Dec. 3, 2014

by April Toler

It’s Monday morning, the first day of a “new you.”

You’ve spent the weekend prepping healthy lunches to take to work. You finally got that gym membership you’ve been putting off.

Just in time for the new year, you are ready to turn over a new leaf.

But as you enter your morning meeting, there they are: a dozen chocolate-covered doughnuts your boss picked up for a treat.

Sticking to a healthy diet or exercise routine can be difficult without the right support. But co-workers can serve as a strong motivation for each other.

While it is OK occasionally to indulge in holiday treats, it’s also important to have alternative choices, such as fruit.

“I think support of co-workers is extremely important,” said Gina Plummerdiabetes prevention program facilitator at IUPUI. “It is easier to ‘walk the walk’ if you see others around you doing it as well. Plus, they add the benefit of helping to hold us accountable. I feel the motivation and desire has to come from within, but our work environments — and our colleagues — can be crucially important to our success.”

Smart choices

When it comes to avoiding those sugary treats at morning meetings, Plummer suggests taking matters into your own hands.

While it’s OK to indulge occassionally in a doughnut or holiday treat, it’s also important to have alternative choices. For example, Plummer said, choose healthier food options the rest of the day and make sure to get in exercise.

And never hesitate to ask your supervisor to bring in healthier snacks for those meetings.

“If you know there is a good chance doughnuts will be at a meeting, plan to take a healthy snack with you,” Plummer said. “I tell myself I can have the doughnuts after I eat an apple and have a big glass of water. Or take a Kind bar or fiber bar that will still fulfill the sweet tooth but be a better choice than the doughnut. Another strategy is to have a bigger breakfast on doughnut day so you are less tempted.”

As the holiday season approaches, many people find themselves inundated with sweet treats and get-togethers that revolve around food. But parties can still be fun, Plummer said, without all the sugary confections.

A list of healthy holidays recipes, such as low-fat turkey gravy and Greek yogurt ranch dip, are available on Healthy IU’s website.

“One of my favorite recipe tips for the office party is to be the person to bring the fruit, veggie tray or salad,” Plummer said. “That way you know there will be a ‘safe food’ that you can enjoy more of and have smaller portions of the high-sugar and high-fat treats.

“I generally advise my diabetes prevention program participants not to focus on losing weight over the holidays but rather to focus on not gaining. It’s a more realistic approach. Every food choice is a brand new opportunity to start fresh, so if you had a doughnut, don’t beat yourself up but get back to those healthy choices ASAP.”

Keep moving

Cold weather can make it difficult to stay motivated when it comes to exercise.

But just as with choosing the right food, co-workers can help encourage each other to keep moving.

“Behaviors such as healthy eating and daily physical activity are much easier to start and maintain when you are surrounded by supportive peers who have similar goals and interests,” Healthy IU manager Jaclyn Braspenninx said.

She said some of the ways IU employees can motivate each other to move include:

  • Plan walking meetings on the indoor walking tracks or campus walking trails.
  • Walk to lunch together or make the lunch hour an activity break.
  • Hold a friendly contest to encourage employees to exercise.
  • Create a department team and register for a local charity fun run/walk or 5K.
  • Attend a group exercise class together before work, at lunch or after work.
  • Promote the use of stairwells in your building.
  • Send motivational e-mails and health tips.
  • Encourage stretch and/or physical activity breaks during meetings.
  • Encourage the use of pedometers to measure daily movement.
  • Promote active transportation to work.
  • Provide co-workers with information on the benefits of physical activity and tips on how to be more active.

Read more Health

Personal fitness trackers help users increase mobility, change fitness behaviors

May 7, 2014

by Jennifer Piurek

There’s a new must-have trend sweeping the nation.

I’m not talking about the inexplicable resurgence of faded denim overalls, which — eww, and why? — or jeggings for men (same). I’m referring to personal fitness trackers, which are worn around wrists or clipped to pockets and function as super-advanced pedometers. Various models, colors, prices and brands are available — most can calculate number of steps and nutritional intake and track basic sleep/movement patterns over time. They even allow users to sync with friends for a little friendly competition.

Fitbit on wristA Fitbit personal fitness tracker | PHOTO BY CHRIS MEYER

To learn whether there’s any substance behind the hype, Inside IU talked about personal fitness trackers with two IU health experts: Gina Plummer, IUPUI’s Diabetes Prevention Program facilitator, and Carol Kennedy-Armbruster, a faculty member in the School of Public Health-Bloomington’s Department of Kinesiology. Both have their own personal trackers, and both oversaw small groups of employees who tried out the trackers as part of a limited pilot program through Healthy IU. They shared the positive outcomes they’ve seen, as well as what type of measurements are unreasonable to expect from the devices.

