When Gina Zick got pregnant with her first child, she was born again. Out went cigarettes and fast food. In came breakfast. Her usual lunch of cashews and a Diet Pepsi was replaced by a sandwich and a glass of milk.

Zick, now a 27-year-old mother who lives in Lanham with her two children and husband, Bob, a Fairfax County fire fighter, is typical of many mothers-to-be. Perhaps more than any other time in their lives, women who are pregnant want to eat right -- and are highly motivated to do so.

In many ways, it is the kind of motivation that nutrition experts are struggling to instill in the rest of the population, which often doesn't eat healthfully until faced with a life-threatening situation. Instead of setting up protective or preventative environments, "we have the attitude that we can break and fix things," said Mary Goodwin, senior nutritionist with the Montgomery County Health Department.

But practicing good eating habits during pregnancy is one of the few non-controversial topics in nutrition. It is also the one nutrition intervention situation in which an individual gleans the greatest results in the shortest amount of time, Goodwin said.

"Women will do anything for a healthy baby," emphasized Ann Litt, a local dietitian who counsels pregnant women. In fact, some pregnantwomen are almost boring to counsel because they are so adaptive, Litt commented.

Anecdotal evidence from area pregnant women and other dietitians confirms this heightened nutrition awareness: caffeine addicts give up their daily fixes, milk haters get calcium conscious and compulsive dieters eat more food.

Statistics also show that pregnant women act on their motivation. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, pregnant women had higher intakes of 12 nutrients than all women in the survey (from food, not including supplements). They also ate more calories per day (1,716 compared to 1,591) as well as eating more nutrients per 1,000 calories for nine out of the 12 nutrients. Interestingly, however, the pregnant women were still not getting their full recommended daily allowances for the nutrients, which are higher during pregnancy. And the problem nutrients for both non-pregnant and pregnant women were the same: calcium, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium. These figures represent data from 1977-78; the 1985-86 consumption survey of women has not yet been analyzed for comparative intakes of pregnant and non-pregnant respondents.

It's not just women who become more aware of what they are eating when they are pregnant. Husbands, who may feel that food is one of the few aspects of their wives' pregnancies that they can control, are often equally -- or more -- involved. There are stories of area men who have coaxed their wives into eating a well-balanced dinner -- perhaps preparing it themselves -- or those who refrain from drinking alcohol in front of their pregnant wives for fear they might be tempted.

Zick, who said her husband is "really into fitness," characterized his behavior during her pregnancies as a "helpful nag." He would remind her if she hadn't eaten enough for lunch, and would watch over her to make sure she wasn't eating too many salty foods, since she developed hypertension during both pregnancies. "He didn't let me enjoy my biggest treats {feta cheese and black olives} as much as I would have liked," Zick admitted.

Bob Zick said that his wife's pregnancy made him more aware of improving his own eating habits. And the Zicks both feel strongly that their two sons are healthy and robust because of Gina's diet during pregnancy and lactation, and because of the nutritious foods they continue to keep in the house.

Not every woman changes her eating habits when she becomes pregnant -- and not every woman who makes a turnaround does so easily, or continues those changes once she has the baby.

Some women, such as consultant Michelle Bradshaw, already eat nutritiously, and have made few changes in their diet when they have become pregnant. Sylvia Winik, an attorney with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said she is eating exactly the way she was before she was pregnant -- three balanced meals a day and fruit or carrot sticks for snacks. Another Washington woman said she has simply tacked on a few glasses of milk a day to increase her caloric intake by the recommended 300.

Barbara Gordon, an attorney who works in the White House and who characterizes herself as a "coffee and doughnut person," made a complete turnaround in her eating habits during her first, and now second pregnancy. The coffee is currently decaffeinated and the doughnuts have been ditched for a wholesome bowl of cereal with fruit, she said.

But after her first child, she let out a sigh of relief, Gordon said. "I just didn't have to think about what I was eating." She "didn't have to worry about a second individual"getting nutrients from her.

Nevertheless, Gordon said she worries laboriously over what she eats. Waking up at 2 o'clock in the morning worrying if she's had enough calcium for the day, Gordon will sometimes sneak into the kitchen for some yogurt.

Of course, being motivated to eat the right foods during pregnancy hinges on knowing which foods are nutritious to eat.

Sheryl Bruce, coordinator of Prince Georges County's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a government-supported program that supplies food and nutritional guidance to low-income women and their children, said that once the women receive the correct nutrition information, they are more likely to become motivated and act on it. (Sometimes, however, food costs or inaccessibility to food may make their motivation impossible.) Bruce said that pregnant teen-agers are often not as motivated as older pregnant women.

