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A healthy State Fair? Yep. Doable.

statefair-Today is day five of the Minnesota State Fair – an awesome event Minnesotans have come to know as the Great Minnesota Get Together. Or, as the Star Tribune referred to it — “the annual communal pig-out!”

Yes, it’s 12 days of late summer fun…and more fried food on a stick than, well, you can shake a stick at.

Many people go to the State Fair for the food alone. In fact, most people don’t enter the fairgrounds expecting to feast on healthy or nutritional items. And this year, the State Fair is boasting the addition of more than 40 cholesterol-clogged, plunked on-a-stick options. Yikes.

LoriandSandra-statefair.jpgCheck out the list of new items to the State Fair menu this year: A croissant doughnut; bacon wrapped grilled shrimp on a stick; a bourbon wurst; candied bacon cannoli; cocoa cheese bites; deep fried olives; deep fried bread pudding; wine glazed deep fried meatloaf (what?!); and the talk of the Food building — the three pig torta which is fried pork tenderloin, ham and maple-LoriandJacob-Cowboyhatsglazed bacon inside a toasted roll with tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and spicy chipotle mayo….and more. Seriously? Wow?!

Certainly I’m in the minority, but I believe it’s possible to fully enjoy the State Fair by eating healthy and/or NOT indulging in all of the carb, calorie and cholesterol craziness. And this is a bold statement coming from someone who binged her way through the fair for most of her adult life. I now have a different relationship with the State Fair, and I love it. While there are times I wish I could eat my way through the fairgrounds and not pay for it later, I simply do better when I celebrate my new healthy attitude and have fun without the food.

Show of hands…how many of you go to the fair primarily to eat?

Lots of hands went up, I know it. I have many friends who pride themselves on eating their way through the fair and posting everything they ate on a stick on Facebook. Truth be told, I look forward to their posts each year and now live vicariously through their fun indulgence. It is a celebration of living in the moment and I would do it, if I could.

I also have friends who avoid the fair so they are not faced with the temptations. Smart. I used to be one of them. For the 1.5 years that I was actively working my weight loss program, I too avoided the fair so I wouldn’t be tempted by all of that fatty, deep fried and carb infested food. Now, I have a different approach. As do others that I’ve been in communication with this weekend on Facebook.

So how do you enjoy the fair and not give in to the temptations all around you? Here are some of my tips. I am new to the healthy fair and fun scene so I look forward to hearing from others who’ve had success.

BYO. Make the fair about everything you love but the food

Everyone has a list of things they love about the fair. And for most of us, it includes more than the carbs. My current strategy is to bring my own food (BYO) and make the fair about all the things I love sans the fatty food. The people watching, the walking, enjoying the fair through the eyes of a child, the animals, the entertainment, the art, the music, the exhibits, the rides….these are my favs.

Last year I tried an experiment and it worked! I viewed the State Fair as a personal challenge to enjoy all of the fun without the food. I eliminated food from the equation all together by planning my meals so that I would eat my healthy food before I went to the fair, and/or I brought my own healthy food options if I was going to be there more than a few hours.

In my first visit/experiment, I spent five hours enjoying the fair with my 10-year old nephew, Jacob, seeing it through his eyes. Indeed, I bought and held his Sweet Martha’s cookies, corn dog, cheese curds, and the chocolate malt from the Dairy building. (All things I used to love and binge on regularly.) And, I didn’t eat one morsel.

I did however go on rides with Jacob – including one that just about made me puke; walked 12,000+ steps and visited the Miracle of Birth Center, the Department of Natural Resources Building, the Haunted House, and more. My point: we had a great day at the Fair and, for me, it wasn’t about the food. I found it easier to challenge myself to not to eat anything at the fair and allow myself only coffee and bottled water, bringing in my pre-cooked chicken and veggies – staying 100% on plan.

This weekend I took the same approach when I went to the fair for a few hours with my friend and trainer, Sandra, — who, lucky for me, doesn’t go for the fatty fair food either. In this case, we had fun doing things I haven’t done in years. We visited the Fine Arts building, the Creative Activities building and watched the horse show. Again, I was able to focus on the experience and enjoy everything but the food. I consumed only an iced coffee, bottled water and a Minnesota grown apple. And, more importantly, I had a great time. Later this week, I’ll embark on the same challenge when I spend an entire day with my now 11-year old nephew Jacob. I can’t wait!

Other strategies for enjoying a fun and healthy fair experience

This week in our Put Yourself in the Equation Facebook group there were posts about other healthy fair strategies that worked for people. The strategies are as varied as the people and their plans – and I think that’s a good thing. Here are some other ideas.

  • Eat healthy. Go to the fair and eat, but choose the healthier options. It is possible. And you can scope them out in advance online by using the food finder so you know where these foods are and the shortest route. In my one visit this year, we saw grilled chicken on a stick, grilled pork chop on a stick, and turkey all within a couple block radius.
  • Go early. You may be less tempted by food vendors if you early in the day when the fair first opens. This has the added benefit of fewer people, cooler weather, and more. Who wants a corn dog or fried cheese curds for breakfast?
  • Sampling. Try one bite, one freebie or just one. I can imagine going to the fair and allowing myself that one food that I really, really want to try or indulge in. Or, implementing a one bite or one sample of a few things – one bit of a foot long hot dog, one cheese curd, one Sweet Martha’s cookie. Another sampling strategy is to share — this allows you to try different foods without overdoing it. And, it’s cheaper for a group or family.
  • Watch what you drink. Liquid calories add up quickly. Alcohol, soda, slushies and other sugar-filled concoctions can add hundreds of calories. Try to drink water as much as possible or visit the MN Dairy Association stand for a refreshing glass of skim milk. Leave your other calories for the food sampling.
  • Set a limit. Consider making a list of “must-have” foods. Allow yourself and your children each a couple of items. Setting limits can help ensure you all pick items you really want.

What other fair food strategies do you implement to stay on track? Please share here. Enjoy the fair and let me know how you do! Share your stories or strategies here.


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