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Last modified: Friday, October 29, 2010

IU Health & Wellness: The holiday issue

Research and insights from Indiana University

Oct. 29, 2010

IU Health and Wellness discusses the following topics:

Home for the holidays -- your home, not your parents'
A Don't-Buy-This gift guide
Christmas too commercial? What's new?
The media and holiday weight gain

Holiday Baking

Photo by Leigh Wolf

Family traditions start at home.

For many, the holiday season is also the roadtrip season. A family studies professor at Indiana University urges families to slam on the breaks. Instead of traveling for hours or days to spend the holiday with the grandparents, stay home and begin creating unique family traditions that let children know their family comes first. "When people are first starting to create their own family, there's still that very powerful urge to maintain very close contact with the parent, say, in the old family," said Robert Billingham, associate professor in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. It hasn't always been like this. "This used to be unusual," Billingham said. "Parents used to raise their children to leave and to start their own families. Now, with helicopter parenting, it seems like a lot of parents are raising their children so that they don't want to leave." Billingham isn't suggesting a moratorium on family visits. He thinks it is important for the visit with the extended family to be added on to the home-based family plans. Otherwise, the kids will see their family as the add-on. "Making that transition is a sign of maturity and indicates a shift in awareness that the family that you came from needs to be second to the needs of the family that you created," Billingham said. "As much as young children really do enjoy going to the grandparents' house because they get so much attention, they also appreciate the idea that 'We are a family and we're going to create this tradition for ourselves.' If you create your own tradition and travel later, the message is that you create your own family traditions, but you don't forget the others." Billingham said more and more families struggle with this issue each year. He encourages siblings to support each other when they make this transition to stay home, and he also encourages parents to do the same with their children and their families.

Billingham can be reached at 812-855-5208 and Top


Photo by Clara Natoli

What was he thinking? A Don't-Buy-This gift guide. Sometimes knowing what NOT to get someone can be just as important as the gift that's ultimately given. Indiana University experts in romance, disability and accessibility, fashion, fitness and aging offer advice that could turn a problem or awkward gift into a winner.

Gifts to keep the flame alive. "The holidays and New Year can be a nice time to focus on one's relationship, to be thankful for what a couple has and to start over anew," said Debby Herbenick, associate director of Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. However, people often shy away from giving sex-themed gifts, such as lingerie, books or toys, to their significant other. "They may worry whether such a gift is 'appropriate' or too self-serving."

Herbenick offers some suggestions:

  • DON'T re-gift. "This is not a time to give your partner the toy or Teddy your ex left behind," Herbenick said.
  • DON'T guess on sizes. "This is a good time to snoop," Herbenick said. "Check the label of a few pieces of lingerie that she looks particularly sexy in."
  • DON'T go for jelly toys. Many contain materials that are commonly considered to be toxins. Opt for silicone-based, hard plastic or glass toys instead.
  • DON'T spring a toy on a sex toy virgin. If your partner has never used a toy before, ask before you buy.
  • DON'T assume you know what your partner wants. "Sometime when you're talking about sex, casually ask your partner what she or he thinks about sex toys and whether your partner would be into using them with you or is interested in a particular one they're interested in," Herbenick said. "That way, you'll have an idea of what they like.
  • DON'T get lingerie that highlights non-favorite parts. If your partner doesn't like to reveal her tummy, opt for a slip rather than a bra and underwear. If she likes to highlight her breasts, consider a balconette bra or a corset. "Play with her strengths and help her feel confident," Herbenick said.

A few DOs of lingerie and sex toy shopping:

  • DO ask what she'd like. "Some women know that lingerie is on their partners' minds and will say 'no lingerie' right off the bat," Herbenick said.
  • DO consider getting a couples' gift such as a book about sex that you can read together, preferably one that's pleasure-focused rather than problem-focused, which could be a downer.
  • DO include batteries. "Most sex toys don't come with batteries, which is like being a kid and getting an awesome battery-powered toy that you can't use because your parents forgot to get batteries," Herbenick said.

Herbenick can be reached at and 812-855-0364.

