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Living Well: The holiday issue

Health and wellness tips from Indiana University

Living Well for October discusses the following topics:

College students, disordered eating and the holidays
Cool gifts for older relatives and friends
Enjoy holiday food fare without blowing your diet
A do-it-yourself, low-tech holiday fitness plan
Food preparation safety tips

Refusing Food

The weight-loss frenzy among college students is intense over the holidays.

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Weight-sensitive students home for the holidays. The weight-loss frenzy among college students is nearly as intense at Thanksgiving as it is before spring break, said Chris Meno, a psychologist with the Indiana University Health Center. "Students are concerned about seeing their friends from home for the first time in months and want to look as good as they did in the summer," she said. For students who struggle with symptoms of disordered eating -- an estimated 20 percent of college women in the U.S. -- the winter holidays, with their emphasis on food, can be especially difficult. Her tips for parents are below.

  • Hold your tongue on matters of appearance. Well-meaning parents can unwittingly add to the stress by focusing on their child's appearance, Meno said. "Comments from family about diet and weight can be a major source of anxiety for students who are struggling with their body image. Parents can be supportive of their child by staying away from the topic of appearance altogether. Even a statement like, "You look healthy,' can be taken as an unintended critique."
  • Non-edible fun. Families can also diffuse food-related stress by incorporating social activities that don't involve eating, Meno said. "Create togetherness by decorating the house, watching a favorite movie or sports event, playing a game of family football or taking a walk together." She also suggested feel-good "treats" such as going to a yoga class or getting a massage at a spa.
  • Plan the meals together. Meals are a necessity, though, and family recipes may be a cherished component of holiday gatherings. Meno said that talking beforehand about food preferences can help create a welcoming atmosphere. "While your child is still at school, ask about what he or she would like to eat and how to handle meal times. Try to agree on a plan that allows you to celebrate without causing your child to feel sabotaged or pressured. This discussion will be a lot smoother if takes place in advance and not when the whole family is sitting down for dinner."

Meno is the coordinator of outreach and consultation for Counseling and Psychological Services at the IU Health Center. She can be reached at 812-855-5711 and Top

Enabling Garden image

Adapted (and attractive) garden stuctures can bring gardening back into a loved one's life.

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No sweaters here -- Give your hard-to-buy-for older friends or relatives a boost to their quality of life. Indiana University Bloomington aging, accessibility and recreation experts offer some top picks geared toward quality of life.

Lesa Lorenzen-Huber is a gerontology expert and assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science. The high-tech gifts below, which Lorenzen-Huber will discuss in a course titled "Health, Technology and Aging," are examples of how technology can keep people active and independent as they age. She included the spa gift ideas, because they can go a long way in making a loved one feel good.

  • Brain Age. This Nintendo game can help people stay cognitively active, postpone the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and give them something in common with their grandchildren. The software costs around $20 and requires a Nintendo DS handheld game system, which is sold separately and costs around $130.
  • Garmin Forerunner. This global position system also monitors heart rate, speed, distance, pace and calories burned. It is a high-end, high-tech item costing around $260. Other less expensive yet effective devices include pedometers and accelerometers, which measure the intensity of physical activity. Lorenzen-Huber said most people tend to overestimate how active they are. These items can keep us honest and offer encouragement to increase our physical activity. "Part of the gift involves your time, calibrating the information," Lorenzen-Huber said.
  • Ambient Executive Dashboard. This wireless gadget lets people track stocks, weather or other interests in real time without the use of a computer or Wi-Fi. It costs around $150.
  • Pedicure. The gift is even more enjoyable if the giver accompanies the recipient. "It's time spent together," Lorenzen-Huber said. "And for an older person, having their feet cared for and rubbed -- they can't always reach them well -- it can be a real treat."
  • Massage. A massage can be a nice gift if the recipient is comfortable being massaged. Some masseurs specialize in massage for older people or are more sensitive to such issues as modesty and skin needs. Lorenzen-Huber recommends inquiring about the masseur's experience with older clientele.

Jennifer Skulski and Alice Voigt are accessibility specialists for the Indiana University-based National Center on Accessibility, an influential resource for promoting access for people with disabilities to recreational activities and facilities. "Getting out and participating in recreational activities is important, even if a person has acquired a disability or physical impairment," Skulski said. "Technology has made adaptive equipment more available and affordable for consumers."

