CHRISTMAS is a cruel time of year for anyone who wants to lose weight or cut down on calories. Even regular exercisers have to work extra hard to find the motivation, and the energy after all that food, to get to the gym.

Mike Gallagher, leisure manager at Redworth Hall Hotel, says there's no reason why you can't enjoy the festive season and even indulge yourself a little - as long as you don't overdo it and continue to do at least some exercise.

His first tip is to drink plenty of water if you've overdone the alcohol. "If you have over indulged the night before, take it easy when you visit the gym or aerobics class the next day. Your body will already be dehydrated and too much exercise will only make you feel worse. Drinking plenty of water will help you rehydrate."

He also recommends taking it easy with salted snacks, crisps and nuts at parties as they will only make you want to drink more. To save on calories, remove all fat and skin from poultry and meat.

And if you plan to be a party animal over the festive period, try to have at least two days during the week when you avoid alcohol completely.

Most people who intend losing weight wait until the New Year; for many their resolution means joining a gym or health club. At Redworth Hall's Bodysense club, every new member gets a complete free health and fitness evaluation - make sure the gym you're joining offers this.

Says Mike: "Diets simply don't work. Whatever a person's reason for wanting to lose weight, he or she must be prepared to change their eating patterns and decide if the benefits of losing weight outweigh the sacrifices they will have to make.

"At Bodysense we try to educate people to look at their lifestyles - after all, we want people to exercise and still enjoy an occasional glass of wine or to eat out."

He adds that people should be realistic about what they can actually achieve. "Aiming for a weight that can be maintained long term is far more beneficial than setting a weight that is too low. It can be damaging both physically and psychologically if your weight is constantly going up and down."

Mike's tips for healthy weight loss:

l Plan to lose 1-2lb maximum each week

l Reduce your daily energy intake by about 500 calories

l Eat regularly, ie breakfast, main meal, light meal

l Reduce your fat intake, especially saturated fats

l Enjoy what you eat

l Don't weigh yourself more than once a week and reward yourself when you reach your target

l Eat five portions of fruit or vegetables every day

l Exercise at least two-three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes of continuous activity, ie swimming, walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics.

The TechnoGym System at the Bodysense club counts the number of calories lost after you've exercised on each machine. If you do activities outside the gym, such as swimming, walking or playing football, the system will also work out the calories lost and add them to your total expenditure.

As an incentive to encourage people to join a gym and to start getting trim before the onslaught of Christmas calories, Bodysense is offering Northern Echo readers the chance to save £125 on the joining fee and to receive one month's free membership.

Mike says it's satisfying to watch people lose weight and get fit. "Whether it is to run a marathon or walk a mile, it doesn't matter. What is more important is that we actually help people achieve their targets."

l We have teamed up with Bodysense to offer readers the chance to spend a complimentary day at the health club, enjoying the facilities, which include the gym, swimming pool, sauna, steam room and spa bath. Visitors can also pay for beauty treatments at the Emmanais salon or hair appointments at Saks. To qualify, just collect FOUR different Bodysense articles, then contact the health club to book your free day on (01388) 770649.