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Joan Forrester, 54, of Roswell doesn't mean to eat badly.

But like millions of Americans who want to be fit, her hectic lifestyle and demanding job interfere with her ability to make more healthful nutritional choices.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new guidelines to its food pyramid to help people make those decisions.

With the new guidelines came a challenge: how to cut back on calories. Under the old pyramid, a woman of Forrester's age and activity level was told to eat 2,200 calories a day. Now, it's been lowered to about 1,800.

The new pyramid also changed portion sizes and content --- stressing more fruits and vegetables and less fat and meat --- leaving room for barely a crumb of cookie or gulp of soft drink.

To help people map out a new way of eating in wake of the changes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked a nutritionist to examine the eating habits of Forrester and two other busy people. All want to lose weight, but more importantly, they want to be healthy.

Forrester, who is barely 5 feet tall and weighs 158 pounds, knows that she needs to eat better. As a manager of a diagnostic imaging center, her lifestyle has built-in stresses. She deals all day with patients who come in for MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), an unpopular procedure for many because of the noise and the feelings of claustrophobia it induces.

"It's high anxiety," said Forrester. "You always have to talk like this," she said, her voice dropping to a soothing whisper and taking on the lilt of a kindergarten teacher. "I'm pulling people off the ceiling all day long."

Forrester and her husband dine about 8, generally eating steak, roast or some kind of meat and a salad. But because she usually skips lunch, she is famished by the time she has dinner. And then she is prone to eat after dinner, also.

"I'll eat crackers, [or] if there's a chip in the house, it's mine," she said.

Jeffrey McIntyre of Atlanta works as music minister and organist at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. McIntyre works long days and nights each week. There's bell choir rehearsal on Tuesday nights. Choir practices on Wednesday nights. Children's choir practices on Sunday. Weddings on Saturday, and rehearsals on Friday nights.

McIntyre, 48, said he eats a "reasonably balanced" diet but learned through a Web site advertised on Oprah Winfrey's show that at 5 feet 9 inches and 178 pounds, he is overweight.

"I just put my hands on my hips, and said, 'Fine, Oprah thinks I'm overweight, I'm going on a diet.' She might as well have put a stake in my heart."

McIntyre had never dieted, but he began that day using a low-carbohydrate plan. He eats very little during the day --- two boiled eggs for breakfast, a can of tuna fish for lunch, coffee and lots of water.

His late hours and not getting home from the church until 9:30 or 10 p.m. are his downfall, he said. He is so hungry by then that he eats prepared meals with a big glass of lemonade or sometimes a glass of white zinfandel.

Ebony Bell, 26, of Atlanta is a mother of two young children. She works 10 hours a day as a cashier and usually skips breakfast. Lunch is a roast beef and cheddar melt from a nearby deli.

Her biggest downfall is dinner, which her husband has ready for her each night at 8 when she gets home from work.

"He tries to be a real Betty Crocker," said Bell, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 167 pounds. "He always has homemade bread and rolls."

Beverly Hernandez, clinical nutrition manager at Piedmont Hospital, found some common no-nos among the three: late eating, going too long between meals, and a shortage of fruits and vegetables.

"Absolutely, they are too busy and eating too late," Hernandez said.

The first adjustment for all three: Eat more often and not wait so long between meals.

"The body goes into fasting mode, and the metabolism slows down." Skipping meals or going too long between them has been the downfall of many a dieter, she said.

Also, the three need to eat more vegetables and fruit. This is typical of most Americans, Hernandez said. The solution is simple --- pack a banana, apple or pear for a snack. And, all three need to add a piece of fruit at breakfast.

The women need to first make sure they eat three meals, Hernandez said. That will cut down on excessive snacking or eating later, when they may be so hungry they "may not even know how many calories they are eating. It could be 4,000 a day." > ON THE WEB: For more information:

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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