  • Electronic or "smart" level. Unlike traditional levels with the bubble gauge, the electronic level has a digital display and audible signal for measuring the slope of a surface. The readout displays in percent and degrees. "When we conduct accessibility training with park and recreation professionals in the field, this is one of their favorite tools to use during a site assessment," said Skulski. "Many comment on how they need to pick one up for their own personal use." Electronic levels range in price from $80 to $200 and can be found at most home improvement stores. Manufacturers include Stabila or Stanley.
  • Adaptive fishing equipment. With the help of adaptive equipment, people who have experienced disability can continue to enjoy this sport regardless of any physical limitations. An electronic reel or easy cast unit can make casting easier for people with limited mobility or limited use of one arm. Adapted rod holders and pole holsters are just some of the many kinds of adapted equipment available. "People who have experienced a stroke, arthritis, spinal cord injury or other disabling condition can use all of these resources to get them back to the joys of fishing," Voigt said. Access to Recreation ( is an online catalog for adapted recreation equipment, including fishing rods and other fishing accessories.

Stori Snyder is the assistant director of Hilltop Garden and Nature Center on the IU Bloomington campus. Hilltop Garden grounds include a variety of enabling garden structures that until recently overflowed with cherry tomatoes, peppers, basil, rosemary, petunias, and other flowers and vegetables.

  • Build mom a garden. Vertical and elevated gardening structures can help gardening enthusiasts pursue their passion despite limitations they might experience from aging or disability. Gardening techniques, such as the liberal use of compost, allow gardeners to plant more vegetables and flowers in smaller areas. Elevated garden boxes lined with a bench make gardening easier for people who cannot stand for long amounts of time. Vertical boxes with a trellised face let people tend their flowers while standing. Garden baskets and boxes can be mounted on chain-linked fences or on posts, allowing for them to be adjusted according to height needs. Garden boxes filled with beautifully scented herbs can make gardening easier and more enjoyable for people with visual impairments. Snyder said the structures in their enabling garden have a simple design and can be built by amateur craftsman. Finding the designs, however, and adapted gardening equipment, requires some research because most home improvement stores do not have kits for such structures or adapted tools. The American Horticultural Therapy Association,, lists a variety of books about gardening. Snyder also recommends The Able Gardener by Kathleen Yeomans. The Able Gardener Web site,, sells gardening accessories that are adapted for different needs.

Lorenzen-Huber can be reached at 812-855-1733 and Skulski can be reached at 812-856-4428 and Voigt can be reached at 812-856-4479 and Snyder can be reached at 812-855-8808 and Top

Have your holidays and eat well, too. The holidays don't have to be a troubled time for your diet, said Julie Shertzer, a registered dietitian with the Indiana University Health Center. A little preparation and some positive self-talk can get you from Thanksgiving to New Year's with your waistline and your holiday spirit intact. Below are Shertzer's tips for a healthy, balanced holiday season.

  • Do enjoy your favorite holiday treats. "There's no need to fear that a little bit of pie is going to lead to automatic weight gain. An overly restrictive mentality is likely to backfire by making you feel deprived and leading to overeating later on. Give yourself permission to eat the things you really love and savor the tastes and textures."
  • Choose only what you love. "You probably don't love each and every one of the 12 dishes that are on the table. Pick the things that you don't have every day, that are really appealing to you, and leave the rest. You don't have to eat the salad just because it's 'healthy' -- in the end you are likely to eat less when you choose the foods that make you feel most satisfied."
  • Serve yourself just enough. "Studies have shown that the more food we put on the plate, the more we eat, regardless of hunger level. Aim to serve yourself what you really need to satisfy your hunger and your taste buds. For most people, this will probably be a smaller portion than what your mom would put on your plate."
  • Ravenous hunger leads to overeating. "If you wait until you are completely starving before you eat, you will have difficulty sensing when you have had enough. When you're ravenous, all you think about is how hungry you are -- you are consumed with thoughts about what you will eat, and that leads to overeating to compensate for the starvation period. Try having something small before you leave for a gathering, like a glass of low-fat milk or some yogurt or fruit. That way you'll just be starting to get hungry again when it's time for the meal."
  • A little exercise goes a long way. "Doing some physical activity can help you keep a balanced mindset and promote the feeling that you are having a healthy day. This is not intended to create a calorie deficit but just to feel good from moving your body."
  • One big meal is no big deal. "Even if you do overdo it a little bit, realize that one meal or one day is not going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Try not to get caught in the trap of restricting yourself in order to compensate for the extra calories. That only leads to more overeating followed by more restriction, and the cycle can ultimately wreck your metabolism. It's hard to do, but it is best to let go of the negative feelings, forget about it and move on. Refusing to beat yourself up for one slip-up is the smart thing to do for your diet."

Shertzer can be reached at 812-855-7338 and Top

Chris Arven

Fitness expert Chris Arvin found that his consistent approach to physical activity over the holidays gave him more focus, less stress and better fitness come January 1.

