Eating at the Fair When You Have a Complicated Relationship with Food
OK, fair and carnival season is underway in many towns, cities, counties, and states across our country. You know how it goes- what does everyone talk about when they go to the fair? The FOOD! I was driving in my car yesterday and decided to pause my favorite Prince music to listen to the good old ole’ fashioned radio. The first thing I heard, was a 1 min song all about the food at the state fair! It was pretty clever, and catchy, I have to admit, but seriously a song all about fair food?!
Although there are so many amazing things about going to the fair (animals, vegetation, inventions, arts, crafts, music, equipment, rides, history lessons, games, the people, shopping,…), there’s no denying it, the food wins the 1st place blue ribbon for the “Most Talked About” fair event. The food is the big deal which can make it even that much more challenging when you have an eating disorder.
OK, the Blue Ribbon question: Can you really go to the fair (not only survive it but possibly enjoy it) when you have an eating disorder?
The answer: Yes!
The answer: Try following the 3 P’s: Plan, Prepare and use your People.
At The Emily Program, we believe in a food philosophy where “all foods fit” into a healthy lifestyle. There is no good food. There is no bad food. It’s just food. It’s the judgments that some attach to certain foods that make it “bad, good, healthy, unhealthy…” We’ll save that conversation for another post, but I do think it can be a nice entry point into flexibility with fair food.
Knowing all of that, I bet you now know what foods can be included in a diet of balance, variety, and moderation? You guessed it. Fair food.
If you are going to the fair, PLAN TO EAT. Remember your friends, Hunger & Fullness? If you are connected to those cues, try to honor them. If they are long-lost friends, follow your plan for eating as your guide. Planning to restrict or deny your hunger and fullness cues is sure to occupy your time, likely add to any stress you may have about the day, could make you feel pretty miserable, could even trigger other eating disorder behaviors and, not to mention, will take away from the experience of the fair.
Now that you have considered another perspective on food, let’s begin practicing the 3 P’s to get ready for fair day:
Plan Your Day:
- Be intentional with your eating plan for the day. If you are going later in the day, EAT REGULARLY before you go. Don’t restrict to save up. It will more than likely set you up to overeat and/or be more upset about what you do eat. Your body relies on you to feed it regularly. Same thing on fair day.
- Know the day’s schedule: Do you know when you are leaving and how long you will be there? This may be really helpful with sticking to an eating schedule and with being thoughtful around what to eat and drink before, during, and after the fair.
- Stay Hydrated. OK, not the main point of this blog, but it’s so easy to under-hydrate at the fair. Think of non-diuretic/non-caffeinated drinks as your key to your metabolism’s ignition and a good friend of your heart (and other organs).
- Consider your support needs: Ask yourself what might be helpful. Can you plan something you really enjoy doing before, during or after you eat? Does it help to visit the horse barn, catch some live music, or visit the flower gardens after challenging food? Does it help to sit down in a comfortable and less populated area while you eat? Does it help to eat while you are walking or eat with a support person or alone?
- Develop a game plan for when you feel overwhelmed with choices. Maybe it’s helpful to know what you are going to eat and how it will fit in your day before you go. Can you look on the Fair’s website to see the newest food or where the vendors are located? Can you bring this information to your support team or your dietitian to help you incorporate a favorite or feared food into your regular plan for eating?
- Fill up your recovery toolbox: At the fair, you’ll no doubt be presented with an opportunity to practice eating outside of your comfort zone as well as to challenge some rules around food and eating. How will you fill your “toolbox” so you can be successful? What will you do if the food you plan on eating isn’t available or if someone wants to share food with you? What will you do if you lose your appetite or are triggered to overeat? Maybe you share these questions and others with your support team, dietitian, or therapist, so they can help you plan for success. The fair can be fun, but also an emotional experience. What tools do you need to cope in a recovery-minded way?
- Practice flexibility: Just because you choose a food, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Try to be in the “gray” – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Plenty of people are happy to share a dish with others- and for many foods at the fair, that’s the idea. And, if you eat more than you thought you would or have in your plan for eating, remember no one food or eating experience can change your body. Also in the flexibility department, if your plan for eating doesn’t go, well, exactly as planned, be flexible with yourself. It’s progress NOT Perfection! Consider being patient with and kind to yourself.
- Who are your main supports: Are you going with family? Friends? Work? Church? A mix? Who knows about your support needs? How can they help? What if no one knows? Is someone in your group a trustworthy person you could confide in?
- Maybe your support “person” is not a person: Sometimes written reminders, quotes, or even a piece of jewelry you wear or worry stone you carry can help you to remember your intention, to re-center or ground yourself. Maybe you practice a favorite yoga pose or breathing technique, use mindfulness skills, bring awareness to your surroundings or use your senses to bring yourself back to calm (leaves on the trees, the color of the tractors, the squeals coming from the roller coaster rides, the scents of the horticultural building…)
- Use your phone: Who could you text or call if you need a quick boost of confidence, a reality check, or just someone to vent to. Recovery is hard work- sometimes just being able to say “this is hard” is extremely helpful.
Look, if you are going to the fair, by choice or not, you do have options and choices on how you approach the situation. If you can find and use your voice, ask for what you need, try to find aspects of the fair that you enjoy, and consider that all food can fit into a healthy lifestyle then, no matter how it turns out, you know tried your best. That’s something to be proud of. Who knows, maybe you’ll even write your own song about the fair- one filled with victory tunes!
P.S. If you were curious, my favorite fair foods: Roasted corn on the cob, cotton candy, cheese curds, caramel apple on a stick, walleye cakes, pecan salted nut roll and I am definitely trying the “OOF-da Tacos” this year, I am Minnesotan after all-don’t ya know!