Support after Diabetes Prevention Program

Plummer introduced the activity trackers in January as a small-scale pilot program for 26 IUPUI staff members who had completed a 16-week Diabetes Prevention Program course. Participants were given the trackers on Jan. 26 to help support them during the post-core program, along with monthly meetings meant to support accountability.

Participants typically improve their eating habits during and after the program but have trouble staying active, Plummer said.

“The trackers motivated people dramatically,” she said. “Some continued to lose more weight as a result of using the trackers. They called them the ‘silent Ginas’ since they no longer had me with them during the weekly core program, but now they had the trackers.”

Many of the participants knew they weren’t very active, she said, but most tended to overestimate the number of steps they took each day.

“Initially, I just ask people to observe the number of steps they take for a few days to see where they are without immediately setting a goal,” she said.

An active person takes about 10,000 steps a day, but if someone is starting with 2,000 steps, Plummer said, they should initially try for 2,500 to 2,800, then raise the goal to 5,000 or 7,000. The gradual increase is the best way to support long-term sustainability of the activity, and it offers participants a sense of success along the way.

As much as she likes her personal fitness tracker, Plummer said they’re not necessarily for everyone — and that classes in how to use the trackers and change the users’ behavior were essential for her pilot group.

“I strongly believe in education on the front end,” she said. “If we just hand someone a tracker, it’s too much at once. It feels intimidating, and people don’t get the full benefit of the fitness trackers.”

One of the revelations many of the participants shared: short walks add up.

“People realize they can walk or move in 10-minute increments — it doesn’t have to be a big hourlong walk or workout,” she said.

Accuracy with the trackers isn’t perfect, Plummer said. If the battery dies, those steps aren’t always tracked. Some people don’t like sleeping with the trackers on, so essential sleep data isn’t recorded. And those who don’t own smartphones need to sync data with their computers, which isn’t always convenient.

Still, the IUPUI group reported positive results across the board. Once the 10 months of post-program meetings are done, Plummer has asked participants to continue sharing their monthly logging of steps.

“You can share as much or as little information as you want with friends,” she said. Many people keep their weight private, for example, but sync with friends for workout inspiration. “We cheer each other on all the time — some in my group like to taunt each other a little; it’s healthy competition.”

Small steps, big payoff

Healthy IU conducted its first small-scale activity monitor study in the fall of 2013 at IU Bloomington using pilot groups at Bryan Hall and the Poplars building on the Bloomington campus.

Before receiving the trackers, the groups were asked to take part in a series of Learn Over Lunch meetings followed by work with health fitness coaches enrolled in an academic School of Public Health class. The student coaches helped Healthy IU participants learn how to use the trackers.

“We didn’t realize at first how much information people would need related to the technology,” Kennedy-Armbruster said. “We also learned that being involved in a behavior change activity is important for the activity trackers to be effective.”

Fitness trackers work especially well for people who are trying to add more activity into their lives, Kennedy-Armbruster said. Sometimes, more active people who begin using them become frustrated because the basic models don’t accurately monitor biking or running.

“I see them as a way to motivate and inspire people who may be less active to add more movement to their days,” she said. “Even if you talk on the phone and pace a little, you add a significant number of steps throughout the day. Even a one-hour workout doesn’t compensate for sitting all day.”

The state’s biggest health problem is obesity, Kennedy-Armbruster said. Paired with dietary improvements, the trackers help motivate people to increase movement by providing data about current habits.

“People debate the accuracy of the trackers, but the bottom line is that if they help us understand our behavior better, they can help us do better with our lifestyle choices,” she said. “I’ve seen people change what they do.”

Kennedy-Armbruster recently presented a poster session (with Hoffman, L., & Hollingsworth, P., 2014)titled “Impact of the utilization of activity trackers and student coaches to enhance health and wellness within a worksite wellness program at a large Midwestern University” at the International Association for Worksite Health Promotion Executive Summit on Worksite Health Promotion in Atlanta. The case study represented what the researchers learned from IU’s activity tracker pilot group.

“There’s a group in Poplars, and people will walk to the third-floor restroom instead of using the one on the first floor because they’ve realized they’ll get 100 more steps that way,” she said. “I’ve heard testimonials, too. The daughter of one of our Fitbit pilots said, ‘Mom, let’s go shopping. You can get more steps!’ So what the parent was doing influenced the rest of the family, and it started with the tracking device.”

