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Drive thru the extra calories

How to stay healthy in 2012: Nutrition and fitness information from Air Force Reserve nutritionist, Maj. Brianne Newman. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Staff Sgt. Danielle Wolf)

How to stay healthy in 2012: Nutrition and fitness information from Air Force Reserve nutritionist, Maj. Brianne Newman. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Staff Sgt. Danielle Wolf)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The Air Force may routinely judge a reservist's fitness with physical training tests, but it's not as easy to judge nutrition, body fat percentages, blood pressure and cholesterol - without a nutritionist.

That's one problem the 442nd Fighter Wing won't have any more.

In October 2011, Maj. Brianne Newman, 442nd Medical Squadron nutritionist, began advising reservists about nutrition and fitness. While her main role in the wing is to manage the Be Well program, which is a program designed to help Airmen get fit and pass PT tests, she is also responsible for advising Airmen on a diet that will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"I can't tell people exactly what to eat at each meal," she said, "but, I can teach them techniques to help them make better choices for life."

Newman said she doesn't calculate calories for herself, but instead, she just makes healthy choices as often as possible, 80-90 percent of the time in fact.

"I know that if I give in today and make poor choices, then I give in tomorrow, then I'm off every day," she said. "If people want to lose weight, they can't give in. They have to be making the right decisions 80 to 90 percent of the time - every day, every week and every month of the year."

So, what about the drill weekends when Newman is living in a hotel and can't cook her own food or transport it from Virginia?

"The first thing I do is go to the commissary. I get a few apples, oranges, raw carrots and Greek yogurt. If you have to eat out, then you have to know what the best options are. So let's look at the (base exchange): When I go to Taco Bell, it's tempting to get a huge meal for $5, but it's better to get a fresco taco - or maybe two - and a side of pinto beans," she said. "The $5 meal runs you about 1,200 calories, as to where the other is only about 600 calories. If I eat at the pizza place, then I get a slice of veggie pizza and a salad. If it's a sandwich, it's usually a wrap with turkey, shredded mozzarella cheese, a tiny bit of mayonnaise, mustard and a ton of vegetables."

Newman, who has two children and is a premedical student at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., said she tries to plan her meals ahead, but knows from experience that's not always an option. So, she tries to stick with a few healthier options that she knows she will enjoy.

"When I go to a Mexican restaurant, I can usually guarantee that fajitas will be on the menu," Newman said. "I also know, they will put chips and salsa in front of me while I wait for my food - and I love chips and salsa - so I order the fajitas and just eat it without the tortillas so that it's basically meat and veggies."

Newman said an average woman in her 30s burns about 60-70 calories an hour at a sedentary rate - and a man in his 30s - about 80-90 calories an hour. As one ages, his or her metabolism slows, burning less calories per hour.

"So at that rate," she said, "your body can handle 600 calories per meal - but if you're eating 1,200 calories per meal - what do you think your body does with the extra calories? It turns it in to fat."

Newman said you can also forget about the soda.

"If I'm thirsty, and I drink soda, I get the munchies, and within minutes I'm hungry. For me, drinking soda - even diet soda - encourages eating foods I may not really need or even want," she said.

Newman said she has read several studies, one of which was published in 2011, that said diet sodas, while calorie-free, may encourage abdominal fat.

"If diet soda increases abdominal fat, then as military members we should learn to like water. There haven't been many studies yet on the flavor packets for water, but at this point, they appear to be a healthier option," she said, "so if you can't stand the way water tastes, add some low-calorie flavoring to it before choosing a diet soda."

If people are trying to lose weight, or even maintain their weight, Newman said they must stay committed.

"The first thing I will tell people who come see me and tell me they want to lose weight is to eat half of what they currently eat," she said. "After you can learn to do that, then we can look at your diet and see where you can make healthier choices."