I'm Not Surviving the Holiday Buffet, I'm Eating (And you should be, too)

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Tips to survive the holiday buffet

How to make it through holiday dinner without blowing the calorie budget

How to avoid weight gain during the holiday season

When did the holiday season become a time to warn us about the dangers of food? Have we forgotten that in the reality of life, we are regularly in an environment where food is present?

Birthdays? Yes.
Graduation? Yes.
Weddings? Yes.
Workplace break rooms? Yes.
Anniversaries? Yes.
Baby showers, religious holidays, retirement parties…the list goes on and on.  

Are we faced with an onslaught of survival tips for these situations? Thankfully, no. And we don’t need them for the holiday season either.

This is how the popular messages typically go:

November: Survive the buffet, don’t eat too much stuffing, don’t blow your calorie budget
December: Survive the buffet, don’t go overboard on the cookies, don’t blow your calorie budget
January: You messed up for not only the holiday season, but for the entire last year, so here is a diet that will detox you, remove your favorite foods for 30 days, and generally make you feel “great” which actually means not great.
February: good luck! You’re on your own because the messages have moved on to Valentine’s Day and are now even more personal - let’s talk relationships should we?

The messages are all so predictable and it’s ok if you’re frustrated. Let’s try something new. Maybe even start ANEW. (get it?)

Here’s the thing, this time of year does have an abundance of food and often it’s the food that makes its debut only once a year because of traditions or cultural significance. These foods should be enjoyed. They should not come with a warning or a list of tips for surviving the experience.

Go into the season, and the new year, remembering that you don’t need to swing on the pendulum of being on a diet to being out of control around food, but instead, you can find a place in the middle where you can support your well-being.

If you’re celebrating in the coming days then I encourage you to do just that. Eat the foods you love to eat and leave the diet strategies behind. Listen to the internal dialogue - what are you telling yourself about the foods you choose to eat? Really tune in to your personal cues, not the list of strategies you read recently or the tips telling you how you should be eating. Allow yourself to truly enjoy your favorites. What often results when we let go of the attempt to be perfect or in control of our food is we allow for an opportunity to actually experience the enjoyment of eating.

Top Four Orders at Fast-Casual Restaurants

Reality check - not everyone makes Instagram-worthy, picture-perfect, homemade, from scratch meals all of the time. I know I don’t. So, I’m sharing my top four go-to orders in popular fast-casual restaurants. But before you read on, you must know that these meals are for my needs and your needs are different. This list isn’t meant to be copied. Instead, it’s meant to give you a look inside the brain of a dietitian at a fast-casual restaurant to help you make decisions that will not only result in a delicious meal, but will also help you feel satisfied and nourished.

Moe’s or Chipotle
The build your own, tex mex options are some of my favorites because I love beans, cheese, spicy peppers…all of it.

What I’m Ordering: Burrito Bowl or Taco Salad

Why: I love nachos, so when I want the flavor of nachos without the chips, I order a burrito bowl or taco salad. It’s essentially the same thing without the chips. Start with a leafy green base, add beans, and I usually skip the rice since I’m not the biggest fan of rice. Load up on veggies and a plant-based protein like tofu. Top with salsa and a choice of guac or sour cream.

Panera is everywhere and they’re really stepped up their options in the last few years. I love the self-order kiosk because I can see every ingredient and can make modifications to my meal easily.

What I’m Ordering: You Pick 2 with Soup and Salad

Why: Variety is number one. I enjoy that I can get multiple flavor combinations with the soup and salad. I also know that I love the multigrain roll and I would rather enjoy that on the side with soup than have that same bread as a part of a sandwich. This has to do again with flavor. I know that if I order a sandwich, I will still want the roll, so it’s worth it to me to skip the sandwich and eat a roll along with the soup and salad instead. I’ll mix-up the soups, but usually go for one that’s vegetarian with mostly a plant-based source of protein like beans. Salads vary, but I always remove the fried toppings since the other toppings are enough to satisfy the flavor I’m looking for in a salad.