Yes to technology but skip the bells and whistles. Some -- but not all -- older adults are behind the times when it comes to technology so technology gifts need some special consideration. "Sometimes what we see as a means of supporting or encouraging improvement might appear threatening to an older loved one," said Lesa Lorenzen Huber, an aging and technology expert in the School of HPER. Huber said, for example, that someone might want to give their loved one an electronic cognitive game because they read that it can help prevent Alzheimer's Disease, but the gift receiver might actually be afraid to play it out of fear that her memory is slipping more than she thought. "We tend to have a perceived notion of usefulness," Huber said. "Find out what they are interested in and don't just think about what you think they need."

Huber and Sherill York, executive director of the National Center on Accessibility at the School of HPER, offered these suggestions:

  • DON'T just hand them the gift and then leave.Explain how to use it. "Give the gift of your own time," Huber said. Even if you think the technology you purchased is self-explanatory take the time to explain how to use it -- and illustrate how it fits into their life -- otherwise, your purchase will remain unused. "If they see the product being used they will be more accepting of it," York said. "Give them time to use it." York suggests that you be their liaison to this new technology. "As a whole, the aging population resists technology because they assume that it will be too complicated," York said.
  • DON'T leave it in the box.Huber said plugging a Wii Fit into it a television might seem like a simple task, but for an older person it can be intimidating.
  • DON'T purchase technology with unnecessary features. For example, the Jitterbug cell phone is easy to use because it has large buttons and a large display screen, which makes it simpler to manipulate, York said. And the phone doesn't have any fancy features that are the norm for most cell phones including, text messaging, music, games and a camera. "Many older people want a cell phone with no bells and whistles," York said.

Huber can be reached at and at 812-855-1733. York can be reached at and 812-856-4422.

Another tie -- just what they didn't need? Shopping for a fashionable gift need not be so difficult especially when accessories such as handbags, scarves and standout jewelry are trendy this season, said Margaret Fette, a visiting lecturer in IU's Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design. The key is to pay attention to the gift recipient's style and fashion interests, Fette said. She suggests going window-shopping with your gift recipient. "Basically, step into their world," Fette said. "When somebody pays attention to you and puts an effort into buying a gift, the receiver will be a lot more touched by that than by a gift card."

Fette offers these tips:

  • DON'T buy anything that can't be returned.Do buy something practical for winter. Make sure your gift is exchangeable if sizes are involved, Fette said. Almost everyone can use long sweaters (not pullovers, though), an extra pair of gloves, ankle or knee boots and a scarf, Fette said. "Even a conventional person would have fun with winter scarves," Fette said. Sweaters can be worn to accessorize an outfit or to wear over (or under) a down jacket, Fette said.
  • DON'T over -- or under -- whelm."Pay attention to proportions," Fette said. "You shouldn't overwhelm the petite person and you shouldn't underwhelm the large person." But some textures and patterns work on every body. "In general textures such as knit scarves are huge this season," Fette said. "Herringbone patterns, textured wools, classic tailoring, pleating and gathering are not too exaggerated -- they are perfectly pronounced."
  • DON'T buy small and delicate jewelry pieces. "Stand out pieces are in right now," Fette said. "Delicate is invisible this year." No matter what someone's fashion style is, clothes can always be dressed up with accessories. Everybody needs a place to put his or her things. Leather handbags, purses and wallets, and even an umbrella with an eclectic design are items that people can make a lot of use out of, Fette said. Since long sweaters are an essential for the winter months, a belt can pull the whole look off, Fette said. Pieces of jewelry such as bangles are an item that many women are wearing. "Bangles are huge," Fette said. "A lot of couture runway shows have their models wearing them as complimentary pieces."
  • DON'T pick just any color.Jewel tones including topaz, amethysts, ruby and crimson are in this season, Fette said.
  • DON'T buy an unflattering item even if its trendy."There are elements from previous decades that are sneaking into the fashion world," Fette said. Some decade-specific trends include: the '50s silhouette and defined waists, the chic '60s dress, '70s-syle skirts and the '80s military-style. But you must keep your receiver in mind, Fette warns. "Buy clothes that will look flattering on the person," Fette said. "Buying a full gathered skirt for a person with large hips is not the best idea."

