Mastering Emotional Resilience: 4 Essential Distress Tolerance Skills to Cope with Binges

how to cope with binges

Dealing with difficult emotions before and after binges can be a daunting challenge, often leading to a cycle of negative behaviors and feelings of powerlessness. However, by harnessing the power of Distress Tolerance Skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), you can develop effective coping mechanisms and regain control over your emotional well-being. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore four DBT techniques: urge surfing, being mindful and curious, opposite action, and splashing water on your face. By incorporating these skills into your daily life, you can cultivate emotional resilience and create a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

1. Urge Surfing 

binge eating coping skills

Urge surfing is a technique that allows you to ride the wave of cravings and urges without succumbing to impulsive behaviours. It involves observing the urge as an impartial witness, recognising its intensity, and allowing it to pass naturally.

To implement urge surfing, start by finding a quiet space where you can focus inward. When an urge arises, sit comfortably and bring your attention to your breath. Observe the physical sensations associated with the urge, such as tension or restlessness. Notice any accompanying thoughts or emotions without judgment.

Imagine the urge as a wave rising and falling in the ocean. As the wave of the urge builds, remind yourself that it is temporary and will eventually subside. Instead of fighting against the urge or giving in to it, practice staying present and allowing the wave to pass. Observe the changes in the intensity of the urge as it gradually diminishes. By riding the wave of the urge, you regain control over your actions and reduce the likelihood of binging.

2. Being Mindful and Curious

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Being mindful and curious involves developing a non-judgmental awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By cultivating mindfulness, you can develop a deeper understanding of your triggers and emotional patterns, paving the way for healthier coping mechanisms.

To practice mindfulness, start by setting aside dedicated moments throughout your day for introspection. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. As thoughts or emotions arise, acknowledge them without judgment and gently guide your focus back to your breath.

In moments of difficult emotions, pause and take a few mindful breaths. Allow yourself to fully experience the emotion, observing its physical sensations in your body. Be curious about the emotion and explore its underlying causes. Ask yourself questions like, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What triggered this emotion?” By adopting a curious attitude, you can gain valuable insights into your emotional landscape and identify patterns that lead to binges.

For example, you might discover that certain events, interactions, or thoughts consistently trigger specific emotions that drive you towards binging. By recognising these triggers, you can take proactive steps to address them. Engaging in journaling or keeping a emotions diary can be helpful in tracking your triggers and gaining a deeper understanding of their impact on your emotional well-being.

3. Opposite Action 

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Opposite action is a powerful technique within DBT that allows you to consciously choose behaviours that are opposite to your initial impulse. By intentionally acting against the destructive behavioural patterns associated with difficult emotions, you can create new neural pathways in your brain and weaken the association between these emotions and the urge to binge.

Identifying your instinctive response to difficult emotions is the first step in implementing opposite action. Consider the emotions that commonly lead to binges for you. What is your typical behavioural response? It could be isolating yourself, engaging

in self-destructive behaviours, or seeking comfort in unhealthy food choices.

Once you have identified your instinctive response, it’s time to practice opposite action. The goal is to consciously choose behaviours that are in direct opposition to your initial impulse. For example, if your instinct is to isolate yourself when feeling overwhelmed, opposite action would involve reaching out to a supportive friend or family member, attending a social gathering, or engaging in an activity that promotes connection and positive interaction.

Implementing opposite action requires self-awareness and a willingness to challenge your comfort zone. It may feel uncomfortable or even counterintuitive at first, but by actively choosing to act against your initial impulse, you disrupt the automaticity of the negative behavioural pattern. With practice, the association between difficult emotions and binging weakens, paving the way for healthier coping strategies.

To effectively implement opposite action, start by identifying situations in which your typical response leads to binging. Create a plan in advance for how you will engage in opposite actions when faced with these triggers. For example, if stress at work often leads to binging, plan to take short breaks to engage in stress-relieving activities, such as stretching, deep breathing exercises, or going for a walk. By consciously choosing to engage in opposite behaviours, you empower yourself to break free from the destructive cycle and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

4. Splashing Water on Your Face (Yes, you heard that right) binge eating coping skills

When intense emotions or cravings arise, splashing water on your face can provide a simple yet effective interruption technique. The sudden change in sensation diverts your attention and creates a momentary pause, allowing you to regain control over your actions and make a conscious decision.

To implement this technique, find a sink or use a water bottle filled with cool water. When you feel overwhelmed by the urge to binge or intense emotions, go to the sink or a private area, and splash the water on your face. Feel the coolness of the water against your skin, the sensation of droplets cascading down. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to reset.

As you splash water on your face, use this brief respite to reflect on your current state. Take a moment to check in with yourself and evaluate your needs. Are you physically hungry or is this a response to emotional distress? Are there alternative ways to address and soothe your emotions? This interruption technique gives you the opportunity to pause and make a conscious decision rather than succumbing to impulsive behaviours.

Remember, the key to successfully implementing DBT skills is practice and consistency. These techniques may not provide instant relief, but with time and commitment, they can become powerful tools in your journey toward coping with binges and difficult emotions.


binge coping skills

Coping with difficult emotions before and after binges requires patience and dedication. By incorporating the DBT skills of urge surfing, being mindful and curious, opposite action, and splashing water on your face, you have a powerful toolkit to help you navigate challenging emotions and regain control over your actions. Embrace these skills as part of your daily routine and embark on your journey towards emotional resilience and a healthier relationship with food and yourself. Remember to be kind to yourself throughout this process, celebrating each small victory along the way.

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