French Women don’t get fat

If French women don’t get fat, in general, it’s because, over a week’s worth of meals, they have probably had only a small amount of desserts, breads and cheeses and focused on vegetables, fruits and unprocessed foods. If there is one golden rule of typical French eating habits, it consists of eating a little bit of everything in moderation in order to revel in great food but keep a lid on weight gain.

Another cornerstone of the French eating culture is the big family lunch on Sundays or holidays. All the usual culinary delights make an appearance: four-course meals are standard (starter, main meal, cheese course and dessert) with, of course, great wine and bread from the local bakery.

Even the most figure-conscious French woman will taste a bit of everything at these meals. Then, to counterbalance a run of excess, she turns to her secret weapon – which she probably picked up from her mother or grandmother. Substituting homemade vegetable soup for a meal or two, and particularly in the evening, is not a matter of officially dieting, deliberate deprivation or “detoxing”: it’s more about balancing out the week’s calorie intake to keep the national pleasure principle intact. This way, “indulging”, within reason, can remain a part of everyday life.

In my case, I learned what I know about French detox from my mother-in-law, Carmen. She used to whip up her favorite soup recipe alongside any given Sunday lunch or holiday meal. That way, it was ready. Vegetable soup, followed by a plain yogurt, for a couple of days and she was back on track! She maintained an enviable figure throughout her life.Detox soup

Carmen’s Vegetable Soup


2 onions
3 leeks
2 carrots
2 potatoes
Few sprigs of parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil
chicken stock

1. Chop up the onions, leeks, carrots and potatoes.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot, add the onions and sauté until they soften.

3. Add the leeks and carrots to the onions and sauté lightly.

4. Add the potatoes. Let all the vegetables simmer together for a few minutes.

5. Add the parsley.

6. Cover all the vegetables with water and add a cube of chicken stock (or the real thing if you have it handy!) and simmer over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft (not mushy). Puree with a handheld mixer or in a food processor.

This soup can be a main dish or side dish. For a heartier meal, pair it with a piece of dark bread and a slice of cheese.

Try with whatever vegetables you have to hand! Other great veggie choices are red peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, pumpkin, squash, or whatever is in season.

Frozen vegetables also work perfectly for this recipe and are real timesavers – I use frozen leeks, zucchini and onions all the time.

For an even lighter version of this soup, substitute potatoes with zucchini.

Get Creative

Many of us are not cut from the traditional mold in a variety of ways.  The way we manage our health is one example.  We hear the same message that everyone does; eat less, move more and reduce stress.    But the path to get there may be too worn, or so routine that we lose interest in choosing that direction.  Maybe you’ve been down that path and it hasn’t worked.  A one-size fits all health plan may not appeal to your need for something new or fresh, or more importantly, effective for your unique life.     Its human nature to become bored or jaded when confronted with unrelenting sameness.  We give up, move on and fail multiple times on that path. If we are motivated enough to feel a sense of remorse, we start all over again.  The cycle can be endless. 

To quote Tony Robbins, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  If what you’ve gotten is bad health, then it’s time do things differently.  This can be done within the context of the universal messages we hear about nutrition, fitness and stress.   Get creative.  Use that gift of thinking outside the box to create a plan for yourself that piques your interest and the motivation that lies within.  Consider the following:

Work with a professional health coach

Practice Yoga and Meditation either at home or in a class

Host a book club discussion on the latest diet book or health trend

Hold a neighborhood health fair and plan a day of outside activities to interact with family and friends

Have a wellness party with a few friends who have similar interests.

Sponsor a wellness workshop or speaker at your church, school or work.

Organize your own “Walk for Wellness”

The ideas are only limited by the depth of your imagination.  Now is the time.  Eat better, move more, de-stress – but do it your own creative way.

Audrey Peters, RD, CD


Registered Dietitian

Audrey holds a Bachelor of Sciences in Dietetics and Nutrition, Fitness and Health from Purdue University. She completed her dietetic internship from Purdue University in 2011. She currently works in the field of hospital weight management and obesity treatment. Audrey enjoys helping people reach their individual nutrition and weight loss goals through structured, scientific based guidance. She works with individuals to help them learn more about nutrition, wellness and how to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Audrey has extensive experience leading group classes, support groups and community nutrition presentations. She enjoys meeting new people and learning from their experiences. Audrey loves the field of nutrition and weight loss because it is not only her occupation, but also her passion.

Audrey lives in Carmel with her husband and dog. Audrey enjoys running, all types of exercise, cooking, sewing, shopping and hanging out with her husband and dog. She is currently working toward her certification in personal training with the American College of Sports Medicine to better help others reach their wellness and weight loss needs.