As a therapist, you tend to see less joy and fun this time of year than worry and strain. Yes, it’s a biased outlook, but the stresses of the season are certainly real. People trying to keep their health and weight in check, especially, face a daunting array of triggers and challenges. Many simply say, “Forget it!” and let go of goals and good self-care for weeks.

If you’ve followed this blog (see 11/23/09 post), you’ll know that I don’t think “forgetting about it” makes sense—for a lot of reasons. On the other hand, neither does striving for perfection. One idea I’ve discussed with many clients this season is that of “just maintaining”. That is, if you’re working to lose weight, and/or to change your habits for the better, this may not be the best time for full-steam ahead progress. After all, most of us will confront some potent combination of parties, extra tasks and running around, family pressures, and of course all those cookies, candies, special drinks, etc.

If you aim to “just maintain”, though, you won’t need to view this stretch in all-or-nothing terms. In other words, you’ll discern something in between the extremes of resisting everything vs. letting go of all your hopes and progress. This will most likely mean picking and choosing the events you attend, the foods you go for, the types of things you cook or contribute. It might mean carving out exercise time even while life and schedule get crazy.

You might even think of this “just maintain” time as an opportunity to experiment with one new behavior, however small, that could yield interesting results….or that could make future holiday seasons a bit less stressful. For example, try some “assertive dieting” techniques with your family (see references below for more help with that….) On a (maybe easier!) note, you could try some 5- or 10-minute exercise “bites” (also see references) at work. Or, you could simply make a less fattening version of one favored food.

Just maintaining may not give you that rush of pride and excitement that can come with more measurable results. In the big picture, though, it often represents significant progress in and of itself.

“5-Minute Workout,” by Kate Hanley, Body & Soul, December 2008
“Avoiding the Holiday Spread,” Suzette Glasner-Edwards, O the Oprah Magazine, December, 2008 – A great review of “assertive dieting” techniques to help you survive all kinds of challenges to your change efforts.