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Viva!: It's official ... stuffing your face over Christmas is good for you.

Byline: GABRIELLE FAGAN

HERE'S one thing we definitely don't need at Christmas - guilt. It is a bit like the unwanted guest at the banquet overshadowing our celebrations. After all,how many of us looking with anticipation at the feast in front of us -turkey,mince pies, brandy butter and alcohol -find our pleasure tinged by that uncomfortable feeling that we're going to pay for it later.

The average Welsh person puts on five pounds over Christmas and most admit to including a promise -often broken -to diet among their New Year resolutions. Scientists have even calculated that it takes the average woman a gruelling 24-mile trek to defeat the fattening effects of festive fare.

Hardly surprising then that we may be half- hearted in our enjoyment of what should be a happy, relaxed time.

At last,however, there is seasonal good news. According to some diet and exercise experts,indulgence, within reason,can actually do you good. Not only that,all secret guilt and worry is counter-productive because it can make us more unhealthy and gain weight.

Nutritional therapist Alison Cullen supports that view.``Guiltily counting every calorie or sitting there desperately trying to find the resolve to refuse the Christmas pudding or chocolates is highly stressful,'' she says.

``All that worry really achieves is to put a brake on our digestive system, which actually prevents the body from dealing with the food we've eaten in a healthy,normal way and getting rid of the toxins and fats.

That means its effect on you will be worse than if you just sat back and enjoyed it.

``Frankly,if you are up tight and tense,even eating the most pure organic food won't do you any good.''

Instead she offers this advice: ``Relax,go ahead and enjoy some of the things you love in moderation rather than totally denying yourself. That will make you feel more in control and if your willpower lets you down, you a refar less likely to indulge to excess.''

She also has a plan to help minimise the effect of all that fatty food and booze. ``So many people start the season defeated and believe they're bound to put on loads of weight. They see it as a stark choice of either total deprivation or pigging out on fatty foods.

``A balance between the two is the answer and is easy to achieve. All it needs is a few simple steps,and making some sensible choices to offset the indulgent choices.''

Chew food properly. Far too many gulp their food. If you chew -at least a couple of times -you'll feel full faster and it will be easier for your body to deal with what you've eaten Recent research revealed that the French eat their food more slowly than the Americans and it's believed this may be linked to their lower rate of coronary disease.

If your addiction is chocolate, intersperse portions of it with fruit which has fibre, takes longer to digest and so is more filling. Try dried fruit to satisfy sweet cravings. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or fruit juices, which will help dilute the effect of alcohol and the juices have vitamins.

Minimise caffeine effects by drinking decaffeinated versions, such as Bambu. Caffeine speeds up the system,making digestion more difficult. It can also raises stress and anxiety levels,leading you to drink more in a misguided attempt to feel more relaxed.

Herbal Remedies. Try taking 20 drops of milk thistle complex in a small amount of water twice a day. It can help the body to process alcohol more effectively and metabolise fats more easily. Start taking echinacea to raise your immunity to germs you may encounter at parties. If you feel fit, you may have less craving for mood boosters like sugar and alcohol.

So how long will it take to burn off that turkey?

ABERYSTWYTH University sports scientist, Professor Jo Doust,has researched into how long it takes to burn off the calories from the Christmas lunch. He calculates that it takes around 33 hours of watching television or indulging in 25 hours of amorous activity.

``The average Christmas dinner contains double what most people eat in a normal day. Over the Christmas period,Welsh folk eat on average the equivalent of five days extra food.''

But he says that regular exercise can offset the effects of the food.``Exercise has a positive effect by making you feel happier and more stable and you should be far less prone to overeating or drinking for false comfort.''

He estimates that walking around 18 miles during the week's holiday can offset the effect of the calories of the Christmas lunch for a man weighing 12 stone 8lb. An average size woman, who weighs around 9 stone 6lb,needs to walk up to 24 miles.

CAPTION(S):

Over- eating can leave people feeling far from merry over Christmas,but there's no need to feel guilty about enjoying the pleasures of life
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 23, 2003
Words:829
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