Monsters & Critics / The Khalili Center

Fat Or Fit? Feast Or Famine? Diet Expert Shows How To Overcome The Holiday Food Dilemma

October 22, 2014

You asked about savory, sane and satisfying ways to cook and eat this holiday season, and registered dietitian Misti Gueron MS, RD of the prestigious Khalili Center answered!


A California native, Misti shares with us her insights about how to eat and drink well while still enjoying your favorite festive foods with simple swaps, strategies and sound advice.

fall foods

Check back throughout the month of December for healthier holiday recipes from the Khalili Center and eating tips from Misti. Please feel free to ask her more questions in the comments below. She’s here to help!

A Santa Cruz and California State (Masters) graduate, Misti joined the Khalili Center — one of the nation’s leading bariatric centers — after being in private practice for 10 years. Previously, she was employed at two of Los Angeles’ more prestigious hospitals, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and Saint John’s Medical Center.


Inside the Khalili Center

In conjunction with the physicians and surgeons at Khalili Center, Misti is involved in community outreach and educational nutritional programs. She is also a member of the American Dietetic Association Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Weight Management and Behavioral Health Specialty Groups. Her specialities are weight management, bariatrics, and eating disorders but also has extensive experience in diabetes, sports nutrition and cardiovascular wellness.

Monsters and Critics spoke with Misti about recipes and meal planning this time of year when many people overeat and then have to deal with holiday weight gain in January.

center 2

Inside the Khalili Center

Monsters and Critics: What’s the food darling of dieticians right now, what’s a great snack or trend to try?

Misti Gueron: Kale was the vegetable of the year last year; kale chips popped up at parties everywhere. Cauliflower is this year’s vegetable for its versatility and ability to be made into “breadsticks” and pizza crusts, whipped like potatoes, made into rice, turned into “dough” and caramelized for all sorts of recipes.

cauli shell

We made a cauliflower pizza “crust” – which is baked before adding toppings – Photo by M&C 2014

Maybe next year’s big vegetable “discovery” will be Brussels sprouts or zucchini? Invest in a vegetable spiralizer and discover one of my favorite recipes “Zoodles” where you can make pasta noodles from a spiralized zucchini!


Water metabolizes fat and aids with energy and weight control. So, instead of diet sodas — which are as bad as regular full-sugared soda — I like to see people explore eye-catching alternatives like sparkling “spa” waters decorated with sliced cucumber, or hollowed out tropical fruits filled with flavored waters and fresh herbs like basil and mint.

spa water

“Spa Waters” are glorious and there is a reason that they are found in health spas where those who seek weight loss go. Adding berries, sliced cucumbers, mint, oranges provide a surprisingly tantalizing change to regular water or sparkling water. Doing this with sliced veggies at the bottom might be a new hit this year. So when you’ve finished with your water you can munch on the veggies and fruit. It works with Bloody Marys and some martinis!

Prepared fresh Thai coconut prepped and ready to serve with a straw is another colorful and healthful alternative to sugary sodas. Many people have never tried it, and having a bunch of coconuts on ice is a fun non-alcoholic idea for a holiday party.

Monsters and Critics: I spent the weekend making several of the Khalili dishes you offer for your patients. Tell me your favorite ingredient swaps for recipes, and how you can even adapt cooking to the point where bread and flour products are minimized with higher protein flours and even Cauliflower please!

Misti Gueron: Here are some great swaps and recommendations:


  • 0% Greek yogurt in place of milk or creams
  • Applesauce or avocado in place of oil in baked goods
  • Mushrooms used to bulk up meat sauce, turkey burgers, eggs or sautéed and placed under or a top chicken
  • Stevia or banana in place of sugar
  • Egg whites in place of whole eggs
  • Quinoa in place of bread crumbs
  • Ground turkey or firm tofu crumbled in place of red meat
  • Vegetables for pasta or rice (zucchini, spaghetti squash or cabbage in place of noodles, zucchini ribbons in place of pasta or lasagna noodles
  • Fruits and jams to sweeten in place of sugar
  • Pureed potato in place of cream to thicken soups

Most importantly, you will lose weight and maintain weight if you hydrate your diet. When you add cauliflower in place of dough for pizza crust, for example, you are adding more water and indigestible fibers. Vegetables naturally have more water and indigestible fibers, thereby reducing overall caloric density for weight control and adding the extra cardiovascular benefit.

Food wants to be hydrated and so does your body. This minimizes the load of calories at any given meal and helps your body to process it faster without a compromise to flavor.


