While the fresh turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other traditional Thanksgiving trimmings are a delicious annual indulgence, the Calorie Control Council estimates the typical holiday meal potentially packs 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat that can stick around and haunt overeaters.
"Something about the holidays makes people think it's okay to stuff themselves full of their favorite foods," said "Biggest Loser" trainer Bob Harper. "Be cautious about overindulging this Thanksgiving holiday."
Harper and other experts say even unhealthier than eating that much in one meal is eating that much and then doing little or nothing to burn off the calories.
One of the best ways to avoid caloric overload is to carefully plan out meals in the days before the holiday.
"I like to compare eating to the use of a credit card. If I have $100 to spend on Friday, I'm not going to spend it tomorrow. I'm going to try to hold on to it until Friday," said Connie Holt, a registered dietitian and associate professor of the School of Hospitality Management at Widener University in Chester, Pa. "And if I go out on Friday and I spend the money in the first hour, I'm going to have to pull out a credit card and have to pay the excess off later."
To help people get a better idea of how many calories they will be consuming and how to burn them off, nutrition experts put together a list of the calorie counts of one serving of some of the most popular Thanksgiving foods, as well as household activities that could help work off at least some of the meal.
4 ounces of turkey (dark meat): 323 calories. What will burn this off? Rake leaves for 45 minutes.
1/2 cup of stuffing: 190 calories. To burn this off, carry Black Friday shopping bags around for 30 minutes.
1/4 cup of jellied cranberry sauce. Twenty-five minutes of mopping can help work this portion of the meal off.
A slice of pumpkin pie: 316 calories. Spend 80 minutes watering outdoor plants (if it's not too cold or wet) to say goodbye to the pie calories.
A dinner roll: 82 calories. Vacuuming for 30 minutes will burn off that many calories.
A cup of mashed potatoes: 162 calories. A 22-minute game of friendly football will burn off 158 of these calories.
Another common (and easier) guideline to follow is it takes about a mile of slow running or brisk walking to burn off 100 calories, Holt said.
Harper suggested a few simple ways to cut back the calorie count while still enjoying the meal.
"Slice your slice of pumpkin pie right down the middle and avoid the whipped cream on top," he said. "Instead of eating the dark turkey meat, go for the white meat. Opting for the white meat instead of dark will trim about 100 calories off."
For those who are cooking, the American Dietetic Association has a few suggestions on how to prepare a healthier meal, such as using egg substitutes, nonfat dairy products to prepare dips or desserts, using whole-grain bread for stuffing and using low-sodium broth.
Simple Steps During the Holiday Rush
The holiday rush often makes it difficult to find time to exercise or even worry about being active, but Holt and other experts say there are simple changes people can make while they're preparing a big meal, out shopping or catching up on chores that can help burn calories. The key is to keep moving.
"When you go shopping, for example, walk up the escalator instead of taking elevators or park far away. These are good ways to keep moving," said Holt.
"Taking the stairs for a total of just two minutes, five days a week, gives you the same calorie-burning results as a 20-minute walk," said Leah Britt, personal trainer and nutritionist at Premier Fitness Camp.
Even a quick trip to the mailbox can turn into a mini-exercise session, Britt explained.
On the way to and from the mailbox, "do one lap around your house or building, or up and down a flight of stairs," she said.
For travelers who find it tough to find a gym or time to fit in a workout, Harper recommended a hotel room routine consisting of jumping rope for 5 minutes, 15 push-ups and 30 sit-ups, then repeating that sequence 5 times.
But the holiday season only comes around once a year, so people should enjoy their meals, as long as it's in moderation and accompanied by physical activity.
"You have days of leftovers to try your favorite things, so does it have to be all in one meal?" said Jessica Janc, nutritional director at Premier Fitness Camp.