Fette said fashion doesn't need to be expensive. She suggests shopping at local, small boutiques. "They are struggling financially and have frequent sales with unique selections and reasonable prices," Fette said. "Plus, you'll be supporting your community." Fette also suggests going to retail stores such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Kohl's to get deals on designer duds.

Fette can be reached at 812-855-5223 and AMID is in IU's College of Arts and Sciences.

You think I'm fat?! Not sure you should give your niece that Pilates video? Then don't, said Andy Fry, assistant director of Fitness/Wellness at Indiana University. Fry said a person's interest must be involved in purchasing any gift, especially a fitness gift. "Make sure your gift is not going to offend someone," Fry warns. Chris Meno, an IU Health Center psychologist and member of the Coalition for Overcoming Problem Eating/Exercise (C.O.P.E), suggests avoiding fitness gifts altogether. "The receiver might read into the meaning of the present," Meno said. "They might think to themselves, 'Why would they give me this gift?' and conclude that you think they need to change their appearance. This could lead a person to begin feeling self-conscious or negatively about his/her body, and possibly even to start using unhealthy methods to quickly change his/her appearance and thus relieve the self-consciousness. Overall, I think giving a fitness gift can be more damaging to give than not to give."

But Fry said if someone wants a change, there are some fitness gifts that could be beneficial to the receiver. He offers these suggestions:

  • DON'T set someone up for failure."Many people want a change, but have a hard time deciphering how exactly to make the changes," Fry said. For someone who has already been exercising, Fry suggests getting him or her workout clothes or a gym membership (especially during this season since many gyms have holiday deals). However, if the receiver has no prior exercise experience and wants a change, Fry still suggests workout gear, but says to consider giving the recipient personal training sessions as well.
  • DON'T force it."You can't force fitness on people," Fry said. "They have to be at a level of desire to change, but no gift can change that for them."
  • DON'T buy into fads. The at-home pull-up bar might seem like a good purchase on that 2 a.m. infomercial, but it won't look good when it leaves a mark on your friend's bedroom door. "Be careful with your purchases," Fry said. "You don't want them to be detrimental."
  • Friends don't let friends have a boring workout. "If people like the physical activity they are doing they will stick with it," Fry said. "So, varying exercise can be good for someone who has been exercising for a while." Zumba and "Hot Yoga" are fitness trends many women (and some men) enjoy, Fry said.
  • DON'T let them exercise alone. If you and the gift receiver both want to make a significant change in physical activity, offer to be their workout buddy -- this way, you will get to spend more time together and get healthier together. Fry suggests signing the gift receiver -- and yourself -- up for a 5K run that you can train towards. "It will be more fun for both of you to go through it together," Fry said.

Fry can be reached at 812-855-9653 and Meno can be reached at 812-855-5711 and

Purchase a useful technology present that will outlast any fad. During the holiday season almost everyone wants to receive a new form of technology. From iPhones to iPads, there is probably some form of technology on someone's holiday wish list. And the holiday wish lists for friends and family members with disabilities are no different -- with the exception of some adaptive features to consider during the gift purchase. "People with disabilities are just as interested in current technology," said Sherril York, executive director of the National Center on Accessibility in the School of HPER. "Technology is actually a great equalizer." For example, deaf youth are able to communicate through text messaging, which puts them on the same playing field as everyone else, York said. Buying adaptive technology does not have to be tricky -- in fact, many everyday items include adaptive features, but are not called "adaptive technology." A lot of adaptive equipment is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at a local Radio Shack or Lowe's. "Assistive technology is at a store near you, it's just not called that," York said.

  • The technology should help with simple tasks -- not cause more of a hindrance. York said that before making adaptive technology purchases, shoppers should ask: What does the gift recipient do for recreation and leisure? How can the technology gift help them pursue their interests? Does the technology meet their needs? Can they benefit from the technology or will this be more complicated than it needs to be?
  • The technology purchase should be easy to understand and useful to them. For example, there are many new cell phones and smart phones on the market designed for older adults. The Jitterbug cell phone is easy to use because it has large buttons and a large display screen, which makes it simpler to read and manipulate, York said. The phone doesn't have any fancy features that are the norm for most cell phones including, text messaging, music, games and a camera. "Many older people want a cell phone with no bells and whistles," York said.

