Obligated to Overeat?

Young hungry gluttonous woman eating pie, isolated on whiteI enjoyed spending my Christmas holidays with my parents and my sister’s family, not to mention my little nieces. 🙂

I have to admit though that I broke almost all the “eating rules” I set for myself before Christmas except one: during mealtimes I only ate what I wanted and took no seconds.

Despite the fact that I spent some time lolling in bed and munching chocolate, I had no difficulty fitting into my jeans when I left my parents house after a week-long stay.

Actually this was probably the first time ever I wasn’t overstuffed after the Christmas holidays.

Nevertheless, there is one thing that  continued to bother me even after Christmas.


I and my parents drove to my sister Hanna’s house to spend the Christmas Eve* and enjoy the Christmas dinner. Hanna’s in-laws, both in their 60’s, came to celebrate the day with us. During the Christmas Dinner I only ate the dishes I really enjoy and wanted to eat, and I didn’t take a second serving.

When I left the dinner table, I wasn’t bursting from my seams like I usually am after the Christmas dinner.

Some time during the night, Hanna’s father in law briefly remarked: “It’s strange that these days  food is not good enough to eat for young people.”

If don’t know if the remark was aimed at me or not, but it stuck with me nevertheless.

I’ve pondered over that statement form many perspective, but try as I may I couldn’t make any sense of the attitude it reflects.

Not in today’s world.

No one would’ve stood to gain if I had overeaten during the Christmas dinner. No one would’ve stood to gain if I had eaten every single dish just because it was there. Nor could I justify overeating by assuming my sister Hanna would’ve gotten hurt if I didn’t taste all the dishes, because she knew full well how I planned to eat during the Christmas holidays (we are authoring a Finnish health and fitness blog together).


I read later in a local paper that much of what is part of the Finnish Christmas tradition today dates from the 19th  century when people still lived in a rural society. In those days, people often suffered from malnutrition and from outright hunger, so overeating during Christmas was  both a luxury and a smart strategy. No one could afford to pick and choose what they put in their mouth.

That is not true for most people who live in the Western world. In spite of that we still prepare for Christmas like we lived in the 19th century: we stock so much food and prepare so many dishes that it could feed an entire regiment, not a family of four or five.

Usually all that extra food is then either thrown away or stored in our bodies where it will burden our health and mar our looks.


I think that times have changed but we’ve forgotten to update our traditions.

It might not be a bad idea to question the way you spend Christmas by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you eat the dishes you really want to eat during Christmas or do you overeat out of obligation or simply to appear courteous?
  • Do you overeat during Christmas just out of habit?
  • Do you have to stock Christmas foods and dishes for 7 days’ need, or would stocking for one or  two day’s need be enough?
  • Do you eat every morsel of food just because you don’t want to put it into waste?**
  • Is there any other ways to celebrate Christmas or – other occasions – than by overeating?

*Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Finland, because for some reason we get our gifts delivered by Santa himself on the Christmas Eve, not the day after. Consequently, no one much cares about the Christmas Day in Finland..

**Do you really think the food is not wasted if it’s stocked in your body? Do you imagine that medications for heart disease, diabetes and hypertension cost nothing? Is angioplasty free, and how much does it cost to buy new outfits when you gain weight year after year? Do you still believe that children in Africa get enough to eat if you always remember to clean your plate?


Is it really so that striving for moderation is outright radical in a world of excess?


  1. Marion says:

    Hi Satu, I’ve found that I’ve been pondering this issue a lot of times lately. Should excess treats go in the garbage, knowing that nobody else will eat these treats except me and the fact that it would only gain excess weight on me. It’s a tough question, especially when we don’t have extra money in this economy. It feels wrong to toss anything away. I don’t know a good answer. The excess treats are still sitting there….

    🙂 Marion

    • Satu says:

      Oh, I wouldn’t want those excess treats go to waste on your body, Marion! Could you hide them sowhere where they are very hard to get at?

