Women want to be thin in time for Christmas but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Many are hooked on slimming products in the form of milk shakes, soups and bars and carry on using these as meal replacements for years.

In the past few weeks, I have seen several women who are addicted to these hi-tech foods. The products are a marketeer's dream -

they promise instant weight loss, are convenient and easily available.

The most popular brand, the all-singing, all-dancing Slimfast, encourages the hard-pressed, multi-tasking female population to believe in the myth they can have it all. Superwoman can work, rest and play and still look drop-dead gorgeous.

Yet, is this possible and, if so, how does one go about finding a compatible "superman"?

Perhaps he can take over the cooking because highly-refined or liquid diets will never be able to replace a home-cooked meal.

Slimfast meals may contain a few vitamins and minerals but don't provide sufficient amounts of these, nor enough fibre, beneficial fats, quality protein or other components necessary for optimal health.

A single Slimfast shake is loaded with sucrose (sugar), fructose (more sugar), maltodextrin (sugar again)

and dextrose (you've guessed it - sugar). It knocks your blood glucose balance sideways, making you crave more food.

Slimfast soups aren't the best reinforcement for a healthy lifestyle, either.

They contain hydrogenated vegetable fat, monosodium glutamate, flavourings and plenty of salt.

Is it a sign of our times that we no longer believe we have time to cook a decent meal? Not to worry, TV provides an instant recipe for hungry souls.

It's bizarre how much comfort can be derived from watching nutritious food being prepared and cooked by celebrity chefs. But instead of going back into the kitchen, we prefer to hand over the responsibility for nourishing our bodies to Unilever, the multinational that recently acquired Slimfast but is better known for selling washing powder.

Let's keep our fingers crossed it has our best interests in mind rather than its half-yearly profits.

Imagine celebrating Christmas Day with a can of chocolate diet gloop and a couple of protein bars instead of the usual turkey, roast potatoes and vegetables.

Don't laugh, this is what many women do on other days of the year.

I suspect we'd miss the wonderful aroma of a roast dinner wafting through the house and the sheer pleasure of eating the balanced, nutritious meal someone has taken time and trouble to prepare. It is a determined woman, indeed, who can let go of the frenetic pace of life and make it a priority to eat well every single day.

Products such as Slimfast feed our unhealthy obsession with image, that perfect "look" we are all supposed to aspire to, yet is based on preconceptions.

If Santa Claus is listening, please make my wish come true for a united sisterhood, less interested in trying to impress one another and more interested in laying the foundation for our families'

long-term health - a precious thing unlikely to be found in a can of fortified sugar.

May I wish you all a very happy and nutritious Christmas.

Martina is a qualified
nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina@thehealthbank.co.uk