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Seven guilty pleasures to feel good about

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Sometime after Eve and Adam started feeling peckish, society decided that if something felt good, it had to be bad for you – which is not necessarily true. In fact, a little hedonism can reduce stress, improve health and boost confidence – especially if you give in to one of these little joys.

Chocolate
“Chocolate is a wonderful food. If you’re going to have an indulgence that’s the one,” says Susan Fyshe, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Healthy Lifestyle Nutrition Consulting in Toronto. With an abundance of antioxidants and flavonoids, cocoa can decrease inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Get maximum benefits by choosing a dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa or more and stick with a square or two a day, says Fyshe.

Sex
Getting busy is good for you inside and out – it can do everything from lower blood pressure and reduce stress and depression, to tighten your pelvic muscles and boost your immune system. What’s more, when a woman is enjoying her sex life, it raises her sexual self-confidence and boosts self-esteem, says Dr. Trina Read, sexologist and author of Till Sex Do Us Part. A satisfying romp in the sack floods the brain with feel-good hormones, which can increase intimacy between partners, says Read. A hot and sweaty session also burns about 240 calories every hour (which just about equals one post-coital scoop of ice cream).

Television
It’s not okay to drone out in front of the “tube” every night – but some television programs can actually be motivational. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution may inspire you to cook a healthy meal, or a dance program may get you into the mood to have a night on the town. TV can even encourage people to “pay it forward.” In one study, researchers found that people who watched an uplifting segment of The Oprah Winfrey Show spent twice as much time voluntarily performing a tedious task, than those who watched a nature documentary or comedy show. As if we needed another reason to watch Oprah.

Splurging
Order that sundae, get the manicure you don’t really need, forget the “staycation” and book a last minute vacation – sometimes a little indulgence helps people feel valued. The occasional shopping spree can even be good for your conscience. One 2008 study found that while consumers who made an irresponsible purchase felt immediate guilt, in the long run they had less remorse than those who “missed out” by demonstrating puritanical self-control. Which means splurging now and again can actually help you live with fewer regrets.

Coffee
Feeling fuzzy? Don’t hesitate to brew a cup of java. When consumed in moderation (one to three cups a day), coffee can improve concentration, reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, and even boost your metabolism a little, says Fyshe. In fact, she recommends a low-fat latte as a healthy afternoon snack for clients looking to lose weight.

Competition
Ever been told to “bow out” of something? Did it feel wrong? That’s because the drive to compete is practically in our DNA – it pushes people to do better at work, the gym, even socially. It’s also why researchers believe the human brain increased in size three-fold over the past two-million years – meaning the need to “one up” each other may have been the reason our ancestors got smart. “Competition builds your confidence,” says Christine Wessman, a world champion sprint canoer. “It’s a way to prove to yourself and others that you can do anything.” So let that competitive streak run wild now and again.

Wine
A glass of wine on the patio can be a lovely experience – so why ruin it with guilt? Studies have shown that wine, red in particular, can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. One recent study even found that women who drink alcohol moderately are less likely to gain weight over time. The key is to indulge moderately – so stick to one glass a day. Bottoms up.