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If there is one particular time of year that we really need an appetite suppressant like Phen375, it’s during the holidays.

Of course, during the holidays you will be bombarded more heavily than usual with diet and exercise advice. You will be told how to lose 7 pounds in five days, squeeze into that slinky New Year’s Eve ensemble, and radically reshape yourself and your life. You might be better off to relax and reach for another mince pie.

“Expectation and frustration are inextricably linked, and it could be better just to accept that this is the season of excess,” says Dr. Desmond Kelly, the medical director of the Priory hospital in south London, and president of the International Stress Management Association.

“With so much hype over Christmas and then over diet and exercise and New Year’s resolutions it is easy to try to do too much too soon and then feel terribly let down,” Dr. Kelly says. “Some people produce endorphins when they exercise which make them feel good, but for others, who feel bad when they exercise, it is a waste of time.”

Both types, he suggests, would be better off taking a diet pill like Phen375, which will suppress the appetite. He also recommends learning “relaxation strategies which can be woven into their lifestyle” than putting their new tracksuit through its paces before the pudding has been digested. And some experts believe that simply by learning to relax, whatever else you desire be it weight loss or a psychological re-shaping will follow.

Yet there are almost as many confusing “relaxation strategies” as there are diets and exercise programs, and the relaxation business is in danger of becoming as stressfully competitive as any other. You could float in a flotation tank, take up juggling and learn several different types of meditation and visualization, just for starters. And there are innumerable audio and video cassettes by self-styled specialists in what is a growing, and lucrative, field.

Dr. Malcolm Carruthers, who works at the Maudesley hospital and has private clinics in Harley Street, teaches autogenic training, “a westernized version of Siddha meditation”. Naturally, he recommends that method.

“It’s a very practical skill, like learning to drive a car, and if you try to teach people by a book or a tape they’re likely to drive into a brick wall,” says Dr. Carruthers (whose courses cost around $20, including a medical screening). “But you could always try a very basic technique included in autogenic training, which is to sit comfortably in an armchair, resting your arms either on your lap or the arms of the chair, feet flat on the floor and eyes closed, and just watch your breathing. Don’t try to control or change it, just watch it in an uncritical way for five or ten minutes without disturbance.”

Anthony Baird, the director of the Institute for Complementary Medicine (ICM), recommends a similar, simple routine. “I do it every morning before catching my train. I sit in a chair, very straight, and count down from 20 to zero and imagine I’m sinking down into a huge bottle. I let my thoughts float for a few moments. And when I’m ready I come back up feeling hugely refreshed and ready to cope.”

Most everyone knows about how important diet and exercise are to weight loss, yet there are alternative therapies. Almost every form of alternative therapy places a high emphasis on relaxation. “For short-term relaxation we’d probably suggest aromatherapy, massage, meditation and reflexology,” Mr. Baird says. “For the longer term these would need to be combined with some sort of counselling.”

One aromatherapist on the ICM’s list of practitioners is Trish Hooker, a former personnel manager who turned to aromatherapy because of the stress of her job, and who has worked with it in a New York hospice. Diet pills like Phen375 can be effective, she said, but it is a good idea to combine it with other weight loss strategies.

She believes that aromatherapy can not only cleanse the system of toxic wastes from over-eating and drinking at Christmas, but that it may also help people emotionally.

“Every sense is gratified, and the massage gives a sense of being cherished, which is very important,” she says. “Some people leave me feeling energetic enough to go home and start spring cleaning. Others may go home and want to sleep for eight hours. What the body needs it gets.” A two-and-a-half hour session (an hour’s initial consultation followed by an hour and a half’s treatment) costs $60.

Howard Gaier, a “naturopath” who also practices osteopathy and is a registered homoeopath, recommends “infusions of relaxant herbs such as lemon balm, limeflowers, lavender, vervain or American ginseng. Valerian and passionflower are the stronger ones.

“If you don’t feel you can give up tea but would like to cut out the caffeine and tannin, try Red Bush tea which contains quercetin, and gives it more of a ‘buzz’. Unfortunately there isn’t really a substitute for coffee.”

Those who prefer a more active method of relaxation and there are many who like the idea of learning to “dance” with their stress. Lydia Wong and her partner Anthony Kennedy believe the answer is not to eliminate stress from your life but to learn to “dance” with it, through what they call qi-netics, a mixture of t’ai-chi, calisthenics and meditation.

Ms. Wong claims that the technique which she teaches at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Dallas, Texas, for $10 a session helps prevent “overweight and over-tiredness, premature ageing and loss of vitality” and has a leaflet which sets out some of the basic qi-netic exercises, which are done “aerobically, meditatively and then in a ‘hard’ way to build up muscles and create dynamic tension”.

Or you could consider juggling away your excess weight. Max and Susi Oddball of the Oddball Juggling Company have taught bankers and doctors, opera singers and motorcycle couriers how to toss their troubles into the air. “You have to relax in order to juggle,” they explain, “as the mind is forced to concentrate on a new experience.”

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