Look for the opportunities to stay well this Christmas

For many people 2020 will be remembered as a very challenging year as we all learned to live with Covid-19.

While many people found it hard, losing jobs, homes, businesses and loved ones, others enjoyed a quieter lifestyle maybe working online and getting to know their neighbor’s and communities better.

With gyms closed during lockdowns our leisure activities changed with more people out walking or developing creative ideas for exercising at home. Many people found comfort in cooking, drinking and online shopping.

We all managed the best we could.

Now, as we wait for the promised Covid -19 vaccine next year and borders to reopen, we are in a sort of holding pattern. If we can manage this time well, then it might be possible to emerge next year fitter, brighter and more ready for a healthier start to the year.

What opportunities await you?

A clue could be found in the 4 themes that we have been hearing a lot about over the past year:

Embrace Diversity

Be open to new ideas, ways of doing things and meeting new people.
From a food perspective this might mean trying new fruits and vegetables, different grains or meatless alternatives.

Try new exercise routines to improve your level of fitness.

The WHO recommend that adults aim for 150-300mins of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity, as well as doing muscle strengthening activity on two or more days per week.1 Are you able to do this?

Look for the opportunity on fine days to walk around the block, go biking, tramping, swimming, jogging, playing tennis or backyard cricket with friends and family. Every bit of movement counts! The secret to achieving the WHO goals is keeping track of how much you do each day and keeping at it.

Think ‘Sustainability’

Increase your intake of plant- based foods and fish, eat smaller servings of meat. Shop and store food wisely, plan meals and look for creative ways to utilize leftovers to reduce food waste. (See further reading for loads of ideas).

Where possible reduce your family’s intake of ultra-processed foods. New research from Otago University studying the Prevention of Overweight in Infancy (POI) has found that by 12 months old, children derived 45 per cent of their dietary intake from ultra-processed food, which increased to 51 per cent by the age of five.2

Trying to balance out the nutritional value verse convenience of some foods is not always an easy decision for parents, or any of us, when we get busy.

Maybe, this Christmas break we could all knock back on some of the discretionary foods that have crept into our diet.(See further reading for more information on this).

Like swapping out some of the extruded snacks and chips for unsalted raw nuts; replacing crackers and white bread with more whole grains; swapping soft drinks for more low- fat milk smoothies; replacing flavoured ice-cream with plain low-fat yoghurt or ice-blocks; swapping confectionary, muesli bars, cakes and biscuits with fresh fruit (try frozen grapes or berries) raw vegetable sticks with hummus, muffins or scones. Get the kids to come up with their own healthier alternatives, they are sure to surprise you.

Resetting the gut from eating highly processed foods to consuming more whole foods at regular mealtimes can greatly reduce mindless snacking. It can also reduce unnecessary saturated fat absorption and helps to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut that boosts your immune system.

Nurture your mental health

The media has focused a lot this year on mental health issues, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and the importance of mindfulness. It certainly has been a very stressful year for most people.

What we haven’t heard enough about though is the foods that help us to spring back and stay mentally well. The foods we need to feed and repair our brain; that protect our nervous system from degradation; that improves our memory and decision- making ability and that help us get a decent night’s sleep.

Most people can associate a high fat, high sugar, high salt diet and alcohol with narrowing of the arteries to the heart, diabetes and obesity.  But little recognition is given to the effects of these things on the brain and our mental health.

Our increasing obesity rate and incidence of mental health problems are linked.3

If your weight has crept up lately and you are fed up feeling tired, then take the opportunity this Christmas to eat well and exercise for a healthier brain. The healthier body (and any necessary weight adjustment) will follow. With this approach by the end of January you could emerge with new ideas for 2021 and the energy to see them through.

Be Kind

Take the time to seek out others this Christmas, to be kind to yourself, less judgmental, more self-compassionate and grateful that you have survived this year.
Finding renewed purpose in life and working on social networks not only instills a sense of well-being and hope but also helps others to reach out and communicate with you too.

Wishing you all a safe and loving Christmas with loads of new opportunities in 2021.


1. Kiwi kids get half of energy intake from ultra-processed foods. 2 Nov 2020.

2. World Health Organization. Physical activity. Key facts 26 Nov. 2020

3. Nguyen.J, Killcross.S, Jenkins.T. Obesity and cognitive decline:old of inflammation and vascular changes. Front. Neurosc. 2014;8:375


For more articles by Lea on similar topics

How much food do you waste each day?
Tips for building a purposeful, healthier life.
Give healthier gifts this Christmas
15 tips for healthier BBQ’s this Christmas
Make healthier decisions this Christmas
Navigating Christmas without weight gain
Stress reduction this Christmas
Wise up to Discretionary foods for better health
The support of friends aids weight loss
How to make the most of a plant- based diet
Party nibbles

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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