Coffee is a must in my life, but surprisingly, Starbucks is also a go-to when looking for food on the road or in the airport.

What I’m ordering: Protein Box or Egg White, Turkey Bacon Sandwich

Why: The Starbucks Protein Box is great because it has apples, peanut butter, a delicious roll with raisins, eggs, and cheese. It’s like a little bento box and it’s convenient for eating on the go. I’ve also stashed the peanut butter packet to eat later if I’m not hungry. Pick up a banana while you’re at Starbucks if you want a snack of banana and peanut butter later. The breakfast sandwich has nothing to do with the egg whites. It’s more about the lean protein in the turkey bacon versus a sausage option and the whole grain muffin. If they put a full egg on this sandwich I wouldn’t be mad (and in fact would prefer). But this works if you’re looking for a filling option with whole grains.

I’m not in this sandwich chain often, but on long road trips this makes for a good staple if nothing else is available.

What I’m Ordering: Veggie sandwich with cheese on whole wheat bread

Why: Vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables. I add flavor with vinegar and oil plus mustard and black pepper.

Good for You and Convenient: Can they go together?

When I talk to a group about nutrition, I often remind those in the room that the goal is to look at their reality and make decisions for their health and goals based on that reality. How many times have you said “I will start tomorrow.” or “I will eat a different way when life calms down.” or “Things are just crazy right now, I can focus on that once this passes.”

What if we stopped and recognized that the reality just might be that life doesn’t just “calm down.” So many of us are busy and we aren’t just busy one day - we are always busy. Consider this, if you travel regularly for work then your reality is spent in airports and at restaurants. If you wait until you no longer travel for work to make decisions to support your health then you’re likely going to be retired before you ever focus on it. Meet yourself where you are…today. Once you shift your focus and accept that sometimes what will help you feel your best does not look picture perfect then you can accept your own reality and you can start making decisions based on that reality. If busy doesn’t sound like you or if you feel like you have it all figured out then great - please message me and tell me what you’re up to. For everyone else, read on.

You’re busy. And busy people love convenience, right? I know I do! Which is why I’m sharing my top five tips for eating well while on-the-go or away from home.

  1. Green Base

    By far one of the easiest ways to add more vegetables to your diet is to have the vegetables be the first thing on the plate. Add the rest of it right on top. This can be done in almost every restaurant since it’s just leafy greens you’re adding. Sometimes there’s a side of wilted greens on the menu, too which makes this really convenient and leads me to the next point..

  2. Double Up

    Ask for double vegetables on the side or an extra serving of vegetables with your meal. If the entree comes with one, ask for an extra. This only increases the amount of vegetables on the table which increases how many you’re likely to eat.

  3. Sides can be Apps, Too!

    Appetizers are supposed to be appetizing - that’s the way that works. But sometimes appetizers are lacking in the produce department. Let your eyes wander to the other parts of the menu and even check out the sides. Could one of those make sense as an app? Probably and you’re more likely to find a veggie there anyway. It’s also true that you’re likely to eat a lot of whatever hits the table first since you’re hungry! Why not make it packed with vegetables?

  4. Produce Can Travel

    I’ve shared my history of traveling with produce in the past and it’s still one of the most steadfast recommendations I can provide. If you don’t have it with you then you’re less likely to eat it. I have an apple, wrapped in a paper towel, in my bag right now. Tupperware containers of sliced peppers, snap peas, berries, figs, and many other varieties of produce have made it into my bag or in the center console of my car at some point. You can also find produce on the road in gas stations, grocery stores, roadside stands - so many places if you keep your eyes peeled. Remember, it’s just a matter of picking it and stashing it in your bag so that you have it because if you don’t have it, you won’t eat it.

