By Ellen Margulies

This is how the song should really go: On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 12 sausage and cheese balls, 11 mini-quiches, 10 holiday cocktails, 9 nutty-cheese dips, 8 Christmas cookies, 7-layer dip, 6 pigs in blankets, 5 kinds of fuuuudge… 4 homemade turtles, 3 egg nogs, 2 candy canes and a fruitcake that I didn’t even want.

Because at this time of year, the parties are killer. And let’s face it: In Middle Tennessee, we aren’t going to be skiing or ice-skating those calories off. For some of us, keeping up a semblance of a healthy routine during the holidays is extra-challenging. Although I like walking in brisk weather, I’m not too fond of it when it gets really cold.

Also, if I read one more magazine tip about how I should eat before I go to the party, I think I’m gonna smack an elf. Seriously, who eats before the party? What’s the fun of going to the party if you can’t eat the food? Ok, you get to see friends in tacky Christmas sweaters, but really, I’m showing up for the buffet.

If you want to avoid that legendary 8-pound gain we Americans are said to pile on between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, you have to find a way to keep up a healthy routine. Even if you don’t really have one to begin with, which is kind of my issue.


So, let’s start with exercise. Here are some tips that really ARE helpful, at least for me: Try to take at least one flight of stairs instead of the elevator. Yes, even in stores – the stairs are always right next to the elevator. You don’t have to schlep up three flights; just take one and ride up the rest of the way. A little movement is better than none, right? Also, don’t spend all that time looking for a good parking spot. Go to the end of the lot and take a bad spot. If you’ve got five minutes of extra walking each way, that’s 10 minutes of exercise you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. Also, after you finish your shopping — which is also good because you’re moving again — do one extra circuit around the entire mall.

I’m not saying I always do all these things. I’m saying I think they’re good tips, and… I will if you will.

Now, about those parties. The smart skinny women I know do that calorie balance thing – you know, if you’re going to a party that night, eat a light breakfast and lunch to counter the extra treats you’re going to stuff your face with later. Also, if you’re a drinker, I think that tip about having one glass of water after every cocktail is a good one. It can also prevent the sort of iPhone pictures that are often used for blackmail after the fact. And lastly, do devote a portion of your buffet plate to the token carrot sticks. I’m not suggesting you actually have to eat them, but if you pile them on your plate, you get two benefits: You impress your friends with your healthy choice, and you leave less room for the calorie-rich good stuff. Trust me on this – the carrots work, even if you scrape them into the trash later.

When it comes to baking, I suggest you partake, and here’s why: You will eat fewer cookies when you bake them yourself. It’s weird but true. In addition to standing and moving around your kitchen for hours at a time – which is exercise, people – you simply don’t feel like snarfing down all those cookies when you’re done. As opposed to the cookies your co-worker brings, which you will inhale at the speed of light. So, in this case, it truly is better to give than to receive, especially if you’re trying to watch your weight.

Those are really all the tricks in my arsenal, but of course the real trick is to find what works for you. Sometime this season, you probably will run into that rare woman who has iron willpower and never over-indulges during the holidays. She’ll be standing by the veggie tray at the buffet, looking thin and glamorous. You have my permission to trip her.

Q & A: Keeping a Healthy Holiday Routine.

Expert Allyson Schumate answers your questions.