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Morris Hospital incorporating habits to increase health

MORRIS – Morris Hospital nurse Barb Ragan has battled weight issues her whole life and believes if her employer is challenging the community to get healthier, she needs to accept that challenge herself.

“We should be leaders in health at the hospital and I think our employees realize that and are willing to walk the walk,” said Ragan, 56, employee health nurse at Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers.

Although the hospital has participated previously in a Community Health Needs Assessment along with other agencies in the area, the state now requires tax-exempt hospitals to do their own assessment.

In July, Morris Hospital released the results of its assessment, which showed more than one-third of adults in the hospital’s service areas are overweight and close to one-fourth are obese.

“Obesity used to be viewed as something that caused diabetes and other chronic illnesses,” said Sue Szumski, a registered nurse in the Education Department, in a news release. “Now it’s recognized as an independent health issue.”

In response to this growing issue, a new program is being offered by the hospital as a part of its three-year implementation strategy to address the assessment’s priority health areas, which includes overweight and obesity.

DIET FREE is a program that concentrates on life changes, not diet trends or excessive workout plans, said Leigh Anne Hall, wellness manager, who brought the program to the hospital.

“The words diet free indicate we don’t have to be on a diet, but do need to change our lifestyle,” she said.

The program is based on eight habits that can be incorporated into a person’s daily life and then turn them into lifetime habits. The habits are healthy, but simple, so they are feasible for the long run, such as drinking more water a day.

The 10-week program takes on each good habit one at a time, and if it takes you longer to take on one of the habits, that is OK, said Hall. Each habit for the week leads into the other, so if it takes you three weeks to make yourself have breakfast daily, that is not a problem. If you slip because you have a busy week at work or because you have a social event-filled weekend, you don’t have to be done with the program.

“We’re not going to be perfect,” said Hall.

It is not only for those who want to lose weight, but also for those looking to become healthier overall.

Ragan is hoping the program will help her realize what these healthy habits are doing for her.

“I hope it teaches me to continue to look at food differently. Not as a reward or a just about pleasure, but that it is a fuel for our body,” she said.

Scheduling a trip to the gym every morning is just not Ragan’s thing. Through the program, she is hoping to learn numerous more-pleasurable ways to incorporate burning calories into her life.

“It’s the culture that we need to change because we have become fast-paced. Getting fast food is OK occasionally, but it has become a lifestyle for many households.”

Executing knowledge

Zonya Foco, creator of the DIET FREE program and dietitian, said the program teaches things everyone already knows, but don’t necessarily know how to execute.

When she hit junior high, Foco said, she gained about 20 pounds that stayed with her through high school. In college, she decided to learn more about nutrition and become a dietitian, but she continued to gain weight.

She worked at a hospital for 10 years helping people lose weight, lower their cholesterol and control their diabetes. It was in helping them to control their health issues that simplifying the steps into habits came to her.

“People always say to me, ‘Zonya, which number is most important for me to count? Carbohydrates, fat, calories, or sodium?’” she said.

“I answer that you should control all of them, but count none of them,” Foco said.

When she gives this answer she often gets questioning looks. But when you are keeping track of all the numbers it works only until you stop. And because counting calories or points feels like a diet, it doesn’t usually last.

But when you change your lifestyle gradually, it’s doable.

“It will help you lose weight if you need to, but it also normalizes your cholesterol, your blood pressure, and your blood sugar level,” said Foco.

“Once you focus, you master it and it becomes a permanent in your life,” she said. “The next thing you know you’re living a healthy lifestyle.”

Lifestyle launch

The program is offered to people of all ages and genders. It is being sponsored by the Holderman-Meadors Endowment for Women’s Health at Morris Hospital held at the Community Foundation of Grundy County.

A kick-off program will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday for the community and is free. Foco will be there to talk about the program and the eight habits.

The 10-week program is online and there are weekly meetings at Morris Hospital for those who would like some in-person motivation. The meetings will be at the hospital on Thursdays, Sept. 12 to Nov. 14.

After the kick-off, people can sign up with a $69 deposit for the DIET FREE kit, which includes audio tapes, workbook, exercise videos, and other materials. If the individual meets the program goals, the $69 will be refunded. Attending the kick-off does not require signing up for the program.

Once the 10 weeks are complete, those who signed up still have access to the online materials and the hospital coach, said Hall.

To register for the free kick-off event Thursday or to sign up for the DIET FREE program, visit or call 815-416-6089.

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