Freedom with Food: How to find it and live it

Kathy Ross, MHA, RN

By Kathy Ross, MHA, RN
Wellness Director
Methodist Health System

Food is the sustenance of life with many types and many ways to prepare it. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced, gotta-have-it-now society, fast food has become a way of life for many with drive-throughs delivering high-fat, high-calorie items to millions of Americans. While the goal is to eat to live and sustain a happy, healthy life, for many, food is a challenge.

I saw this firsthand as a registered nurse dealing with my patients and later in my career as a wellness consultant working with individuals who were dealing with chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. What I came to realize was that a mindful approach to wellness could make such a difference in people’s lives and, if practiced correctly, could inhibit these diseases from even developing.

Mindfulness in wellness and food is the foundation for a program unique to Methodist Health System called Freedom with Food. The basic concept is to be mindful of food choices and reasons for eating rather than mindlessly choosing the wrong kinds of foods and eating for the wrong reasons. This approach avoids the yo-yo effect of dieting.

What’s your food trigger?

First we have to understand why we eat and what triggers eating. Is smell a trigger? When you go to a movie and smell popcorn, do you have to have some? Or is eating an escape from stress or depression? Maybe you eat because you are really hungry. Understanding what motivates each one of us to eat is a key to eating right.

Freedom with Food helps individuals learn eating coping mechanisms. If stress is an eating trigger, dealing with stress by socializing with a friend, taking a walk, or doing meditation are alternative behaviors. Mindlessly eating such as binging on an entire bag of chips in front of the television is a common behavior. An alternative behavior is to sit at the table with a bowl of chips, eating them slowly, savoring every bite, focusing on the food, and enjoying the experience.

Yum. Yum.

Loving food is one of the things that makes us human. Honor your food and cravings but be mindful of not letting your appetite take over. Instead, allow yourself to enjoy the yummy foods occasionally. Instead of eating them all at once, reduce your portion and spread it over the day. Also, don’t skip a meal. Why? If you avoid food throughout the day, sometimes you get behind and it catches up with you at night.

Sustaining positive changes.

Sustainability is the third leg of the Freedom with Food program. Naturally, this is the hardest because it requires a lifelong commitment and a long-term approach to sustain your relationship with food.

Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

At Methodist, our goal is to walk the talk when it comes to food. Our CEO, Stephen Mansfield, PhD, FACHE, encouraged us to begin a movement toward the availability of healthier foods and has resolutely supported it. The goal? Make the healthy choice the easy choice by offering healthier options in the cafeteria and in vending machines and by following the American Heart Association guidelines. These include:

  • Adding more vegetables
  • Reducing the calories in the main hot food line
  • Reducing the saturated fat
  • Reducing the number of beverages that contain sugar
  • Increasing lower fat snack options such as baked chips, popcorn, fruit, protein bars, jerky, hummus, and trail mix
  • Adding diced fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing dessert portions
  • Placing healthy food choices closer to the checkout line
  • Providing a variety of healthy options in vending machines.

Our Freedom with Food program plays a key role in Methodist being recognized among the 100 Healthiest Employers® Award Program in America 2018 by Springbuk, and we have received the American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Achievement™ 2018 Gold Level Recognition (the award’s highest level). The Freedom with Food program is offered through group or individual classes.

If you’re looking for an organization that is committed to helping you achieve mindful health and wellness, look to Methodist Health System. Visit

© Methodist Health System