But not always. A 19-year-old single mother-to-be who lives in Kensington and has applied for WIC, said that she went from eating 7-Eleven hotdogs and fast food burgers to cereal or yogurt for breakfast, four glasses of milk a day and a balanced dinner with vegetables and a protein component. Instead of "running around," she enjoys staying home and cooking meals, she said.

The woman, who participated in an alcohol rehabilitation program before she became pregnant, said that her pregnancy helped her deal with her alcoholism. When she has been tempted to drink, the thought of her baby's health has kept her away. "I don't want anything to hurt this baby," she said. "It's more important to me than anything."

She has vowed to continue her new eating regime after she has the baby because she feels so much healthier. Now, she says, she can't "even look" at a 7-Eleven hotdog.

There is no doubt, said Sara Ducey, a research and policy analyst at the Food, Research and Action Center, a national advocacy organization, that WIC mothers have better diets and healthier babies than low-income women who are not on the program. (Approximately 40 percent of the women eligible for the program are actually on it.)

A recent study conducted by a physician and commissioned by USDA showed that WIC mothers were less likely to deliver prematurely and more likely to deliver heavier babies and those with larger head circumferences. The USDA takes exception to some aspects of the study, purporting that the data are inconclusive.

On a local level, an Arlington County WIC nutritionist recently completed a study to see the effect of nutrition education on pregnant mothers who were at a high risk of having low birth-weight babies. Linda Bruce, the clinic nutritionist who completed the study, said that the 60 women with intensive nutrition counseling had babies that weighed an average of 10 ounces more than the 52 women who did not receive detailed follow-up counseling.

Whatever the economic status of the mother, morning sickness, food aversions and cravings, or too much or too little weight gain can throw a wrench in any good-intentioned eating regime.

Some women find it hard to eat when they are experiencing nausea; for others, eating is the only answer.

Several area women agreed that fish has repulsed them during pregnancy, and others have reported going from hating fruits and vegetables in their first trimester to loving them in the second.

One womansaid she ate avocados every day for six weeks in her second trimester, and similar to other women interviewed, said she craved salty foods and old-fashioned food -- "a potato, a vegetable and a slab of meat."

Although most women already get more sodium than they need, dietitian Litt said that women may crave salty foods when they are pregnant because sodium needs during pregnancy do increase. Litt also added that the desire for spicy foods during pregnancy may stem from the same craving, since many spicy foods are also salty.

FRAC's Ducey, who is pregnant herself, said that "honest to God," she is currently craving pickles and has been literally "dreaming" about Mexican food every night. During her last pregnancy, she ate so much Mexican food that her husband joked their baby would come out shouting "ole'" instead of crying.

Here are a few dishes for which pregnant women in the area previously have had -- or presently have -- a craving. recipe GINA ZICK'S GREEK CHICKEN (4 servings)

4 chicken legs, skinned

4 medium red bliss potatoes, quartered

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus lemon wedges for serving

1/2 teaspoon oregano flakes Place chicken in a large baking dish. Surround with potatoes. Sprinkle chicken and potatoes with oil, lemon juice and oregano. Bake for 350 degrees for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until chicken is done. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve with a salad.

recipe SYLVIA WINICK'S APPLE-CURRY STUFFED ZUCCHINI

(2 servings)

1 large zucchini

1/2 medium apple, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 cup grated part-skim mozzarella

1/4 cup bread or cracker crumbs

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon curry

2 tablespoons golden raisins Cut zucchini down the middle lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch shell. Place pulp in a bowl and drain off excess water. Add remaining ingredients and place in zucchini shells. Place stuffed zucchini in an ovenproof baking dish. Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until squash is tender.

recipe MICHELLE BRADSHAW'S BRUNSWICK STEW

(From Chowning's Tavern in Williamsburg)

(12 servings) 1 stewing chicken or rabbit, cut up

2 to 3 quarts water

2 pounds tomatoes, quartered

2 10-ounce packages frozen corn

10-ounce package frozen lima beans

2 onions, sliced

4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

Salt, pepper and worcestershire sauce to taste Put chicken or rabbit in water in a large stewpot. Bring to a boil. Simmer, cover and stew for an hour, skimming fat as necessary. Remove poultry from broth and set aside.

Add vegetables, bring to a boil, simmer and cook for another 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, remove skin and bones from chicken or rabbit and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Return meat to pot and reheat until heated through.