Urge surfing is the key to freedom around food and permanent weight loss!

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

After my dramatic weight loss with my quarterly DIYFMD, I got it into my head that I should start doing a couple of fasting days each week, along the lines of Dr. Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet. Whenever I fast, I lose weight. Simple. But when I talked to my coach Katrina (@coachkatrinaubellmd) about this new plan, she asked me a few choice questions that teased out my motivation to increase my fasting, and showed me that restricting my intake more will inevitably lead to stronger urges to eat food (this is why restrictive diets can sometimes lead to binge eating), and that I am in a hurry to get to 135 pounds because I think I will feel better there than I do here. That I might be able to get to 135 pounds with more fasting (in fact, I’m certain I would!), but that once I get there I will still be stuck in my ever-present pattern of restriction followed by binging and feeling out of control around food. And that I would likely regain some weight again, as I always have ever since my first “successful” weight loss with Weight Watchers more than 20 years ago. I lost over 120 pounds and became a “lifetime member,” regained it all, lost it all again, regained half again with pregnancy and lactation, lost even more, then just this year regained 20 pounds when COVID-19 hit….

There is a reason why the vast majority of overweight people who participate in clinical weight loss trials backslide after the first 6 months. It’s because we all focus on food as the problem, try to restrict in in one way or another, and never address our underlying mindset. I can’t wait to hit my goal of 135 pounds, but perhaps even more enticing to me is the promise of working on my awareness and thoughts and learning how to allow my mind to finally achieve peace and freedom around food. The mental angst that I experience when I am feeling out of control with my eating is truly distressing, and wouldn’t go away were I to fast my way down to 135. One of my main goals is to become someone who feels peace around food in any situation. Fasting my way down to 135 pounds will get me to 135 pounds, but it certainly won’t help me change my brain so that I stop constantly regaining weight whenever I relax my “iron grip” on my diet (as I described the feeling to Gina Kolata in the New York Times a few years ago). My thoughts that I have to have an “iron grip” on my diet in order to maintain my weight loss is the very epitome of resistance, of resisting feelings of deprivation or restlessness and white knuckling it around tempting foods instead of relaxing and just allowing those feelings to be there, knowing that no feeling in my body can actually harm me.

Well known experts in habit change, including Jud Brewer, MD, PhD at Brown University (@judbrewer) and Kelly McGonigal, PhD at Stanford University (@kellymcgonigal), preach the same gospel as my own coach: start to be aware. Recognize how your body is feeling when you have a craving or urge to eat something when you’re not actually hungry. Allow the feeling to be there, investigate how it feels, don’t try to make it go away (don’t resist it) – just feel it. Many addiction experts refer to this as “urge surfing” – and it’s thought to be the most effective way of conquering addiction and changing habits (including overeating and binging on sugar – my addiction – as well as smoking, overdrinking, porn addiction, cocaine or heroin use, or any other unwanted habit). My entire life I have white knuckled my way to a lower weight, trying to resist or distract myself to avoid eating when I felt the urge to. I am committed now to trying a new way: to learning mindfulness and truly practicing urge surfing rather than simply reading and writing about it. I believe it’s the key to freedom around food. And oh how I long for that peace of mind!

This past week, I stuck mostly to my plan and really did my best to allow urges to be there without pushing them away or giving in and eating. I also increased my exercise a tad, adding in a brisk 30 min walk outdoors in the gorgeous crisp sunshine several days this week in addition to my usual morning elliptical session. The results are better than I had hoped! I expected a little gain after refeeding from my fasting mimicking diet and overindulging in a family barbecue on Saturday and my husband’s birthday dinner on Sunday night, but I somehow managed to LOSE ANOTHER POUND despite the weekend’s indiscretions! Hallelujah, urge surfing was my friend this week! ????

Project 135 stats:

Starting weight: 159.6
Week 1: 157.2
Week 2: 155.6
Week 3: 155.4
Week 4: 153.8
Week 5: 151.0
Week 6: 152.8
Week 7: ? (Dad’s death)
Week 8: 150.8
Week 9: 152.6
Week 10: 154.2
Week 11: 152.6
Week 12: 150.8
Week 13: 150.6
Week 14: 151.6
Week 15: 152.4
Week 16: 152.4
Week 17: 155.2 (sugar binges)
Week 18: 154.4
Week 19: 153.8
Week 20: 151.2
Week 21: 150.2

Total weight loss: 9.4 pounds (5.9%)

Have you, like me, gone on and off diets, losing some weight only to regain it again (maybe even gaining back more than you started with)? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!
xo Jen




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