York offers these suggestions while shopping for the perfect technology present for an aging family member or friend with a disability:

  • Select subtle over glitz. Select a technology that is assistive to the recipient without calling attention to them. "People with disabilities typically do not want to use something that makes them stick out too much or appear different from others," York said. "If the technology gift stands out too much, they may not embrace it even if they do need it."
  • Explain how the gift can help them pursue their leisure interests. "Help them recognize that they have a need for this technology," York said. "For older people, they probably recognize they don't do some things as well as they once did, but they haven't thought about how technology can help them. It's a fine line. They need to accept their limitations. It doesn't matter what technology has been purchased for them, if they don't accept the gift or find it useful, the technology will not be of benefit."
  • Demonstrate the technology and help them get acquainted with the new features. Even if you think the technology you have purchased is self-explanatory, take the time to explain how to use it -- and illustrate how it fits into their life -- otherwise your purchase will remain unused.

More gift ideas for friends or family members with disabilities:

  • For children with disabilities consider toys that are easy to manipulate. If they have lights or sounds, make sure they are easy to turn on and off.
  • Exercise accessories like pedometers and heart rate monitors with large displays. Some models have a "talk feature" with a voice that gives the distance traveled or current heart rate.
  • Cardio machines, such as stair climbers, Nordic tracks and ellipticals are now designed for use in a seated position.
  • Adaptive gear for improved gripping and use of kayak paddles, fishing reels, or golf clubs.
  • For the cycling enthusiast, three-wheeled trikes can help individuals who have difficulty with balance, also a step-and-go cycle or a recumbent cycle for operation in either the standing or reclining position.
  • Balls that flash and/or beep for games like Dodge Ball or Goal Ball.
  • Reading lights and personal magnifying lamps for someone who enjoys sewing, knitting or crocheting.
  • For the avid card player, large-print playing cards, playing card holders, talking dice and/or dice with large labels.
  • For the iPod/iPhone/iPad enthusiast, be sure to search "accessibility" for new apps introduced each week in the iTunes store. There are many new apps that enable the devices to read text aloud, magnify the screen, dictate and use communication symbols and even sign language.

York can be reached at and 812-856-4422. Top

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The meaning behind Christmas is more secular than you think. No one -- even non-Christians -- can escape the commercialism of Christmas. "I think that people get too upset about the commercialism of Christmas as a holiday because it was never entirely religious in origin," said Peter Thuesen, department chair and professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "No one knows exactly when Jesus was born. No one knows exactly how Dec. 25 evolved as the birth date of Christ." Christmas succeeded the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia, a festival created to honor the god Saturn. Christmas as a celebration came to replace these pagan festivals. In early America, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday, Thuesen said. Christmas is both religious and secular -- and Thuesen said the two are not sharply distinct. "Many people who are not religious celebrate Christmas," Thuesen said. "They see it as a wintertime holiday to get together with family." But with so much commercialism surrounding Christmas, other holidays such as Hanukkah, Eid, and Kwanza tend to be forgotten. "The U.S. is the most diverse society on earth and thanks to immigration, virtually every culture is represented in some form," Thuesen said. So what should you put on holiday greeting cards? Merry Christmas? Happy Hanukah? Happy Holidays? "'Happy Holidays' is always safe," Thuesen said. "Merry Christmas doesn't work in multicultural settings because not everyone is Christian. To say 'Happy Holidays' is simply a way of showing multicultural sensitivity. I don't think the use of a generic phrase like this detracts in any way from the religious meaning of Christmas or any other holiday." Thuesen said he thought that opposition to "Happy Holidays" as too politically correct might diminish if people knew more about the traditions of other religions.

Thuesen can be reached at 317-274-5942 or Top


Gain the holiday weight without the self-disdain. Holiday weight gain is real, but so is the media's obsession with it. "Not everything you read or hear is good or bad," said Andy Fry, assistant director of Fitness/Wellness at the School of HPER. Fry said to remember that it takes the consumption of 3,500 extra calories in one week -- the equivalent of 500 extra calories a day -- to gain one pound in a week. A piece of pecan pie or a cup of green bean casserole or two mixed drinks amount to around 500 calories. Walking for a mile burns 100 calories.