  5. Convenience Stores - a surprising oasis

    Gas stations get a bad reputation for having nothing healthy, but I disagree. Here’s why:

    1. You’re almost guaranteed to find a piece of fruit.

    2. Every gas station sells still or sparkling, unsweetened water.

    3. You’re likely to find a good protein choice, too - cheese sticks, trail mix, yogurt - all of these make regular appearances in gas stations.

    Don’t let the bad reputation of gas station food have you believe that you’re doomed if you left your snacks on the counter before you left.

Still looking for more ideas? Keep reading - Allison’s Top Four Orders in Popular Fast-Casual Restaurants

Coffee, Dehydration, and Your Workouts

I've been asked more than once if coffee is something that should be avoided. Usually the question centers around dehydration due to the caffeine content, but that's often accompanied by the question of "is it good for me?" as a general statement. Lucky for us, the research shows that coffee does not have negative health impacts and might actually be protective in some cases. Great news for the daily cup of coffee drinkers! 

Caffeine Content Matters
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifically addressed caffeine intake in the form of coffee. Luckily for avid coffee drinkers, three to five, 8 oz cups per day was shown to be safe. However, the three to five cups of coffee must be equivalent to 400mg of caffeine. Some methods for brewing coffee result in a higher caffeine content. If you're curious about your regular cup then check out this chart from the Center of Science in the Public Interest for more. Additionally, the recommendations specifically point to healthy adults, not children, teens, pregnant or lactating women, or those with chronic conditions who may be more sensitive to caffeine. Some research has also shown that moderate intake of coffee may be protective against cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Since coffee is a source of antioxidants, those antioxidants can play a role in the reduction of chronic inflammation which can be protective against certain chronic diseases.

Caffeine and Your Workouts
Caffeine is a hot topic in the sports world because of the research that supports its consumption for improved endurance. Most of this benefit is coming from the effect that caffeine has on the central nervous system. Lots of popular sports supplements emphasize that caffeine can help in burning fat, but the slight increase in metabolism and the effect on fat as fuel is not as substantial as many supplements would have you believe. For those looking to use caffeine as a means for improving endurance, the recommendations vary. Most recommendations are between 3 to 6mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight with the understanding that more is not better and may have negative health impacts. So, a 150lb person (68kg) would aim for approximately 200-400mg of caffeine within the hour before exercise. This can be consumed in the form of a supplement, but is also easily reached with coffee alone. Energy drinks and other supplements containing extreme amounts of caffeine are not recommended.

Does Caffeine Cause Dehydration?
In the dosages listed here, caffeine intake does not result in a negative impact on fluid balance or in an increased sweat rate. Up to 400mg of caffeine or approximately 4 cups of coffee brewed with 100mg caffeine each, will not contribute to dehydration. This can put your mind at ease for reaching for a cup of freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning instead of a glass of water (although hydrating with water is a must!). 

Sugar, Fat, and Everything Else Added to Your Coffee
Ordering coffee in a local coffee shop can sometimes require google to help with deciphering the menu because there are so many choices. The basics are this: choose a beverage that tastes good to you and that you enjoy, but with as little added sugar and saturated fat as possible. Many of the national coffee chains have coffee beverages with extreme amounts of added sugar which puts them well beyond the amount found in a typical soda. For example, one Venti Iced Caramel Frappucino at Starbucks has 84g of sugar, the majority of which are added. If you compare that to the fact that women should be aiming for no more than 24g of added sugar per day and men no more than 36g, that is well over the mark in your morning beverage alone. Beverages with added saturated fat are also to be considered in the total amount of saturated fat to be consumed for the day. That same beverage contains 10g of saturated fat if prepared with whole milk which is about half of the daily recommended intake.

The bottom line: enjoy your coffee, but do so without the additives. Just find a good cup of coffee and I promise you won't need all the sugar and saturated fat!


Thanks for Your Concern, but I'm Not Here to Burn off the Guilt From Eating

Last week was my birthday (!) and I received lots of birthday messages from random email lists I've signed up for over the years. Most were what you would expect - celebratory messages, some included discounts, but others came with a tinge of guilt.