Strategies for adding more water to your foods especially for this time of year include:

  • When making whipped potatoes or whipped sweet potatoes, include nature’s first fluid, water! This adds moisture and offers a fluffy texture, perfect for the mouth feel. Then, to bring out the natural flavors in the food, add a touch of butter, seasoning and sour cream or regular cream to taste. These tips provide flavor without the heavy brick in your belly that adding pounds of butter and cream can do in the original recipes.
  • Heavy sauces and dressings can be made with lighter, yet still flavorful with greater water content to the base. This minimizes fats, sugars and sodium, taking care of your heart and your waistline.
  • Sauces like cranberry sauce and other holiday favorites can be sweetened with pears and other natural fruits as opposed to the cups of refined sugars commonly utilized.
  • Instead of rice, pasta or breads as the base of the meal, try a vegetable alternative like spiralized zucchini, spaghetti squash, mixed vegetables, shredded cabbage or Brussels sprouts and top with a delicious meaty sauce and a sprinkle of cheese for flavoring

Monsters and Critics: Many dieticians and nutritionists love to see people remove as much wheat product (regardless of gluten issues) and increase with vegetable and lean proteins for people who are in the process of losing weight and maintaining. What is your take, and what makes the most sense for a lifetime strategy?

Misti Gueron: It makes a lot of sense to minimize starchy foods by replacing wheat products with vegetables and lean proteins. Starchy foods like breads, rice and pasta are for those individuals that expend a lot of physical energy daily and burn it off. For the majority of us who live relatively sedentary lifestyles, consuming carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables is better. Vegetables and fruits have more water and indigestible fibers than starchy foods, and thus cause the body to work harder to extract the digestible carbohydrate and nutrients during the digestive process. This makes your metabolism work harder for weight control, helps keep your organs healthier, and gives you more energy.

Additionally when we reduce the wheat products, we tend to consume less processed snack foods and rely on more whole foods like fruit, which benefits your health and weight.

cauli pizza

Finished Cauliflower Pizza Crust with fresh tomato, mushroom, basil and fresh mozzarella topping- no wheat carbs! Photo by M&C 2014

Monsters and Critic: Eye appeal is crucial for an appealing party spread. How do you teach people to take the time to properly present and plate foods for parties (and even the average dinner table), so deprivation and “diet” mindset is removed?

Misti Gueron: Presentation is essential when it comes to feeling satisfied. Long term research supports that people tend to feel more satisfied when they are able to consume what is perceived as a “normal” portion. Utilizing smaller plates and utensils provides the illusion of abundance; it sets the mind up for a given expectation as opposed to consuming “less” than what others are consuming.

Further, those that consume smaller portions tend to chew and eat slower throughout their meal, which further promotes satisfaction with less food volume. Studies show that those who purchase larger containers of peanut butter or boxes of cereal consume them as fast as smaller sized packaging. Our eyes determine more than we think.

food appea;

When tantalizing the palate with foods arranged at a party table, mix colors and textures in neat but varied displays. Research demonstrates that to excite someone’s palate, you must first excite their mind! Displaying several food choices and types of foods together can be very tantalizing as the eye finds new things to explore selectively scanning the display. Our physical bodies usually respond with increased hunger feelings.

Monsters and Critics: How do you cut the cord between emotions and eating? What are the steps to get someone to stop associating food with holidays, loved ones, sad memories? How can you ” reboot” to look at food as body fuel that will get you to the place physically you want to be, instead of being trapped into a unhealthy lifestyle that can lead to the co-morbidity issues of diabetes, metabolic diseases and heart disease?

Misti Gueron: It is my belief that we should learn to listen more to our bodies and less with our minds. We need to learn to be friends with our bodies instead of at war with them through the self-sabotage of dieting. If we can stay more focused on the body’s experience of ingesting the food choices, tastes and textures, then the mind can explore the process rather than judge it. When we can accomplish a stronger, healthier and more trusting relationship with our food and our body, we begin to feel more in control of our eating behaviors and bodies.

Monsters and Critics: What are clever ways for people to “trick” themselves into eating slower and managing portions? Smaller plates? Tell us all your best secrets for getting people to be mindful when eating.

Misti Gueron: Often, when we eat mindlessly we go on “autopilot” and forget about our bodies, until we either run out of food or feel uncomfortably full. Some techniques to slow the eating process down are to utilize smaller plates for food, to sit down without distractions like television, practice deep breathing, to cut foods into tiny pieces, to pause by placing the utensil down between bites, and to utilize very hot, very cold or very spicy foods, which often force a break in the process of eating and chewing.

Food logs are also a useful tool to bring awareness to the eating process. Often the process of logging your intake can inspire more mindful eating habits. This might be why those that log their food typically make the most progress changing their food habits to healthy ones.


