Our pilgrim forefathers may have been Puritans, but the Thanksgiving traditions they left for us are anything but pure. Thanksgiving is basically a celebration of debauchery, drowned in gravy and covered with marshmallows. Delicious, yes. But not necessarily the healthiest…
In fact, between your standard morning breakfast and the liberal ladles of lard for dessert, your feast could cost you 4,000 calories or more, says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group. And if you're the type who looks at nutrition as a math equation, you already know that it takes just 3,500 calories to add an entire pound of fat to your body. (If you're looking for healthier habits to adopt ASAP, try out any of the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time!)
So will you gain a whole pound on Turkey Day? Might you gain even more? Before you press the panic button, though, let's look at the science. See, no matter how many calories you eat, you're simultaneously burning those calories.
"To gain one pound of fat in a day, you would have to eat 3,500 calories more than what you burned off," Moskovitz explains. The average person fries about 1,600 calories a day, just keeping their heart beating, their lungs breathing, and their eyes rolling at the 400th rendition of your uncle's turkey jokes. This brings us to the burning question…
How much do you need to eat on Thanksgiving to actually gain weight?
In order to gain a pound on Thanksgiving, you would have to eat a total of 5,100 calories of turkey and pie. That means you'd have to eat:
2 turkey legs (with the skin on)
6 oz. turkey breast (with the skin on)
2 cups mashed potatoes (made with butter and whole milk) plus 1 cup turkey gravy
1/2 cup cornbread stuffing
2 slices canned cranberry sauce
1 cup candied sweet potatoes with marshmallow
1 cup Brussels sprouts with walnuts
1 cup green bean casserole
2 crescent rolls
1 piece pumpkin pie with 1 cup vanilla ice cream
2 pieces pecan pie each with 2 Tbsp whipped cream
1 slice apple pie
That's 5,130 calories!
But let's be realistic here—chances are you won't actually come near that total. Still, when you step on the scale before bedtime, you might think you've packed on some serious poundage in just one day.
"On average, people could expect to see an extra two to four pounds staring back to them after their Thanksgiving feast," says Moskovitz. But those numbers are actually a combination of the weight of the food and drink sitting in your belly, plus a bit of extra water weight.
Your aunt's famous stuffing and your grandmother's legendary mashed potatoes are to thank for that. These dishes (among other Turkey Day favorites) are typically loaded with sodium, which causes the body to hold on to extra fluid, and can increase blood pressure and the risk of stroke, too.
The good news, though? Those extra pounds aren't staying.
For a quick slim-down, get a sweat going at the gym the next day to help flush out the excess water and relieve some of the bloat, suggests Moskovitz. Aim to drink at least six eight-ounce glasses of water and munch on potassium-packed produce like sweet potatoes (or any of these 8 Foods High In Potassium), and calcium-rich foods like yogurt. These nutrients will help flush out the excess sodium so you can slip back into your skinny jeans within a few days!
Looking for more helpful tips? Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!