The tail end of summer is here, indicating the start of state fair season in much of the country. For many, the fairs and festivals dotting the calendar are considered among the buzziest, most anticipated events of the year. However, someone with a complicated relationship with food might feel less inclined to “step right up” to these events often characterized by plentiful confections and deep-fried reputations.
If food anxiety gives you ambivalence around fairs and festivals, we want you to know that it IS possible to not only tolerate these settings, but to even enjoy your experience. In this blog, we’ll examine sources of potential triggers at these events, provide suggestions on how to challenge your eating disorder, and ultimately, equip you with strategies to make your fair experience a blue ribbon win.
While no time of the year is easy for those with eating disorders, fair and festival season presents unique difficulties that can trigger and worsen symptoms if left unchecked. Social events and get-togethers can be high-anxiety situations for people with body image concerns, particularly in warmer-weather months. Add to this discomfort the triggers related to a change in routine and eating around others, within an environment where control around food preparation is not possible, and the fair can be an incredibly challenging occasion.
Nothing is as quintessential to the fair experience as the plethora of food options available. In fact, in some locations, the state fair is considered the biggest culinary event of the year. Triggers associated with food-centric gatherings range from a change in structure around meals to the presence of fear foods.
Potential food-related triggers at fairs and festivals can involve:
Fairs and festivals bring a change in routine, a key trigger for those with eating disorders. These events often span a good portion of the day, which could significantly impact daily eating patterns. Like any disruption to regular eating habits, these changes create an opportunity for eating disorder symptoms to rear their head or worsen among those most susceptible.
Potential triggers from a change in routine include:
A hallmark of eating disorders is an association with social withdrawal and secrecy, which can cause fear or guilt surrounding eating in public. The largest fairs can draw millions to their grounds every year. Attending such a highly trafficked event can invite food and body commentary from others. Navigating a new food environment with negative talk about food and eating can cause significant stress, as well as prompt body checking behaviors.
Eating in public can spark eating and body image struggles, such as the following:
Now that you have considered the triggers you may encounter, let’s talk about strategies. Arming yourself with the right toolkit to combat potential challenges is essential to eating disorder recovery.
At The Emily Program, we believe in a food philosophy where “all foods fit” into a healthy lifestyle. Food does not exist on a “good or bad” binary. It’s essential to release food judgment, as well as perfectionism and control—all of which are the domain of disordered eating. Depending on where you are in your recovery journey, we encourage you to honor your hunger cues. If that seems too daunting, follow your meal plan as your guide. Restricting or denying your hunger is likely to add stress to the day and could even trigger other eating disorder behaviors—not to mention, take away from your event experience.
Here are a few planning tips:
Fair season can be a true community-building time (Minnesota’s state fair is referred to as “The Great Minnesota Get-Together”), especially with the right people. Allow yourself to ask for more support from others you trust, whether that be family, friends, or your treatment team.
A peaceful time at the fair is one that’s based on self-care, not self-control. Your fair experience can be one of pleasure and enjoyment. Release yourself from an “all-or-nothing” mentality, and allow for flexibility and spontaneity where appropriate.
While fairs and festivals may present additional challenges for those with eating disorders, they can also be an opportunity to challenge eating disorder thoughts and rituals and apply the skills in your treatment toolkit.
If you or someone you know is struggling with food or body image amid fair season – or any season – The Emily Program is here for you. We provide specialized treatment and care for all types of eating disorders. Give us a call at 1-888-364-5977 or complete our online form to get started.
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