Let's face it: Maintaining health-promoting habits can grow old after a while. That's why finding fresh ways to eat healthfully and keep active is important, especially during the holidays.

What once seemed exciting, new and even a little fun can come to feel repetitious, dull and mundane. The good news is that behavioral research suggests that is a promising sign, an indication that your good habits are becoming ingrained. The bad news is that dullness can lead you to break that good habit, particularly if you're subjected to the added stress many of us face during the holidays. But you can also use it as a sign to seek new ways to recharge and stay on a healthy track.

To help, here are a few gift suggestions for your wish list that can provide new momentum to carry good habits, and a weight no higher than your current number, into 2003.


From among the many health-related books published every month, here are a few volumes recommended by Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh and a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetics Association.

"When You Eat at a Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair" by Jeneen Roth and Ann Lamott (Hyperion; $9.95).

"Intuitive Eating, A Recovery Book for the Chronic Dieter: Rediscover the Pleasures of Eating and Rebuild Your Body Image" by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reschdea (St. Martins; $6.99).

"Smart Exercise: Burning Fat, Getting Fit" by Covert Bailey (Mariner; $9.60).

"LifeFit: An Effective Exercise Program" by Ralph S. Paffenbarger Jr. and Eric Olsen. (Human Kinetics; $19.95).

Classes and Services

How about trying a new activity to jump-start your fitness routine? Classes are available in everything from aikido (a Japanese martial art) and belly dancing to kickboxing, spinning, Pilates, tai chi and yoga. For those on tight budgets or looking for stocking stuffers, try a gift certificate to a video store that rents exercise tapes or check out www.half.com for used tapes. Other online sources for exercise videos include Human Kinetics (www.humankinetics.com) and Collage video (www.collagevideo.com).

To help fine-tune your eating habits, consider a session with a registered dietitian, who can analyze what you eat and perhaps find room for improvement. The American Dietetics Association can help you find a registered dietitian at www.eatright.org/finddiet.html. Costs vary regionally, but figure about $60 a session.

Try working out with a qualified personal trainer. An individual session is about an hour and will run approximately $60. To help you choose an appropriate trainer, learn more about the certification requirements for personal trainers at the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), widely regarded as the top national certifying group. You can also read "Who Trained the Trainer?" in the Dec. 3 Health section, also available online at www.washingtonpost.com.

Toys and Tools

* Balls. Those who spend a lot of time chained to their desks might want to consider sitting for part of the day on an inflatable ball. Research suggests that the effort required to stay upright on the ball helps strengthen abdominal muscles. Find the balls, sold as FitBalls or Swiss balls, at toy and sports stores as well as on the Web for $20 to $35. Green Mountain Spa at Fox Run, Vt., also recommends the video "Fit Ball: Balanced Workout with Joanne Mayer and Lindsay Zappala" for those who want to try the balls. For information on other holiday picks from fitness trainers, check out a recent survey conducted by the American Council on Exercise. You'll find a range of gifts from under $20 to about $50 at www.acefitness.org/media/media_display.cfm?NewsID=149.

* Bathroom scale/body fat counter. Tired of just counting pounds? Then how about tracking weight and body fat? You can do that with a number of new devices that look like a standard bathroom scale but, by sending a tiny electric current through your body, do everything from measure your body weight to a fraction of a pound to estimate how many calories you need daily to maintain your current weight. The combination scale and fat counters run about $70 to $250 and are available at bed and bath shops, department stores and on the Web. One of the leaders in the field is Tanita, which in 1992 introduced a new technology for professionals to estimate body fat and has since adapted the technology for home use. (www.tanita.com/consumer/products/bf/tbf.html)

* Kitchen scale. Did that slice of salmon weigh three ounces or six? How about that pork chop? The most accurate way to gauge portion size is by measuring food. While cups and spoons can be helpful, only a scale can tell you exactly how much that chicken breast weighs. A roundup of the latest in kitchen scales is available at http://www.epinions.com/hmgd-Small_Appliances-All-Scales.

* Pedometers. George Blackburn, associate professor of surgery and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, regularly logs 10,000 steps a day on his pedometer. Colorado on the Move (http://www.coloradoonthemove.org), a new state program, urges residents to maintain a healthy weight by simply taking an additional 2,000 steps a day. Of course, pedometers won't do the walking for you, but they may help remind you to move more throughout the day. Digiwalker (www.digiwalker.com) and Accusplit (www.accusplit.com) are two of the major pedometer manufacturers. And if you're looking for a way to pick up your pace, consider the SyncWalk by Tanita (www.tanita.com/consumer/products/healthcare/Syncwalk/SyncWalk.html), which sets a beat for anything from a slow walk to a jog. Pedometers range in price from about $20 to $35 plus shipping and handling. For other pedometer recommendations, see Interactions, at the bottom of this page.

-- Sally Squires

Discuss your favorite tools and toys -- or ask any question about nutrition or exercise -- when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club, our weekly online chat about healthful eating and physical activity. You can join the chat live Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com. And if you want to participate in the Holiday Challenge, weekly goals are available in the free electronic Lean Plate Club newsletter. Subscribe at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/email/front.htm.