Monsters and Critics: What are the biggest misconceptions about bariatric surgery and subsequently, the keeping the weight off =? Is it a relearning process of all of the above? Give us the nitty-gritty, the details on what people go through afterward, and how they must adjust. Is it a process that takes a certain amount of time before the patient “gets” how to eat properly?

Misti Gueron: Weight loss surgery (WLS) is a modern-day medical miracle for those whose weight places their health at risk and who are also unable to lose weight successfully on their own. Depending on the procedure chosen, the patient may experience varying degrees of change in their hunger and satiety hormones. They may also experience earlier satiety and feeling full from the surgical change in the stomach’s anatomy. These changes alone often influence food and meal choices.

Although there are numerous changes that occur with the eating experience after WLS, some of these initial changes inspire greater incentive to make healthier food choices.

Healthier food choices combined with increased energy, a lighter body, improved sleep, decreased blood pressure, normalized blood sugar are health changes commonly experienced post operatively. They make it easier to live a healthier lifestyle, which includes exercise and great mobility. Often, positive feelings and emotions become associated with improved habits and food choices, and this also can make living a healthier lifestyle a lifelong habit.

Learning and maintaining long-term changes in eating habits and lifestyle practices can be facilitated by support groups and education by a dietitian about nutrition specific to bariatrics. There are also online options for patients to tap into and learn from fellow patients and health care professionals in the field when attending groups is not otherwise possible.

Monsters and Critics: What are the best foods to have on hand for fast healthy snacks and nibbles?

Misti Gueron: Fruit or a vegetables make the perfect between-meal snack.However, I commonly find that people need a small snack of protein to sustain their energy and maintain their blood sugar for stable concentration and mood. This can play in favor of maintaining a healthy body weight also by minimizing feelings of out of control hunger before the next meal time.

Satisfying snacks options that include protein:

  • Healthy lower sodium turkey jerky
  • Edamame
  • High protein yogurt topped with slivered nuts
  • Fresh fruit and a light string cheese
  • Vegetable slices, cucumber or bell pepper “chips” dipped into a protein filled dip like salsa or guacamole mixed with 0%Greek yogurt
  • Hard cooked egg with cherry tomatoes and some pepper
  • 2 extra lean meatballs on a skewer with cucumber slices
  • Sardines a top one-two whole grain crackers
  • Smoked salmon wrapped with 0%Greek yogurt and sliced into “pin-wheels”
  • Smoked turkey and light provolone wrapped and sliced into pin-wheels
  • 1 slice of extra lean ham wrapped around a light string cheese
  • Shrimp diced into gazpacho soup


Monsters and Critics: For those who drink alcohol, what are the best choices to make (and offer guests) at parties, so you are not drinking all the calories allotted for the day?

Misti Gueron: Best drinks are “minimal drinks” …so make sure to have 16 ounces of water between each alcoholic beverage. This strategy will help minimize your alcohol intake and also lessen any potential hangover that results from dehydration the next morning.

To watch calories when choosing an alcoholic beverage select wine, wine spritzers or liquors that are on ice or mixed with club sodas. Steer clear of the calorically dense and sugar-laden alcoholic mixes.

Misti Gueron and the Khalili Center’s Approved Recipes that are perfect to consider for the holiday parties:

Baked Chicken Milanese with Arugula and Tomatoes


For the Salad:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
1/4 small red onion, sliced thin
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
6 cups baby arugula

For the chicken:

24 oz (3) boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise
3/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese (or parmesan)
1 lemon, juice of
1 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked black pepper
olive oil spray

*In a medium bowl, whisk olive oil and balsamic. Add tomatoes, basil and onions; season with salt and pepper. and toss. Set aside at least 10 minutes so the juices combine.
*Preheat oven to 450°. Place a large baking pan in the oven to get hot.
*Combine breadcrumbs and grated cheese in one bowl. In another bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper.
*Lightly pound chicken breasts into cutlets, you should have 6. Wash and dry cutlets well with paper towels; season with salt and pepper.
*Dip cutlets into lemon/oil mixture, then into breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to adhere.
Remove the baking pan from the oven and spray with cooking spray. Place the chicken on the baking sheets and spray with olive oil spray on top.
*Bake chicken, turning once halfway through for about 15 minutes total, or until chicken is golden. Remove from the oven and top with arugula and tomato salad on top.

