Intuitive Eating didn’t just change my diet. Everything feels different now.
I wake up in the morning without dread.
I have energy. I go for walks and exercise. I find it fun.
My jaw isn’t clenched so my teeth don’t hurt. I don’t feel like I’m choking anymore – that nearly constant sensation in my throat that felt like swallowing a handful of rocks. It’s gone now – at least most of the time. And when it comes back I know what to do
Anxiety and the Loss of Joy
My anxiety had gotten severe, almost debilitating. When my therapist or a self-help book would recommend playing or “engaging in enjoyable activities” as they usually say it, I would laugh at the irony.
One of the first things anxiety took away from me was my ability to want joyful things – or to even know what I might want at all if I had a chance at that luxury. All I wanted was relief from the physical pain of anxiety – my clenched jaw, burning throat, rock-hard shoulders and neck.
Then there were the racing thoughts. Decision-making was nearly impossible. I just hoped to get through each day so I could get to that first glass of red wine in the evening. Wine was the only thing that seemed to calm the buzzing beehive in my mind (which I learned later was just making things worse).
So I went on a mission to get some real help.
Intuitive Eating: Getting My ME Back
I threw myself at the mercy of the psychiatry department associated with my health insurance. I’d already been seen for anxiety a few years before, but I didn’t feel comfortable going on medication. I didn’t understand it. But this time, I told them I’d do anything. I just needed to know I’d exhausted every option.
Since my Generalized Anxiety Disorder is accompanied by a friendly Eating Disorder, my adventure in wellness began with an Intuitive Eating class. Offered through my health insurance, the class taught us to challenge the barrage of shame and negative self-talk through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other similar methods.
They consistently encouraged us to play – during and outside of mealtime. We learned to reject the restrictive dieting mindset that was only making things worse. We learned to allow ourselves to love food and find real joy in the act of eating – which seemed really weird to me at the time. Binging felt somewhat good while it was happening, but the shame-spiral afterward was unbearable. Joy and food? This was new.
This practice opened another door. Learning to eat intuitively led to drinking intuitively as well.
The class taught me to notice that a food I’m binging on stops tasting good before I’m even halfway through it. So I started paying the same attention to wine that I did to food. I discovered that after a few glasses of wine, it didn’t taste that good anymore either. What I thought was a calming effect was really just numbing – dulling everything, not just the anxiety. I realized how my disordered relationship to food and wine was making me hate myself more and numbing my positive emotions along with my negative ones.
Trading Self-Medication for a Prescription
The day I chose to go on anti-anxiety medication, I put wine away indefinitely. I read a book by Annie Grace called This Naked Mind and joined her online community’s Alcohol Experiment, which I can’t recommend highly enough. (She recently published a new book called The Alcohol Experiment explaining what it’s all about.)
There were a few scary weeks between giving up my harmful self-medication and the prescribed medication taking effect. I called it the black hole because I was feeling all of my feelings with no buffer. The anxiety felt like a death sentence that would keep me paralyzed forever. I missed my magical Malbec-effect!
Planning Play to Get Through the Worst Days
But I’d taken my therapist’s play advice seriously. Before I went
into that black hole, I set up projects for myself like planting
succulents, refinishing a wood-working project, turning my old dollhouse
into art and re-watching the Star Wars movies in chronological order.
Hanging out with people was another option, but the way I was feeling, I
chose to stay close to home. (These kinds of choices are different for
Then after a rough couple of weeks, the light started to break through. My brain chemistry started changing and I started sleeping beautiful, restful sleep. I started feeling like the kind of person who could take a chance and start speaking with my whole heart – that maybe PlayGrounding could even come back to life again?
The new practice I’d learned in that Intuitive Eating class led me to reevaluate many more areas of my life. Intuitive drinking, intuitive budgeting, intuitive friend-making. I started realizing that I was treating so many other areas of my life the same way I was treating food – with expectations, rules, restrictions, binges, starvation and shame.
I started asking myself how I really wanted to feel, what I really wanted to be and do, how I wanted to spend my time. Learning the answers to those questions started with simply learning how to tell if I’m hungry or full. My body and intuition is whispering advice to me all the time – I just needed to learn how to listen to it.