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Eating Wisely & Well: Mary Ann Nash recognized for her efforts to promote healthy living

Published 12/16/2009 12:00 AM

Mary Ann Nash has a lot on her plate.

If she's not chasing a chef down a hallway to give him a copy of a new menu, she's researching statistics on a medical Web site or offering healthy lifestyle tips to residents at countless community events.

So it's no wonder the registered dietitian and oncology nutrition specialist, who wears many hats in her role as nutritionist at The Community Cancer Center at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, was oblivious to what was happening last month moments before she received the "Well Healed Woman Award" at the 10th annual Well Healed Woman conference hosted by L & M.

"I was there as always, running around and handing out literature, and two of my friends made sure that I was in the back of the auditorium," says Nash, who didn't know she was being recognized. "I asked them what this award was about and (one) said 'Oh, it's nothing exciting.' When they said my name, the whole way up I kept thinking I had no idea what I should say."

"I'm so blessed," she continues. "Whenever someone gets this kind of award, it's not just for that person. It's for all the people who work with that person."

Nash acknowledges that she is the "creative part" of the health and wellness programs sponsored by the hospital's cancer center, but "a whole village puts it all together," whether it's Lindsay Beckwith overseeing the blood pressure monitoring or Sal Argento, L&M's executive chef, adding some spice to reinvent a recipe.

In receiving the award, Nash was noted for her work with "Healthier, Happier You," a nine-week healthy food lecture series that promotes smart eating and exercise.

"It's all about learning how to fuel your body," she explains. "It's about eating real, good food and getting up and moving everyday.

"We're not there to make people skinny. We're there to make people healthier and feel good about themselves."

The diet promotes a Mediterranean lifestyle, which is centered around the basics: namely, eating the way your great, great grandmother would have.

"She didn't have Pop Tarts, cookies and processed foods," says Nash. "Pretend like she is at the store with you. She would look at you two-sided if she saw what you were putting in your cart!"

Food choices are plant-based, meaning the daily menu is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you divide a plate into quarters, she says, three sections should be filled with those items while the fourth would be a protein source, such as beans, legumes and nuts.

And the food choices aren't so complex that children can't grasp it. One of two "Happy, Healthier You" program offshoots is a kids initiative that helps them understand what real food is and how processed items, staples of the fast-food places they may frequent, isn't the best choice.

Another initiative based on the "Happy, Healthier You" program is limited to breast cancer survivors and includes meditation and yoga.

Seeing patients is part of her duties at The Community Cancer Center, a role that coincides with her passion for healthy eating.

"The body knows how to heal itself, no matter your age or how diseased it is," says Nash. "You can change the way you feel by the way you fuel and move your body. You're never too old to make a lifestyle change."