Edge-localized modes (ELMs) are cyclic disturbances in the outer region of tokamak plasmas that are influential in determining present and future tokamak performance. In this Letter, we outline an approach to modeling ELMs in which we envisage toroidal peeling modes initiating a Taylor relaxation [Phys. Rev. Lett. 33 , 1139 (1974)] of a tokamak outer region plasma. Relaxation produces a peeling destabilizing flattened edge current profile and a stabilizing plasma-vacuum current sheet; the balance between the two determines the radial extent of the relaxed region. The model can be used to predict the energy losses due to an ELM and reproduces experimentally observed variations with edge safety factor and plasma collisionality. There is an intrinsic ‘‘deterministic scatter’’ in the model that also accords with observation.