Health & Fitness

How many centuries of exercise you’ll need to work off your Thanksgiving dinner

Stuffing (1/2 cup): Calories: 180; Activity: Walking the dog for one hour.
Stuffing (1/2 cup): Calories: 180; Activity: Walking the dog for one hour. AP

“The meal isn't over when I'm full,” comedian Louis CK once quipped. “It’s over when I hate myself.”

Although most of us can muster enough self-control to not spiral into a pit of self-loathing, like CK, Thanksgiving makes a tempting case for overindulgence.

According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American may eat more than 4,500 calories during a traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, portion control and foresight can go a long way in doing damage control, argues registered dietitian Sheah Rarback.

“All those different dishes add up,” said Rarback, a dietitian with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a nutrition columnist for the Herald. “So be conscious.”

Rarback also urged Thanksgiving eaters to remember that beverages have calories, too.

“Just a few drinks can ring up your calorie count ... and lower your resolve” she said. “So maybe start with a nonalcoholic drink,” like water.

Here, then, are the cold calorie facts of the Thanksgiving meal, and the workouts you’ll need to burn it off:

Turkey, with gravy (6 oz)

  • CALORIES: 490
  • ACTIVITY: Power walking for one hour

Cured ham (6 oz)

  • CALORIES: 300
  • ACTIVITY: Fast freestyle swimming for 30 minutes

Stuffing (1/2 cup)

  • CALORIES: 180
  • ACTIVITY: Walking the dog for one hour

Cranberry sauce (1/2 cup)

  • CALORIES: 190
  • ACTIVITY: Tennis for 30 minutes

Green-bean casserole (1/2 cup)

  • CALORIES: 225
  • ACTIVITY: Leisurely biking for one hour

Mashed potatoes, with gravy (1/2 cup)

  • CALORIES: 185
  • ACTIVITY: Dancing for 30 minutes

Sweet potato casserole, with pecan topping (1/2 cup)

  • CALORIES: 395
  • ACTIVITY: Boxing for one hour

Dinner roll, with butter (one)

  • CALORIES: 175
  • ACTIVITY: Kayaking for 30 minutes

Pumpkin pie, with whipped cream (one slice)

  • CALORIES: 225
  • ACTIVITY: Moderate walking for one hour

Pecan pie (one slice)

  • CALORIES: 570
  • ACTIVITY: Step aerobics for one hour


Rarback offered additional recommendations to limit caloric intake during this year’s Thanksgiving feast:

  • Don’t starve in preparation. “It’s a better strategy to go with a bit of food in your stomach so you can make better choices.”
  • More is less. “Fill half of your plate with vegetables, salad or protein, then a quarter of the plate with [high-calorie foods].”
  • Enjoy the company. “Thanksgiving is not just about the food. It’s about the people,” Rarback said. “If you’re engaged in more conversation, you eat less.”
  • Take your time. “When you eat slower, your body has the time to send those messages of fullness to your body.” Rarback also suggested eating with your nondominant hand.
  • Clear the table. “It's in our nature to eat what’s in front of us,” so once everyone’s done with their meal, clear the food.
  • Make leftovers less accessible. Freeze leftovers so you have an opportunity to think about what you’re going to eat. Rarback also suggests wrapping food according to caloric value — healthy, low-calorie leftovers in clear plastic wrap and high-calorie foods in aluminum foil.
  • Use your day off wisely. “People aren’t working the day after Thanksgiving, so it’s a great opportunity to get exercise,” she said. “The most important message is, ‘Go back to your normal routine.’”

And if all else fails? Don’t beat yourself up.

“When people give themselves those negative message, it leads them to say, ‘What the heck, I might as well continue,’” Rarback said. “It’s not how you eat on Thanksgiving. It’s how you’re eating the other 364 days of the year.”

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