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Yay. Lucky me! Thanks for the "happy" birthday wishes...not really. Also, I would burn calories for those 36 hours after anyway, workout or not, because I am living and I burn calories every second of every day. I know, they are talking about high intensity workouts, building muscle, and their combined effects on calorie burn after a workout, but even that doesn't result in a high calorie burn post exercise that would amount to much when it comes to total calorie intake. So, my question is, why the guilt trip? Why is there an assumption that I, or anyone else, would feel guilty about eating cake ON THEIR BIRTHDAY. They shouldn't, I shouldn't, and you shouldn't. 

Let me break this down...

Yes, Exercise and Nutrition are Connected

Exercise and nutrition are connected and that goes without saying, but they aren't connected because we need to be punished for eating or feel guilty for eating. No. They are connected because we MUST eat to move our bodies. It is a fact that calories are needed to survive and to allow for movement. The end. There is no reason to feel guilty about eating calories...ever because without them we wouldn't survive. Yes, there is a science to nutrition and sports performance. It's also known that the timing of certain categories of nutrients makes a significant impact on sports performance. However, this isn't about that, this specifically points to foods eaten up to 36 hours after working out which literally have nothing to do with the workout itself or performance during a workout. The two aren't connected.

Exercise is More Than a Calorie Burn

Exercise isn't just about calories and I might argue, it really isn't much at all about calories. What is it about?

Exercise is...

  • a stress reliever
  • a mood booster
  • an energy booster

Exercise strengthens muscles including our very important muscles of the heart and lungs.

Exercise helps us maintain our bone density as we age and improves balance.

Exercise boosts our HDL cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, lowers blood pressure and helps in lowering blood sugar.

Exercise helps us sleep.

Exercise is also a way to meet others, a way to challenge ourselves, to set goals and accomplish them. It's a way to enjoy the wilderness or see a city.  Exercise allows us to take a break from our computers, phones, and work.

Exercise is so much more than a calorie burn.  

How Many Calories Did You Burn? It's complicated.

The science of calorie burn during exercise isn't as straight forward as the numbers on the cardio machine have you believe. Calories burned varies from person to person and often, people overestimate calories burned in a single exercise session. There's also some evidence that the number of calories burned might plateau with increased exercise. Additionally, the type, intensity, and duration of exercise influences the calorie burn. It's also a fact that physical activity in general does not contribute much to total calories burned throughout the day for the average person. The majority of calories burned are due to the basal metabolic rate to the tune of 2/3 of total calories. And, there are many other factors influencing metabolism including age, sex, body composition, weight history, and more. If you want to read more on this, check out this article in EatingWell by a fellow dietitian (I'm quoted!). 

Separate Calories and Exercise

I tell you all of this not so that you will start thinking about calories when it comes to exercise, but more so that you will stop. In other words, don't exercise because you ate and don't exercise in anticipation of eating. You should choose to eat foods that help you feel your best. Sometimes that means eating food to give you energy before working out and sometimes that means choosing to eat after a workout to help you recover and repair muscle. But don't use exercise as a punishment for any calorie you have consumed. 

And if it is your birthday, enjoy your cake AND your workout without feeling guilty about skipping or indulging in either one! 

Fruits and Vegetables: It's Not a Competition

It's fair to say that reading a list of the "healthiest berries" or a list of "vegetables you didn't know were bad for you" really makes me feel crazy. I've seen countless articles like this in the popular media and each has a common goal - clicks. Articles uncovering hidden dangers in our food are one of the most common ways websites will grab your attention when it comes to nutrition and wellness. Right alongside these hidden dangers are lists of the healthiest fruits and vegetables that inevitably fail to mention that ALL fruits and vegetables have benefits. They also conveniently leave out the fact that nutrients are found in varying amounts in plants because they are different plants. That is the way it works and also one of the top reasons variety in the diet is key. It's a formula for nutrition articles that is likely never to stop, unfortunately. 