"We are a society of extremes: We either exercise too much or too little or we consume too much or not enough," Fry said. "Think of the long-term as opposed to the short-term. One meal is not going make someone end up being obese; one meal is not going to make them fat."

Need some perspective on holiday weight gain? Here are some more tips from Fry as well as members of the Coalition for Overcoming Problem Eating/Exercise (C.O.P.E), psychologist Chris Meno and Megan Duracka, a predoctoral psychology intern at IU's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), a division of the IU Health Center.

  • Don't let the media control you. "It is important to not only balance diet and exercise, but also media exposure," Duracka said. Limit your exposure to messages about diet and weight gain during the holidays. Recognize that change is an inevitable part of life and our bodies fluctuate on a daily basis. Accept this as a part of our biology, and any change you feel over the holidays does not mean it is permanent. Learn to be patient with yourself and your body. If you are watching TV and a commercial that promotes weight loss comes on simply change the channel." Duracka suggests that when people feel bombarded with these messages they should participate in another activity, such as walking or assisting a family member with a task. "Be aware that the media -- as well as others -- naturally influences us on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Be aware of this influence. And try to limit the number of times we allow ourselves to compare and feel judged."
  • Focus on your strengths. "Choose to reflect on other parts of yourself -- other than your body -- that make you who you are," Meno said. Meno suggests focusing on other aspects of your life, such as family, during the holidays. "The holidays are often a time to reflect on what we are thankful for," Meno said.
  • Censor negative talk -- and thoughts. Limit comments and discussions about body and weight. "If you notice that you are experiencing negative thoughts or voicing them out loud, recognize it in the moment, stop and forgive yourself," Duracka said. "At that moment it is important and often helpful to push yourself to make a positive statement about your body to 'balance out' the self-critical statement." However, Meno acknowledges that it is a challenge not to discuss food (such as off-handed remarks like "You shouldn't eat that") especially during the holidays. "Don't make comments about yourself or other people's weight and body," Meno said. If the topic of weight and body comes up in conversation, Duracka suggests changing the subject or promoting positive body image.
  • It's all about balance. Duracka said to remember that there are no "good" or "bad" foods, which means you can incorporate a variety of foods including sweets. "Enjoy eating for health, hunger and satisfaction," Duracka said. "The holiday is just another opportunity to nourish our bodies." And remember, Meno said, "Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full." But Meno said this often is easier said than done. "This seems like common sense, but it takes practice." Fry suggests practicing portion control during the holiday season. He acknowledges that during the holidays people often eat hardy home cooking throughout the day. "You need to realize you are going to have another meal, then a next meal and then a next," he said. "You are going to cheat on a meal here or there. Fry warns that it is not necessarily the food the makes you put on the pounds -- it is staying sedentary. "You need to look at it through a balanced lens," he said. "You have to balance your caloric intake with caloric expenditure."
  • Exercise without any pressure. Fry suggests following a normal exercise regimen if you already have one -- and to plan your exercise schedule ahead of time. But Fry said, you don't need to run for miles to get a workout. "Participate in physical activities with your family and friends," he said. "Take a walk. Play a game of soccer. This will be just as much fun -- if not more -- than sitting around the table talking and eating." And many mundane activities, such as shopping, incorporate physical activity because of the walking involved. "Just don't eat the mall food," Fry warns.
  • Give the scale a rest. Nothing will ruin your holiday high more than the number on the scale. "Imagine what it would be like spending a day, week or month without a scale measuring your self-esteem and influencing your mood," Duracka said. Yes, the holidays are a time for miracles. But there is still no quick-fix weight loss solution. There are many quick-fix diets out there that claim to help you lose weight before, during and after the holidays. But beware, Fry said. "These are just new packaging for an old trick." Since quick-fix diets such as a pill or a drink do not make you change your habits, they will not create long-term results. Yo-yo dieting, Fry said, puts a lot of pressure no the heart. Diet fads, said Meno, may be based off of little or no research and are not even endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration. "Respect your body and be mindful of the harm these quick-fix products can do to your body," she said.

For more information about C.O.P.E., please visit Fry can be reached at 812-855-9653 and Meno and Duracka can be reached at 812-855-5711 and and Top

For additional assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 or