Before you go, it's smart to have a goal in mind, whether it's dropping pounds, gaining strength or training for a race

A FEW YEARS ago, I joined a holiday cookie swap. The rules were basic: Make two kinds of cookies, two dozen each. Put out a half-dozen of every type at the cookie party; take home a half-dozen of each kind.

Sometimes my overachieving baking friends bring three kinds of cookies. But even not counting the extras, we never eat all the allotted party cookies because, well, that would be crazy.

So every year I leave with about six dozen. My preferred mode is to squirrel most of them in the freezer, then eat them over the entire month of January. Yeah!

Personal trainer Annelise DiGiacomo, of Issaquah, has heard many tales of holiday excess. (I think she still found mine mildly horrifying, but was too polite to say so.) But stories like these are what keep her busy in January, when people are focused on getting rid of holiday pounds.

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If it was November or early December, DiGiacomo would tell you to eat a healthy breakfast and eat mindfully throughout the day — especially when the choices involve heavy cream or other fats. But it’s January, and most of us want to shed the flab.

Some people join a gym or try out the latest fad. But if you are serious about your fitness and have the funds, a personal trainer is far more likely to help you figure out an overall plan to eat well, work out and lose weight in a healthful way.

Before you go, it’s smart to have a goal in mind, whether it’s dropping pounds, gaining strength or training for a race. Be clear on how much time you have per week and how much you are willing to pay, trainers say. Depending on your fitness, DiGiacomo estimates it will take eight to 12 weeks to lose 5 to 10 pounds.

“It’s going to be different for every person based on how their body is going to respond and how much time they have,” she says.

But first, find a trainer who suits you, whether the trainer is at your gym or a private studio. Consider these extra steps for the optimal fit:

Certification: Make sure they’re certified by a recognized group, like the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine. Your trainer also should be keeping up on his/her education.

Fitness focus: Look for a trainer who focuses on fitness goals similar to what you want to achieve, such as coaching for a 5k, injury prevention or strength training.

Fitness assessment: At the start, a trainer should get your health history and do a baseline assessment. A good trainer will ask the details to get to know you and create a plan that works for your fitness level and your goals.

Personality: Is the trainer pushing you or does he or she motivate you to reach your goals? A good trainer also keeps an eye on your form and chooses the appropriate exercises so you progress. If you are not able to walk the next day, the trainer could be pushing you too hard. “Make sure someone is not just counting reps,” DiGiacomo says.

Cost: Trainers or gyms generally charge per hour or offer some type of package. The cost per hour can range from $50 on up. Another way to keep in a budget and stay motivated is to get a group of friends together to split the cost. Local trainers, including DiGiacomo, offer that option.

Other resources: American College of Sports Medicine:;National Strength and Conditioning Association:; National Academy of Sports Medicine:

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at Email: Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.