All fruits and vegetables are good for you.

Here's the thing: all fruits and vegetables are good for you. So, unless you're allergic or have an intolerance, you should be eating more. Why? Because if you're reading this then I would place my bet on the fact that you are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. The average American doesn't reach the recommended amount daily. As in...9 out of 10 of you do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. That is a shockingly high number! 

9 out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables daily.

I once had someone reach out to me to ask which berry she should be eating because she read that some were healthier than others and my response was, eat the one that is #1 accessible and #2 delicious. For example, it really doesn't matter if you eat a blueberry or a strawberry or a raspberry. You eat a berry because all berries are known sources of antioxidants, they all contain fiber, and they all have vitamins that are beneficial to your health. So don't avoid buying the strawberries because some list told you they weren't as healthy as the blueberries. Just buy the berries that are readily available, fit your budget, and the ones you will actually enjoy eating. 

Instead of focusing on the completely normal differences in nutrients between varieties of fruits and vegetables, focus on increasing the amount of the fruits and vegetables in your diet. Don't rank your fruits and vegetables unless you're ranking them by taste or quantity in your diet.

There isn't a competition. They ALL win. (but only if you eat them!)



Who are the Everyday Athletes?

Everyday athletes are running their first race, they’re trying new fitness trends, they’re in the boutique fitness studios, or they’re hitting the hiking trails. Some are signing up for their first 5K while others are planning to race in long distance, endurance events like marathons and full Ironman races. They’re not Olympians or NFL players, they’re not collegiate or masters athletes…they’re the everyday athlete hitting the fitness studio and crossing the finish line.

With this comes unique challenges in performance fueling. The everyday athlete’s energy needs are vastly different from the professional athlete.

But sports nutrition messaging rarely differentiates.

Sports beverages and performance fueling supplements are marketed to the general population, but meant for the professional. This doesn’t mean the everyday athletes don’t require special attention to performance fueling. It simply means the approach must meet their needs in the fitness studio, on the race course, and in their daily life (like at the desk job).

If you’re an everyday athlete then I’m here to help you fuel for performance in the studio and on the street. I’ll help you understand your energy needs, learn how to manage your nutrition for your everyday life, and enable you to perform at your max with proper fueling. Want to learn more?

Let's connect! allisonknott@anewtrition.com 

Food Tips for Any Airport in the Country

In the dreams of food-lovers around the world, all airports would be a food oasis. I imagine a market hall like you might find in Manhattan or LA when I think perfect airport food. Multiple options, plenty of healthy choices if you want them, and all prepared by skilled chefs. End of that daydream…I just left Newark Airport as I write this and if you’re familiar with it then you know it’s the opposite of a fancy food market. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a travel expert, but my job sends me on the road enough for me to have developed survival skills for frequent travel. Am I perfect? No, this is the person who has dipped potato chips into buffalo sauce in an airport sandwich shop. I may be a dietitian, but I am a human, too. Is that something I do every time I’m in an airport? Not a chance. I frequent them way too often to make that a habit. The point is, if you’re regularly on the road, it’s a good idea to make airports fit as an extension of your everyday, healthy habits, not a place where you forget how you’ll feel if you chug beers and eat salty snacks before every flight.

Start with Hydration
Make it a habit to bring an empty water bottle with you (no liquids in security, don’t say I didn’t warn you) or be ready to purchase a water in the terminal. No excuses on this one. Hydrate well when flying because dehydration is almost inevitable unless you’re focused on avoiding it. This is especially true if you do decide you’re having a drink before your flight. Flying plus alcohol and no water equals feeling absolutely terrible when you land.

Pack a Snack
Sometimes it’s not always reasonable to pack your own snacks, but if you find yourself feeling really on top of things then don’t hold back. From experience, I know containers of fruits and vegetables are easy to store in a purse or bag and they make it through security without issue. Granola bars, packets of dry cereal, trail mix, and cheese sticks are all excellent choices that travel well and are much less expensive if purchased outside of the airport.

