Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. But you might also want to give a thought to how many calories you’re consuming at the big feast.
Let’s break it down: Many of us will have turkey, or perhaps ham, as a main dish. Then there’s a cornucopia of trimmings such as dressing – possibly more than one kind – mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls, and hopefully some vegetables including, of course, the classic green bean casserole.
Don’t forget the pre-game festivities. This year, in addition to NFL football starting at 12:30 pm there’s World Cup action beginning at 5 am ET.
That leaves lots of room for appetizers including cheese and crackers, chips, deviled eggs, and drinks. Finally after the main dishes are cleared away, there are desserts, which likely include pumpkin, sweet potato or pecan pie.
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How many calories are in a Thanksgiving dinner?
Add it all up and the typical American consumes about 3,150 calories and 159 grams of fat in a Thanksgiving meal, according to the Calorie Control Council.
But that doesn’t count going back for a second wave of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy. “You can push that calorie count to 4,500, after adding in caloric beverages, large portion sizes and high-fat desserts,” said Kirstin Taylor, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition services at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas.
For normal days, the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily calorie intake tops out at 2,200 and 2,800, respectively.
Another way to look at it? At Thanksgiving, you can easily consume the caloric equivalent of five to eight – yes, eight – Big Macs (550 calories and 30 grams of fat each).
Thanksgiving poses a portion problem because we are likely to eat larger helpings at a holiday meal, said Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, chair of the department of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University.
“Turkey (especially white meat) is a relatively low-calorie and low-fat protein choice, but if you eat large servings along with large servings of sides, it quickly adds up,” she said.
How can I eat fewer calories at Thanksgiving?
►Don’t starve yourself earlier in the day. Eat a balanced breakfast – consider eggs – and, at lunch, a sandwich or beans if your Thanksgiving dinner is later in the day, said Illa Garcia, CEO of The Millennial Nutritionist, a Raleigh, North Carolina, nutrition counseling firm. Otherwise, she said, “your body will try to get you to eat more calories if you are in a state of being super-hungry.”
►Smart snacking and drinking. During pre-meal foraging, “try to stick to fresh veggies and salsas to help curb your appetite without loading up on extra calories and fat,” Taylor said. And if you are imbibing ahead of the meal, alternate alcoholic drinks with a sparkling water or mocktail to help reduce calories, she said.
►Pack your plate wisely. When it comes time for the feast – this seems simple, but it’s often forgotten – think about what you put on your plate, said Meghan Windham, registered dietitian with student health services at Texas A&M University.
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. Pig out on a green salad, as opposed to dressing. “It is difficult not to indulge when there are so many choices,” she said. “The key is to enjoy the foods you are consuming but to be mindful of portions and use mindful eating tips throughout the day.”
► Take a pass. Don’t feel like you have to participate in every item served, Windham said. “Use a smaller plate for desserts and check in with yourself to assess hunger or fullness,” she said.
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How long does it take to burn off Thanksgiving calories?
It takes about 10 minutes of movement to burn about 100 calories, said Meridan Zerner, a registered dietician nutritionist and wellness coach at the Cooper Clinic. “It would take a 30-minute jog at a 10-minute pace to burn off even just a small slice of pumpkin pie. It is very difficult to ‘exercise’ your diet especially on a holiday,” she said.
If you did consume 3,000 calories, that’s roughly five hours of activity needed. So, it’s not realistic to try to burn off your dinner that day.
But you can burn some calories ahead of time. For instance, some folks and families participated in a turkey trot run earlier in the day. You could get family and friends to help you finish up some yard work. “Raking leaves would be a good way to burn off some calories,” Lanningham-Foster said.
After dinner, consider a game of football or soccer outside, Windham said. “Going for a walk with others and chatting can also be a great way to get moving in the afternoon instead of sitting on the couch talking with others,” she said. “Any movement counts so staying active by walking, playing with grandkids, bike rides or even a competitive outdoor game are great ways to get moving.”
I overate. What do I do?
Remember, our bodies are always burning calories, typically 1,000 to 2,000 per day, Lanningham-Foster said. So the occasional feast is OK. “We eat food for many reasons – to nourish our bodies, but also to celebrate with friends and families,” she said. “Eating more or eating special foods for celebrating holidays is common across cultures.”
And don’t carry Thanksgiving gorging guilt over to the next day. “It’s just one day,” Garcia said. “The best thing you can do is don’t beat yourself up the next day if you end up overdoing it. Try to go on a walk the next day and feel better about yourself and move on.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.