers, one of which delivered an intravenous dose of cocaine and the other a sip of highly sweetened water. At the end of the 15-day trial, 40 of the rats consistently chose saccharin instead of water.

When sugar water was substituted for the saccharin solution the results were the same, researchers said.

Further testing subjected 24 cocaine-addicted rats to a similar trial. At the end of 10 days, the majority of them preferred saccharin.

“Intense sweetness is more rewarding to the rats than cocaine,” said coauthor Magalie Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux in France. “Excess sugar could increase levels of the brain chemical dopamine, leading to a craving for sweets,” she said.

Lenoir said mammalian taste receptors evolved in an environment that lacked sugar and so were not adapted to the high concentrations of sweets found in the modern diet. Cocaine also increases dopamine, but through a different brain mechanism.

So, there we have it folks, the research is in: eating sugar causes cravings for more sugar.  *Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A coordinator of the Weight A Second weight management program at Southlake Center suggests the following tips to decrease sugar cravings:

      1.    Frequent Meals. Eating meals at regular intervals will prevent drops in blood sugar that trigger cravings.

      2.   Eat Whole Foods. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains contain some naturally occurring sugars, but they also offer dietary fiber and important nutrients to help balance blood sugar.

      3.   The More Natural, The Better. Choose an orange, rather than orange juice. Not only will you get less sugar, but you’ll also benefit from more nutrients.

      4.   Beware Of Fat-Free Labels. These foods actually contribute to health and weight problems. What the labels don’t tell you is that these products contain more sugar – sometimes two or more times that found in the “regular” versions.

      5.   Assess.  Are you actually just thirsty, or sleepy?  Oftentimes sugar cravings are just misread signals for other needs.

Hope these suggestions help.  And if you would like to know more about saying No to Diets and Yes to life, be sure to contact us at Southlake and we’ll get you started right away.

Be well,


*Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A is certified through ACE as a personal trainer and group instructor.  She is also certified through the NCBDN as a weight loss/nutrition instructor. Tiffany is provisionally licensed by the NC Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.  She is Southlake’s newest team member and is coordinator for Southlake’s Weight A Second Weight Management Program.