The Truth About Thanksgiving Calories

STACK shows you how to eat big and enjoy Thanksgiving without going overboard and compromising your athletic performance with too many calories.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Chances are you're going to eat a lot of calories at your Thanksgiving dinner. The Mayo Clinic suggests the average person mows down about 4,000. The American Council on Exercise says we gorge ourselves to the tune of 3,000.

Let's put that in perspective. If you're used to eating approximately 2,000 calories per day, you're going to need to load a lot of food on your plate to hit that 3,000-calorie mark (and that's on the low end). For reference, that shakes out to around 12 cups of mashed potatoes with butter and whole milk, or one-and-a-quarter pumpkin pies, or four-and-a-half cans of cranberry sauce.

If you're like most people, you'll stress about your diet on the big day, eat light for a few days and maybe even go for a big run the morning of to "earn those calories." Right?

Or you could, y'know, take a look at the calorie count of what you're actually eating. Here's an example of a hearty Thanksgiving meal that hits all the best dishes of the day with generous portions.

  • Mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter, 1.5 cups (356 calories)
  • Stuffing, one cup (354 calories)
  • Turkey breast meat, two servings (294 calories)
  • Green bean casserole, one serving (161 calories)
  • Canned cranberry sauce, 2 slices (294 calories)
  • Gravy, half cup (61 calories)

That's a full plate with a serious serving of gravy. It tips the scales at 1,398 calories. Are you feeling better yet?

No dessert, you say? No problem. How's this sound?

  • 1 slice of pumpkin pie with 1/2 cup (1 scoop) of vanilla ice cream (590 calories)

Even with your pie à la mode, you're only clocking in at a meager (relatively speaking) 1,998 calories. Opt for a second slice of pie with ice cream and you're still around 400 calories short of what "they say" the average American eats on Thanksgiving.

When it comes to your Thanksgiving meal, don't believe the hype. If you're still interested in mitigating the caloric damage, load up on greens (the ones that aren't swimming in cream), go light on the gravy and remember to enjoy yourself. If you eat on the aggressive side of moderately, you won't burst at the seams. And you'll enjoy Thanksgiving—which is the point.

Your Turkey Bowl Headquarters>>>

Want To Burn it Off?

If you're interested in working off your Thanksgiving calories, prepare for a lot of sweat equity. To burn off approximately 2,000 calories,  a 180-pound man needs to:

  • Shoot hoops for three hours
  • Play three hours of flag football
  • Kick a soccer ball around for three and a half hours
  • Lift weights for three hours and fifty minutes

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