Get Creative
Packing snacks isn't always practical, I get it, but that doesn't mean eating well is out of the question. Consider these tips to get your through:

1.       Create your own parfait with plain yogurt, lower sugar granola, and fresh fruit. Use a cup from a coffee stand to mix it up. It works and will be much lower in sugar than the pre-made options in the cooler case.

2.       Snack boxes are a great option, but sometimes they’re too heavy on the cheese and have limited protein and fruit/vegetables. Build your own with improved portions: cheese stick, fruit cup, hard-boiled egg, and whole grain crackers. You’ll eat less cheese, more fruit, and likely add a whole grain where you didn’t have one before.

3.       Explore the “healthy snack” section of the food stand. This is almost sure to exist and there are a lot of great options available now that snack companies are realizing we want (and need!) healthier options. Just a few of my favorites include KIND Nuts & Spices bars, Made Good granola bites, Harvest Snaps pea crisps, and Sahale trail mixes. And fruit. You can't go wrong with an apple or banana. 

4.       Skip the bottles of “pressed” juice or other smoothie-like drinks. They sure look nutritious and have the claims on their labels to make you believe it’s true, but most are just glorified apple juice. If you’re worried about keeping up your immune system while traveling then choose a piece of actual fruit, eat some veggies, drink plenty of water, and keep your hands washed. Those three things will go a much longer way in preventing you from getting sick than an overpriced juice drink.

Happy travels!


Fig and Ricotta Pancakes

When I was a child, I took piano lessons in a sweet woman's home. Outside the door was a fig tree and I'm not sure which I remember more...the piano notes or the taste of freshly picked figs. I'm still debating on the idea of adding a fig tree to my tiny Brooklyn apartment. Maybe I will settle for fig pancakes instead.


What's great about pancakes is they're REALLY hard to mess up. Dry plus liquid, add egg and baking powder, cook and there you have it...a pancake. What I'm trying to say is this isn't an exact science, so make them how you like them. Don't want figs? Fine, add another fruit. This your show. 

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup fresh figs, sliced 

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add eggs, milk, and ricotta. Mix until incorporated. Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add your desired amount of pancake mix to the pan and immediately top with sliced figs. Note: I pressed the figs into the pancake batter in the pan to make sure they didn't fall out while flipping. Allow to cook until slightly browned on one side. Flip and cook through. Makes about 6-8 pancakes (6in diameter).

Watermelon Feta Salad with Olives

I hear Labor Day is the signal for the end of summer, so naturally I'm obsessed with all of the summer produce. Watermelons, tomatoes, corn, berries. I want it all. With the recent move to Brooklyn and regular excursions to the New Jersey countryside, I've had plenty of opportunities to stop at farm stands, most of which are run on the honor system where you pay for what you take by dropping money into a bucket at the stand.


The first watermelon was so delicious that I had to find a second. But I didn't want to make another watermelon, feta salad, I wanted something different. Luckily I remembered this insane (delicious) salad I had in New Orleans at the James Beard Award Winning Shaya on Magazine Street. (Check out their menu and definitely go if you're in town.) Watermelon, Bulgarian feta, green olives, chermoula. I left the fancy food for the award-winning restaurant and stuck to what I know which meant Whole Foods brand feta, a side of the road watermelon, Trader Joe's olives, and a modified version of chermoula. 

Lesson: You don't have to be fancy to make good food. Leave the fancy for the restaurants and experiment in the kitchen with what you have!


1 small watermelon, cubed and seeds removed (about 6 cups)
3 tbsp fresh, chopped mint
1 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped olives*
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Cube and remove seeds from watermelon. Chop herbs and olives. Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss.

*I used Trader Joe's marinated olives with lemon and herbs. If you don't have lemon marinated olives then add lemon juice and zest from 1/2 lemon to the recipe.