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Stay Fit All Holiday Season with Alycea Ungaro

Join Alycea for a Facebook chat on Monday! (Photo by Tanzie Johnson)

We are so lucky to have a team of experts on our team at FITNESS who share their wisdom with our readers. Whether they are fitness researchers, doctors, dietitians or psychologists, our advisory board members frequently consult with our staff and sound off on the latest wellness research and trends in our issues. We often approach them with questions from our readers for our Q&A pages in the magazine, but this month, you'll be able to communicate directly with one of our advisory board members—she's hosting a live Q&A on our Facebook page! Join us on Monday from 12 to 1 p.m. EST to chat with Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates NYC and author of Pilates Practice Companion, and ask any burning questions you have about staying fit with the holiday season approaching.

Before the Facebook chat, we wanted to fill you in about Ungaro's personal and professional background and her game plan for Thanksgiving!

How did you first get involved in the fitness world?  I grew up in the ballet studio so I had access to Pilates at a very early age. But it wasn't until my early 20s that I began to experiment with more traditional fitness and I was probably 25 before I laced up my first pair of sneakers for a run. I was always more interested in body weight exercise, toning and sculpting. In 1993 I completed the Pilates teacher training program and taught citywide before opening my own place in 1995.

What drew you to Pilates? It was impossibly hard. Seriously. I didn't understand why I couldn't do certain things. I was a young fit dancer and these springs and mat moves were incredibly challenging. The beauty appealed to my performance side and the pure strength appealed to my competitive side.

For tips for Pilates newbies and Ungaro's Thanksgiving meal strategy, 

Can you share a couple tips for someone who is thinking about trying their first Pilates class? Your first class is your easiest and your hardest. Easiest for your body but hard for your brain. The harder you work your brain, the harder it will be for your body. This is a thinking person's exercise. Power your muscle with your mind for the best results. Mr. Pilates [the creator, Joseph] named his method "Contrology" not Pilates. He meant for your body to be in complete control of each and every move. Let control be the most important part of your workout.

Do you need extensive equipment for a great Pilates workout or can you do it at home? You can have a great and comprehensive at-home Pilates workout. A mat and nothing more will be plenty! Add in some arm weights and you have all the props you'll ever need.

When you’re not training others, what do you like to do to stay fit? With the exception of Pilates, I am a very disloyal exerciser. I run, I spin, I take dance classes. I like suspension training, snow shoeing, hiking and pretty much every thing else. But Pilates makes me better at all of it. It's my home base for all my fitness activities. I make sure to do some type of structured workout at least four times per week.

Do you plan to exercise and eat well on Thanksgiving or do you give yourself a break on holidays? I eat strategically on Thanksgiving. I try to trim off some excess calories before the big meal and I take a pass on the little extras to hold out for the really awesome goods like my husband's corn pudding!

You’ve trained several celebrities during your career. Can you share a little inside scoop about what exercises they love the most? Well, I don't like to kiss and tell but one of my beloved clients (and one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people) is quite tight in his upper back. At the end of our sessions we spend a bit of time performing a series of progressive backbends. His body has really changed.

Can't make it to the Facebook chat? Leave your questions here in the comments and our advisory board members may answer them in future issues or Q&A sessions!