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The Benefits of Play and Fun

If you engage in mindless eating, you might be short on play time and not know it. Many dysregulated eaters don’t much value play or engage in enough of it and end up turning to food for pleasure. Society may assume that overeaters are hedonistic pleasure-seekers while, in fact, they’re often perfectionistic, over-achieving, productivity addicts.

Both work and play have implicit value and neither is more important than the other. The purpose of work is to learn something—information or a process— and engaging in an activity to reach a goal. Play, on the other hand, is doing an activity solely for the pleasure/joy/fun of it, with no goal in mind; not yearning or aiming for improvement or to accomplish anything. If you’re an Olympic swimmer, you view swimming differently than if you’re lazily doing laps in your backyard pool for the sheer enjoyment of feeling your body weightlessly slice through water. Ditto if you write blogs simply to get your thoughts down or to express yourself versus depending on blogging to make a living.

Dysregulated eaters often feel driven to be busy and productive. Everything they do is freighted with consequence and judgment, even sports or creative pursuits. Eating an ice cream cone could be fun, but troubled eaters must first count calories or fat grams and then feel guilty while they’re eating it. Dance, art, writing, or crafts could help them let loose, if they weren’t agonizing over how well they’re performing. If you engage in activity but feel guilty or worried about how well you’re doing, how can you enjoy yourself? You can’t. Guilt and worry cancel out pleasure.

When we play, we don’t care how we’re doing because we’re most interested in enjoying what we’re doing. Play is a goal in itself. It’s skiing down the mountain in terrible form having the time of your life. Play is messy and frivolous and cares nothing for tomorrow. Gone are judgments and self-evaluations, absent is any desire for a polished, finished product or public approval. It’s a just-for-me-now experience. The moment we think about playing better, play morphs into work. Play is pure joy, which is not to say that there’s not also pleasure in producing something or reaching a goal. There is, but with work, the pay off is down the road; with play it’s in every step we take.

Your food seeking might actually be fun or pleasure seeking. So, instead of working harder at learning to be a “normal” eater, why not try adding more play and joy to your life? For additional reading on this subject, check out my chapter on Work and Play in my book, Outsmarting Overeating: Boost Your Life Skills, End Your Food Problems.