How to Discreetly Count Calories During Thanksgiving Dinner

Beth Stebner
how to eat healthy on thanksgiving

Go ahead, dig in. (Photo: Spoon Fork Bacon)

Thanksgiving dinner is right around the corner, meaning you’ve probably already started planning your menu a hundred times over (hello, butternut squash pie and chocolate almond cheesecake). And while we’re all for indulging, it pays to know exactly what you’re eating since your mom’s homemade cornbread doesn’t exactly come with nutrition facts.

In fact, according to the Calorie Control Council, the average American downs more than 3,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. To put that in perspective, that’s 10 slices of cheese pizza or 33 servings of Trader Joe’s highly addictive Cookie Butter.

Per a blow-by-blow calorie analysis in the New York Times, this is how much an average Thanksgiving feast will set you back:

4 ounces of dark meat (206 calories) and 2 ounces of white meat (93 calories), skin on
A  serving of sausage stuffing (310 calories).
A dinner roll with butter (310 calories)
A big serving of mashed sweet-potato casserole made with butter, brown sugar and topped with marshmallows (divide your casserole dish into 8 servings and it will be 300 calories each)
A half-cup of mashed potatoes with butter and gravy (140 calories).
2/3 cup green bean casserole (110 calories)
A dollop of cranberry sauce (about 15 calories)
Roasted brussels sprouts (83 calories)
One slice of pumpkin pie (316 calories)
One slice of pecan pie (503 calories)
Two generous dollops of homemade whipped cream on each slice (100 calories)
Total: 2,486 calories

And that’s just dinner itself. If you tack on day-of snacking, tasting, and keeping your glass of holiday wine full-to-brimming throughout the day, you could be up to 4,500 calories, more than twice the recommended daily intake.

The biggest piece of advice to someone hoping to quash overeating? Listen to your gut—literally. “After about 1,500 calories in one sitting, the gut releases a hormone that causes nausea,” Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope writes. So if you have that content-bordering-on-queasy feeling, it’s a good time to put the kibosh on that sweet potato pie. That tactic is also called mindful eating, when you realize how your body is responding to all of that turkey and stuffing and assess when you feel full.

But if that’s just not your jam, look at it this way—you’re allowed to give yourself some cheat days where you just treat yourself. The danger comes with a season-long spree of boozy cocktails, sweet treats, and long stints on the couch, Jamie Pope, a registered dietitian and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, told ABC News.

“You don’t have to go hog wild, but also realize this shouldn’t be the impetus for the loss of constraint going forward,” she said.

All great news for carb lovers—eat everything in moderation (so a fourth slice of pecan pie probably isn’t a great choice), but don’t hold yourself to impossible standards or grumpily munch raw celery in a corner. If you really want both pecan pie and pumpkin pie, have a skinny sliver of each instead of a full helping so you get the taste without packing on tons of extra calories. A way to indulge without feeling mega-guilty the next day? That works for us!