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  • Helly Barnes

Why Fun Matters in Building Your Life Beyond an Eating Disorder

Image of a car with a woman's legs out of the window, wearing pink socks

how often do you really have fun?

In this modern-day world of interacting with technology more than people and the urgency to be productive every waking moment that seems to be part of modern culture, good old-fashioned fun is something more people than ever are missing from their lives, but an eating disorder will magnify that loss of fun 1,000 times over.

Modern pressures aside, a brain that has a deeply entrenched eating disorder or any other form of addiction has much less capacity to experience real fun or even pleasure from other things in life.

The eating disorder itself is likely to have made many aspects of your life miserable or at least emotionless and the kinds of things that give others enjoyment can be much less pleasurable to an energy deficit-addicted brain. You’ve likely become very good at laughing to fit in with what’s expected in social company but rarely with a genuine and joyful belly laugh.

Image of a child playing in comparison to a man looking stressed and exhausted

When you are overcoming an eating disorder and your narrowed focus opens up to the ability to experience life's ups and downs again, then as you find yourself able to experience pleasure again in all kinds of things, it’s vital to find ways to rediscover the fun in life...

Because fun in life is very important!

But why exactly does it matter if fun is now lacking in our addicted and disordered lives? This post considers why fun matters in building your life beyond an eating disorder. Before delving any further though, I will first clarify exaclty what fun is.

What is 'Fun'?

According to dictionary definitions, fun is, pleasure, enjoyment or light-hearted entertainment.

Fun is most recognisable in children who are easily swept along in moments of pure enjoyment–guilt-free and innocent. To have fun means to be in the moment, putting worries about other things aside. It’s letting go of your inhibitions and not being scared to be seen as silly. Those concerns only hold you back from letting go and finding pure joy in the moment. Fun commonly also involves imagination and creativity.

Although it’s possible to have fun alone, the chances of finding fun or laughing are vastly increased when you spend time with other people. The common belief that children laugh more than adults isn’t that simple. The amount anyone laughs is dependent on the number of social interactions they have, irrespective of age.

Based on this information about fun, it is perhaps easy to see why fun is something that becomes less easy to find when you have an eating disorder because an eating disorder will make you much more inhibited (particularly with food and the ability to just relax freely) and they can lead you to become more isolated. However, it’s not just people with eating disorders who lose touch with the life skill of fun, although an eating disorder will affect you more than most. But when you do lose your ability for fun, so much suffers.

When you stop having fun, you stop being the best possible version of yourself and then everyone misses out.

Why Fun Matters in Overcoming an Eating Disorder:

Two women laughing
  • Fun and laughter can reduce stress and anxiety by increasing levels of the feel-good chemicals in your brain and reducing levels of the stress hormones throughout your body.

  • Fun improves levels of depression, makes you sleep better and can help improve your memory.

  • Fun and laughter improve physical and emotional pain perceptions and improve your immunity, tumour markers and risks of heart disease and diabetes.

  • Just a smile in a moment triggers your brain to release neuropeptides which also help combat stress and boost endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which make you feel good in yourself.

  • Fun through play is shown to protect your brain from degeneration—age-related brain disorders can be delayed through fun games and activities.

  • And, if you think you are too busy to have fun—it’s been demonstrated that workers who take time to have fun are more energised, creative and productive in their work.

It’s valuable to explore ways to experience fun again as you overcome the eating disorder and to build more feel-good positivity into your life with things that are not related to the addicted pursuit of energy deficit. This will improve your capacity to connect to your authentic self and develop an identity beyond the eating disorder.

What about Play?

Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist, clinical researcher, founder of the National Institue of Play and generally considered a play expert. Fun often stems from play and as such he recognises that play isn’t just important for children, for whom play is critical to healthy brain development, but throughout the lifespan.

When looking at the brain in response to play, Brown’s research teams have found that the brain circuits responding to play triggers are located in the same deep survival centres as hunger circuits and he identifies that play is a physiological necessity in the same way as sleep is.

In fact, the higher brain region in humans (the pre-frontal cortex) does not need to be engaged for us to enjoy and have fun in play but the act of play itself can really help to shape and develop the pre-frontal cortex.

Three men playing table football

Play is also seen to improve a person’s quality of life, decrease stress, help us feel connected to a community, reduce feelings of loneliness and promote optimism and empathy.

Dr Brown stipulates that lifelong brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to continue to learn and change) is ‘primed by playfulness’ and although our approach to play might change as we age, overcoming a bit of inhibition and finding ways to add more play into our lives at any age can only be a good thing.

A quote that summarises Dr Brown's message is,

“The opposite to play is not work but is depression”.

When overcoming the eating disorder feels long, emotional and exhausting, adding some playfulness can make a difference. It can make the process more stimulating, engage your brain in ways that are more likely to be wired in and reduce the anxiety or low mood you might be experiencing.

Setting yourself challenges with your eating, resting or how fully you can aim for overshoot, applying a sense of playful curiosity to the process and playfully seeing how many Smarties are in a giant tube while you consume them all, removes some of the seriousness from the process.

Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the ability to do something just for the sheer pleasure of it and for no other reason—pursuits that will have you happily losing your sense of time and living entirely in the moment. Adopt curiosity and creativity to find focus and passion for things in your life that will bring more fun to it.

Rediscover your childhood self and allow their sense of playfulness and pleasure to resurface.

Your self-identity is also important in your ability to find more fun. As you build your identity beyond the eating disorder, start to identify as someone who is and has fun. Believe this of yourself and let the fun and playfulness in... It's very definitely ok to be a bit wild and free sometimes!

Now it is time for you to stop reading this and go have some FUN!!

And if you do need my recipe for introducing more fun into your life here it is:

Adopt a little Feck it attitude;

Become more Uninhibited;

And be true to your Natural inner child!

Some Fun References!

**For more information on eating disorders and how to overcome one, please don't miss my newly available books,


The information for this post was largely taken from Aiming for Overshoot.

If you like to listen, as well as (or instead of read!) then this blog post is the transcript of a podcast episode which you will find on my podcast series,

available on this website, all mainstream podcast platforms and on YouTube.

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