Anika Christ has various job titles, but "fun police" is not one of them. Nonetheless, when people hear that she's a registered dietitian and personal trainer, and the subject of the Minnesota State Fair comes up, there's a tendency to assume that she's about to launch into a lecture about all the dietary dangers lurking amid the food stands.
That's not going to happen. Christ actually loves the fair, and has since she was a kid. Now with two kids of her own, she looks forward to the family's trip to the state's annual salute to excessive eating.
"I'm a foodie," said Life Time's senior director of weight loss and nutrition. "I didn't become a dietitian because I hate food. I went into this is because I love it."
Like most people, Christ has her favorite fair indulgences. No. 1 on her list is the pork chop on a stick, while her youngsters are looking forward to a Pronto Pop and ice cream. Her husband wants to check out some of the beers, and the whole family is going to make a stop for Sweet Martha's cookies.
In other words, they intend to dig right into the food extravaganza, but it won't be just like everyone else does it. Based on extensive experience as both a fairgoer and a dietitian, Christ has come up with a six-step plan for having a healthier time at the fair.
Here's the formula (or, perhaps, recipe is a more fitting descriptor):
• Leave the guilt at home. Don't deprive yourself of a favorite fair food — or even a new one that catches your fancy as you walk past the booth — because it's not on your diet.
"It's one day," she said. "I tell my clients to think of it like they think of a holiday. Relax. Enjoy yourself. You have six other days in the week" to get back to your diet.
• Start with protein. As good as the ice cream looks and as enticing as the French fries smell, launching your fair visit with sugar or carbohydrates is going to send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride — and she doesn't mean the one in the Mighty Midway.
"Eat something from the meat or cheese group," Christ said. "Protein stabilizes our blood sugar. We don't get the energy spikes and crashes. Plus, protein is more satiating. It fills us up."
The rule holds even if you like to go to the fair early in the morning. "Have a protein drink or some eggs at home before you leave," she said.
If you go later in the day, don't skip your regular meals in hopes of "saving" your calorie intake for the fair. "Don't deprive yourself," she said. "You want to enjoy the food. If you go in starving, you'll start wolfing down everything."
• Share. You don't need to consume every morsel of everything you get. By splitting up the food among the members of your group, you not only save calories, you leave more room in your stomach for tasting other foods.
This applies to beverages as well as foods. Share a wine or beer flight rather than ordering full-sized glasses.
• Drink up. Dehydration is a danger at the fair because it's often hot, you're active all day and the thick crowds block whatever cooling breezes might exist. Bring a refillable water bottle, and use it often. "And only drink water," she said. "Save the sugar for the ice cream."
Not only is dehydration troublesome on its own, but it also can mess up your eating. "Some people, when they get dehydrated, they think they're hungry," she said.
By the by, the old saw that drinking lots of water can cut your urge to eat is true, she said.
• Get your steps in. You're probably going to consume more calories than usual, so burn off a few, too, by moving around the fairgrounds.
"Wear your best running shoes," Christ said. "Map out what you want to do and what you want to see. When you don't have a plan, it's hard to hit all the spots you want."
• Know when to call it quits. "If you feel full, don't force yourself to eat," she said.