Working “Play Food” Into Your Diet (July 2017)
The title may sound strange to you! After all, what is “play food,” and how can it help me? “Play Food” is a term that I use with my clients but it is also sometimes referred to as “fun food.” Diets teach us to deprive ourselves and not honor what we are craving. In return, we obsess about that food and feel wracked with guilt when we eventually eat it. Restricting in this manner can also result in more out-of-control binge cycles. As such, I like to teach clients to honor those “play food” cravings that they have touted as taboo.
There are many ideas on how to work “play food” into our diet. When I teach clients about this concept, I emphasize that it’s very important to be aware of their emotional status. What this means is if they are feeling, sad, anxious or overwhelmed, they are more likely to over-consume their “play food,” for example ice cream. Our feelings (negative or positive) can be so overwhelming and distracting that we become unaware of what emotion we are actually experiencing and why. Additionally, when a negative feeling is occurring it is not always possible to differentiate between our physical and emotional feelings of hunger. For example, if we are anxious, we may perceive the physical feeling of anxiety as hunger. I like to suggest that one delay, or postpone, eating if they are feeling consumed by their emotions. This can allow the feeling to calm down and help the individual become better connected to their true emotions and hunger levels.
My philosophy is that it’s important to have some type of “play food” in our diet whenever we crave it. I don’t believe in “weekend only” or “saving up for it.” Placing rules around food often results from remaining entrenched in the diet mentality and shows a lack of surrender to giving up this mentality. Whenever we crave “play food,” it’s important to fulfill this craving and, in doing so, to move toward being an intuitive/attuned eater. Eating a food that we crave “unleashes” this food, lessening the power that it has over us and bringing it back to ourselves.
So, how do we work on the process of healthfully indulging our cravings and regaining the power food once had over?
I start by having clients make a list of their forbidden foods. We go through the list one by one. Continuing with ice cream as an example, I will then suggest that they keep three pints of ice cream in the house. This is important, as the client knows that this food is always there. I have suggested to the client to keep several on-hand so they know that they can eat it whenever they want. Clients are often reluctant to do this, as they are concerned about weight-gain. It is important to emphasize that weight should not be the focus, as it looks at the external. When legalizing “play foods,” the focus should be on processing what is really going on internally.
I also like to remind clients that forbidding themselves from eating a food, for example saying “I can never have that food again,” is more likely to lead to a binge. This is known as the “final supper” syndrome, when a client gorges themselves on a particular food, vowing that this is the last time they will allow themselves to eat it. During the step of bringing the forbidden food into the house, it is important the client knows that this is not for “one final binge” and that they can eat this food at any time.
When the client is able to experiment with eating the “play food,” questions like these come up:
- What lead me to crave this food?
- Did I have a meal that didn’t fully satisfy me beforehand?
- Did I eat it because I wanted a different taste to end a meal?
- Did I feel lonely?
- Was I mad that I couldn’t say what I wanted to my teacher or boyfriend?
Or maybe I just wanted to eat ice cream. The food begins to separate from the emotions and simply becomes food again.
If ice cream is around all the time, we habituate eating it and it doesn’t seem so special. This is important to begin exploring so that eating a “forbidden” food is desensitized and doesn’t result in a binge.
When I start working with many of my clients, they don’t keep food, or much food, in their home, as they are afraid that they will be “out of control.” As we work through the process of allowing “play foods” in the house, we grow from considering one food to numerous others they have been depriving themselves of. We discuss what it would be like to keep some of their favorite foods stored at home and how they can learn to take charge over their food instead of their food being in charge of them. Having courage to keep food in the house is not easy, but it is something that can be worked toward gradually.
I also discuss the importance of eating foods of substance. For example, when a client has had a meal (i.e. a sandwich) they tend to be more likely to eat the food they crave without bingeing. If clients make sure to nourish their body substantially, they will begin eating foods because they crave them and not simply because they are famished or it is there.
This can be a long and difficult process, as clients typically have multiple foods to work through. I successfully help clients with this on a daily basis and help them meet their goals of wanting to live fulfilling lives, getting rid of their fear of food, and dropping the obsession with diets and the scale. This is necessary to help clients work toward the path, of body positive and anti-diet options.
I am happy to be a resource for you during this process.
- Matz, J., Frankel, E. (2014). Beyond the Shadow of a Diet – 2nd edition. Routledge.
- Matz, J., Frankel, E. (2006). Diet Survivors Handbook. Routledge.
- Tribole, E., Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating – 3rd Edition. Griffin Publishing, USA.