Food is a big part of our culture and traditions in New Zealand. It can be as simple as meeting up with a friend for coffee to the more elaborate wedding or Christmas celebrations. We can spend a lot of time planning what will be eaten, who will prepare what, what diet restrictions and preferences need consideration and, of course, the actual preparation of the food. We don’t often take time to consider how we respond to the food and eating at Christmas.

I hear many reactions to the upcoming event that is Christmas day. For some it is a forgone conclusion that they will be so over full that they will feel sick and won’t want to move for the rest of the day. For others fear is the main emotion; fear that they will lose control of their diet, fear that they don’t have enough will power, fear that all their hard work will be ruined in one day. These fears and the very real habit of overeating at these times can overshadow what is meant to be a day of fun and togetherness.

It isn’t just Christmas day that can be difficult to contend with. There are all the functions leading up to Christmas day; the work party, drinks with friends etc. How do we navigate our way through this time of over indulgence and temptation?

What is Christmas about?

A key principle to keep in mind is that Christmas is not just about food. If this is the case in your family then you could think about introducing some new traditions or activities. We are lucky that it is summer (although I am sure those readers from the Northern hemisphere will disagree). Summer means that, hopefully, the day is warm and fine. Get involved with the kids and play a game outside or round everybody up for a stroll around the neighbourhood. The streets can be eerily quiet on Christmas day which provides quite a different walking experience or your neighbours may be on the front lawn and receptive to a cheery “Merry Christmas”.


Ok so that is all well and good to do a few other activities but let’s face it food is a big part of Christmas no matter what else you do on the day. So how do we avoid eating too much?

Start with breakfast. Don’t save yourself for later. This only means that you are so ravenous by the time lunch is served you don’t care what it is, you just want lots and now! Or there have been snacks on offer all morning so you’ve been mindlessly filling up on those. Eating breakfast means that you have satisfied your initial hunger. It doesn’t have to be big but enough so that you can start the day feeling comfortable.


Now when you are offered food, take a minute to decide if it is what you really feel like eating. Some responses could be “that looks delicious I’d like to try some” or “I’m feeling hungry, yes please” or even “no thanks, I’m comfortable at the moment”. Checking in with ourselves will help us to remain in a comfortable state.

If we eat even though we are not hungry or it doesn’t taste that nice, why are we eating? It is this type of eating that will usually result in feeling uncomfortably full because we are not thinking about our body and what we are eating.

Feast or Famine

A big reason why many over indulge at Christmas and functions is that these occasions are seen as the Free Parking of diets. On any other day the rich food on offer would be off limits or severely rationed but on Christmas day it is a matter of getting in as much as you can while it is available. By restricting these foods on every other day of the year it means that binging is more likely to happen when these foods are available. Make these foods just another food. By restricting them we build them up to be more than they really are. Bring these foods down from their elevated status and you will probably find they aren’t that great after all. I know this will be hard to believe but it really does work. You just have to stop believing that these foods hold the power over you. Also when we eat with guilt we tend to eat quickly and don’t actually experience the true flavours of the food anyway.

Permission to Enjoy

Give yourself permission to enjoy the food you would like to experience. This doesn’t mean you have to eat till you’re stuffed full. The enjoyment has gone long before you reach the stuffed full stage. And contrary to what your parents told you, the starving children in the world will not be affected whether you eat everything on your plate or not. It may seem a waste to leave food on your plate but it is still wasteful to continue to eat past what your body requires. Eat what you feel like eating and how much your body wants to eat. Slow down while you are eating. Pause between bites to talk to the person next to you. Savour the food; really take notice of how the food tastes on that first bite and the smell and texture.

Variety of Choice

Eating delicious food doesn’t just have to be about lots of heavy, rich foods. There are so many beautiful recipes out there that suit the warm climate of New Zealand. Experiment with a new salad. I’m not talking about the good old lettuce, tomato and cucumber variety (although these have a place at most buffet tables). There are some fabulous recipes on the internet and perhaps that recipe book lurking in your cupboard. Add a fruit salad to the dessert options as you may feel like finishing the meal with something sweeter but the pavlova might just push you over the edge into uncomfortable fullness. Or you decide to have a slice of the pavlova and adding some fruit salad can help balance out the sweet creaminess of it all. If the traditional roast lunch is the tradition in your family try to include a range of coloured vegetables to go along with the roast potatoes etc. Whatever you choose be guided by how much you will enjoy that food and how hungry you actually are.

Food is only as important as you make it. And it’s only truly enjoyable if your body feels comfortable after you’ve eaten it.

Christmas can be a great time of year. Take the opportunity to experience new foods and to treat your body with respect and kindness.

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Andrea has a passion for food and health and has turned her passion into a profession. As a qualified dietitian and chef Andrea wants to help others feel the same way, which is why she started her own business Food Habits based in Lower Hutt. To find out more go to www.foodhabits.co.nz.

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