Servings: 6, Size: 3 oz chicken with salad
Calories: 250
Protein: 24.3 grams
Carb: 17.4 grams
Fat: 8.5 grams

Recipe courtesy of SkinnyTaste

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil


1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
few basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

*Using a sharp paring knife, carefully pierce (I really mean stab) the spaghetti squash in a few places (about 6 slashes is good). Microwave on high for 10-12 minutes, turning/rotating the squash halfway during cooking. A fork should very easily pierce through the squash, if there is resistance – microwave for an additional 1-2 minutes.
*Let squash cool for a few minutes before handling. Carefully (the squash will be steaming hot!), use a chef’s knife to cut the squash in half, lengthwise. The squash should be soft and easy to cut. Remove and discard the seeds. Use two forks to scrape apart the strands of the squash. Compost or discard the skin.
*Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat with the olive oil. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add in the tomatoes and basil and cook for 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high and add in the spaghetti squash and toss. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in the balsamic vinegar.
*Taste the squash – adjust seasoning and if the squash still needs a bit more time to cook through, cover and cook for 2 minutes. If the squash texture is perfect, toss in the grated cheese and serve immediately.

Servings: 8-10
Calories 70
Protein 2 grams
Carbs 11 grams
Fat 3.5 grams

Mini-Smoked Salmon Frittatas


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 large eggs
8 large egg whites
1 tablespoon half-and-half
3 tablespoons 1% milk
3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish

*Preheat oven to 325°. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet. Sauté onion 2-3 minutes or until soft; add salt, pepper, and salmon. Remove from stovetop; let cool.
*Combine the next 4 ingredients (through milk) in a bowl. Stir in the cream cheese. *Lightly coat 6 (8-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray. Add 2 tablespoons of salmon mixture to each ramekin. Pour 3/4 cup egg mixture into each ramekin. (Do not overfill.)
*Place ramekins on baking sheet; bake 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Garnish, if desired.


Makes 6 servings, serving size: 1 frittata
Calories 179
Protein 17 grams
Carbs 3 grams
Fat 11 grams

Kung Pao Chicken Zoodles for Two



2 medium zucchini, about 8 oz each, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon grapeseed or canola oil
6 oz skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ground ginger
2 tbsp crushed dry roasted peanuts
2 tbsp thinly sliced scallions along diagonal

For the sauce:

1 1/2 tbsp reduced soy sauce (tamari for gluten free)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp hoisin sauce
2 1/2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp Sambal Oelek Red Chili Paste (or more to taste)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

*Using a spiralizer fitted with a shredder blade (this makes a thicker noodle), or a mandolin fitted with a julienne blade, cut the zucchini into long spaghetti-like strips. If using a spiralizer, use kitchen scissors to cut the strands into pieces that are about 8 inches long so they’re easier to eat.
*In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, balsamic, hoisin, water, red chili paste, sugar and cornstarch; set aside.
*Season chicken with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat oil in a large, deep nonstick pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
*Reduce heat to medium, add sesame oil, garlic and ginger to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the bell pepper, stir in soy sauce mixture and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until thickened and bubbling, about 1-2 minutes.
*Stir in zucchini noodles and cook, mixing for about two minutes until just tender and mixed with the sauce. If it seems dry, don’t worry the zucchini will release moisture which helps create a sauce.
*Once cooked, mix in chicken and divide between 2 bowls (about 2 cups each) and top with peanuts and scallions.

Servings: 2, Size: scant 2 cups
Calories: 277
Protein: 24 grams
Carb: 21 grams
Fat: 12 grams

Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) with Lemon-Garlic Spicy Shrimp



1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 oz peeled and deveined shrimp
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin and devided
1 medium zucchini, spiralized
Pinch salt and fresh black pepper
1/4 lemon
1/4 cup halved grape tomatoes


*Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the oil and crush red pepper flakes, add the shrimp and season with pinch salt and pepper; cook 2 to 3 minutes.
*Add half of the garlic and continue cooking 1 more minute, or until the shrimp is cooked through and opaque. Set aside on a dish.
*Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil and garlic to the pan, cook 30 seconds then add the zucchini noodles and cook 1 1/2 minutes. Add the shrimp and tomatoes to the pan and squeeze the lemon over the dish.
*Remove from heat and serve. Makes 1 serving.

Servings: 1, Size: 1 zucchini + shrimp
Calories: 235.5
Protein: 25 grams
Carb: 14.5 grams
Fat: 9 grams

*Misti’s Tip:
Paderno Spiral Vegetable Slicer is an all time FAVORITE cooking gadget. It’s the easiest way to make zucchini noodles, sweet potato spirals, carrot ribbons and more!

This recipe was originally published on

Original Article

Learn More about the Khalili Center for Bariatric Care