      Wasting food is an issue for me too, because I’m not exactly rich. Because I’m single I practically eat the same dishes for several days in a row. I also intend to get better at planning my meals so less goes to garbage.

  2. I love your comment about needing to update our traditions. How true! I’m seen (by many, though my own family’s used to me!) as a fussy eater. At christmas I don’t like turkey, plum pudding and christmas cake and the like, so people don’t expect a lot from me.

    The thing that my brother and his father-in-law did on Christmas day (which none of the rest of us did) was go for a long walk after lunch and a nap.

    Once upon a time I would have gone for a walk too. So, that’s my one regret. I didn’t eat excessively more than usual (I always overeat!!!!) but do use the time of year to justify more treats!).

    (PS. And I wouldn’t worry about your sister’s FIL’s comment. He could have meant anyone. Or could have been full and wished he’d had more willpower to stop earlier!)


    • Satu says:

      This Christmas there were very few dishes I actually ate, which wasn’t true about chocolate! 🙂 I might have eaten more but I don’t really care for traditional Finnish Christmas dishes.

      I didn’t take a walk either. Not going out for a walk felt completely logical when I spent Christmas with my parents… 🙂

  3. Aimee says:

    I feel like I could write a book on this topic so I will try to keep it short. I grew up in a household where it was positively sacrilegious to waste food. Seconds were encouraged and even offered before finishing your first helping. Upon having my own child I swore I would never force feed him or make him feel guilty for not finishing a meal. Children are very interesting eaters to many of us adults who have grown up with weight problems. It is amazing…they eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. I have often marveled at my son’s ability to stop right in the middle of an ice cream cone and declare that he is done! The ice cream cone then goes in the trash, not my belly. That was another thing I swore when he was born, that I would not eat my child’s scraps.

    When Christmas was over this year and I was left with one too many cookies I threw them down the garbage disposal. Drastic, sort of, but in the past I would have eaten them all in a short amount of time “just to get rid of them” I would rationalize in my head. I’m really the only one tempted by those treats in my house so if I didn’t eat them who would? I wasn’t going to this time. So I remedied the situation quickly and my size 8 jeans that still fit thank me very much.

    Now how can I do this and not feel badly about the poor starving children in Africa. My husband is from Mozambique, in southern Africa, the 14th poorest country in the world according to the International Monetary Fund’s 2011 gross domestic product per capita (GDP per capita) report. I lived there for a number of years and we have traveled there with our son twice. My husband eats the same way my son eats which means food may get left on the plate if he feels full. This is how his entire family eats. I can assure everyone here in the U.S. that no one in Africa wants our leftovers. I have been to a number of Mozambican parties including my own wedding and as poor as my friends, neighbors and in-laws are there was still an excess of food at the end of the day. Celebrations are centered around food there just as they are here.

    One thing I do to help decrease the waste in my house is to cook smaller amounts. I almost never have leftovers unless I cook with the purpose of freezing something like soup or chili. I often serve my son a small portion first with the intention of giving him more if he finishes the first helping. Prior to this year I hosted Christmas brunch for 3 years. I always had enough food for guests to eat, but never enough to send anyone home with containers of leftovers. This was concerning to my mother who was always worried the guests wouldn’t be satisfied.

    I not only strive for moderation when it comes to food but also material things particularly for my son. Ahhh but I’ll leave that for another day. It’s time I get to organizing all those new toys. Fantastic post Satu.

  4. Satu says:

    Thanks for this comment Aimee! It very was interesting to hear about your husband and son’s relationship to food. I imagine your husband doesn’t struggle with weight problems?

    It’s the kind of relationship with food I want to have some day.

    • Aimee says:

      My husband has never struggled with his weight. However, living here in the U.S. he is more cognizant of the health risks involved with eating a largely processed diet which we were guilty of in our first few years back here. He has been very supportive of the changes I’ve made in our diets. I definitely envy his ability to stop eating when he is full and his distaste for sweets.

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