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Give yourself focus and "Fitness for Christmas." Sound familiar? "Every year, once Thanksgiving gets here, I'm in mashed potatoes and apple pie mode for the next six weeks," said Chris Arvin, program director for Fitness and Wellness at Indiana University Bloomington's Division of Recreational Sports. Last year Arvin decided to make a change. He created his own "Fitness for Christmas" incentive program, calling on himself to be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He missed just five days. "I didn't notice a difference in my physical condition at the time, but I did feel better mentally and emotionally when I was more consistently active," Arvin said. "I was more focused and less stressed. The interesting thing to me was that I wasn't as out of shape as I normally am when I returned to my more vigorous workouts after the first of the year."

Create your own "Fitness for Christmas" plan:

  • Keep a log of your activities. Arvin used a computer spread sheet, but the log can be as simple as notebook paper or a sticky note.
  • Rethink your definition of physical activity to include activities that fit into a typical day. "It doesn't have to be an hour-long bike ride or something really vigorous," Arvin said. "There were a couple of days when I just walked to work. It was a 30-minute walk, and then I walked home. It worked, and it fit into my day." One day Arvin took his daughters sledding -- that counted, too. "I had to walk up that hill how many times?" Arvin said the activity doesn't need to involve sweating, but it should use the large muscle groups. He found himself walking more.
  • Tell your friends and family about your plan. One of Arvin's daughters found his "Fitness for Christmas" plan amusing and encouraged him each day to stick to it.
  • Sometimes it's a good idea to go easy, but strive to be consistent with your exercise routine. "Exercising vigorously everyday would be a daunting thought for most and would most likely be counterproductive," Arvin said. Maximize your chances of being consistent by mixing in easy days.

This year, as the holidays near, the Division of Recreational Sports is offering a more formal wellness incentive program for IU faculty and staff. The four-week plan called "Step into Fitness" encourages participants to track the amount of steps they take each day and makes them eligible for weekly and grand prizes. Participants also will receive weekly wellness tips and possibly a greater payoff -- an inclination to continue their walking efforts after the program ends. IU faculty and staff who are interested in participating can register and get more information at or register at the wellness fair at the annual Jill Behrman Run for the End Zone fundraiser, to be held on Oct. 21 at the Mellencamp Pavilion. The first 500 people to visit the Division of Recreational Sports booth at the wellness fair will receive free pedometers.

Arvin can be reached at 812-856-1215 and Top

Holiday Food

Banish unwanted bacteria from the buffet.

Serving Salmonella, Staph, Camphylobacter, Listeria, E. coli, Shigella, and Vibrio this holiday season? Alyce Fly, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Indiana University Bloomington, said banishing these unwanted bacteria from the dinner table is not so difficult if the four techniques below are followed. A food thermometer, she said, can be an important ally. "Most people don't realize how valuable they are," Fly said. "You really can't tell how well meat is cooked by the color. You need a food thermometer." To learn more about these techniques and food borne illnesses visit

  • Wash, wash and wash. Wash hands and surfaces often with soap and water, 20 seconds for hands. Clean counters with paper towels or cloth towels that are washed regularly. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed under running water -- don't use water that is standing in the sink.
  • Keep raw meat to itself. Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat foods. Do this at the store, in the refrigerator and when you cook. Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and seafood because these foods harbor many more hazardous microorganisms than other foods. Don't put cooked foods or ready-to-eat foods on a plate that has previously held these raw foods.
  • Kill the bacteria with heat. Cook meat, poultry and seafood to a temperature that will kill food borne pathogens. Use a food thermometer and consult the chart at for safe temperatures for different foods. This same practice applies to leftovers which should be reheated to safe temperatures.
  • Refrigeration. Pitch foods that have been sitting out for more than two hours -- or one hour when the temperature exceeds 90 F -- if they require refrigeration. Refrigerate perishable groceries as soon as possible. Frozen foods must be kept at a safe temperatures while thawing. Food can be defrosted safety in three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Never thaw food by letting it sit on the counter. Marinating foods should be stored in the refrigerator. Leftovers go down hill quickly. Follow this link,, for a guide to when raw food and leftovers should be pitched.

A food thermometer is your friend -- and other tips: Hot foods on buffet tables should be kept at 140 F or warmer and cold foods should be kept at 40 F or below. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays to keep foods hot; cold foods can be held at safe temperatures by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. This USDA Web site offers tips on cooking turkey at This Fight Bac! Web site offers a safe egg nog recipe, Fight Bac! is provided by The Partnership for Food Safety Education, a not-for-profit organization that includes industry associations, professional societies in food science, nutrition and health, consumer groups and the U.S. government.

Fly can be reached at 812-855-7975 and Top

For further assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James, 812-855-0084 and, or Elisabeth Andrews, 812-856-3717 and

EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.