The holidays are right around the corner, meaning calorie comas are on the horizon. Spending time with family and friends while enjoying some decadent dishes can be awesome! However, it can also sidetrack your diet, eat into your training time, and leave you feeling like that butterball on the Thanksgiving dinner table. People are reported to eat between 3,000 (Calorie Control Council) to 4,500 calories (Time Magazine) at Thanksgiving dinner. And while one meal alone won't turn you into fluff overnight, many meals like this throughout the holiday season just might! So, let's talk about tips to fight off the fluff this holiday season.

The Holiday Breakdown

How the heck do you end up eating around 4,000 calories at Thanksgiving? Well, it's much easier than you would think. Let's look at the breakdown of a typical holiday dinner from a calorie and macronutrient standpoint**. 

Main Course and Sides

  • Turkey: 38-50 calories (1 oz), 0.2g fat, 8.5g protein, 0 carbohydrate.
  • Roast Beef: 308 calories (4 oz), 19.64g fat, 29.38g protein, 0 carbohydrate.
  • Cranberry Sauce: 110 calories (1/4 cup), 0g fat, 0g protein, 25g carbohydrate.
  • Bread Stuffing: 352 calories (1 cup), 16.84g fat, 6.28g protein, 43.60g carbohydrate.
  • Mashed Potatoes: 210 calories (1 cup), 7.43g fat, 3.78g protein, 33.01g carbohydrate.
  • Cauliflower: 25 calories (1 cup), 0.1g fat, 1.98g protein, 5.3g carbohydrate.
  • Gravy: 31-90 calories (1/4 cup), 1.37-4.11g fat, 2.18-6.54g protein, 2.8-8.4g carbohydrate.
  • Green Bean Casserole: 142 calories (1 cup), 8g fat, 3g protein, 14g carbohydrate.
  • Brussels Sprouts: 88 calories (1 cup), 4.43g fat, 3.95g protein, 11.06g carbohydrate.
  • Bread Rolls: 79 calories (1oz), 1.23g fat, 2.69g protein, 14.02g carbohydrate.


  • Apple Pie: 411 calories (1/8 of 9” pie), 19.38g fat, 3.72g protein, 57.50g carbohydrate.
  • Pecan pie: 503 calories (1/8 of 9” pie), 27.08g fat, 5.98g protein, 63.68 carbohydrate.
  • Pumpkin Pie: 316 calories (1/8 of 9”pie), 14.42g fat, 6.98g protein, 40.92g carbohydrate.


  • Wine: 125 calories (1.5 fl. oz.), 0g fat, 0.1g protein, 3.84g carbohydrate.
  • Whiskey: 70 calories (1 fl. oz.), 0g fat, 0g protein, 0g carbohydrate.
  • Rum: 64 calories (1 fl. oz.), 0g fat, 0g protein, 0g carbohydrate.
  • Vodka: 64 calories (1 fl. oz.), 0g fat, 0g protein, 0g carbohydrate.

As you can see, it's not that any one item has an astronomical number of calories, but rather, it's the combination of large portions and multiple food items that start to drive up that calorie count. Remember, three ounces is like the size of the palm of your hand, a cup is the size of your clinched fist, a ½ cup is the size of the front of your clinched fist, a tablespoon is the size of your thumb, and your fingertip is about the size of a teaspoon. As you can see, if you stick to portion sizes, it can be hard to pile up your plate. But, come Thanksgiving, portion size amnesia is a pretty common thing.

6 Tactics to Fight the Fluff 

1. Help out with the heavy stuff.

Thanksgiving is a notorious day for the gym to be closed. It's like gym owners everywhere are working against you and your plans to counteract the fluff. But, since Thanksgiving is a time to be with family, there will surely be many opportunities to burn some calories and appear helpful to the family (two birds, one stone). Offer to rake and bag some leaves, and you could find yourself burning around 400* calories in 50 minutes. Step it up a notch if the weather is right and shovel the snow, and you will burn between 200-446 calories an hour. If you do either of these activities when it's pretty cold outside, you will burn even more calories since the cold activates a thermogenic calorie-burning response in your body.

Other helpful actives that will get the calorie burn going include helping buy and carry groceries (~350 calories/hour), vacuuming (~180 calories/hour), and wood chopping (~300 calories/hour). You can even take the wood chopping further by turning the logs into props for your strongman training. You won't even need to drive an hour searching for an open gym: throw, carry, and squat some logs!

2. Capitalize on calorie-burning winter festivities.

Some of those "basic fall activities" can actually be a bit of a workout. Trust me, I somehow ended up apple picking two weekends in a row. I can tell you that you can easily end up walking five miles up a bunch of rolling hills in search of the perfect apple. If you find yourself on a similar excursion, apple picking will burn you around 136 calories/hour. If you wander through a corn maze, you will find yourself burning around 200 calories/hours.

To increase the calorie burn, go to one of those haunted mazes and get chased by some cornfield zombies! If you choose to do some pumpkin picking, walk around for an hour holding some heavy pumpkins and it will help burn around 270 calories an hour. You can even treat the pumpkins like kettlebells, swinging and throwing them to burn more calories (but I'm not sure how much the people at the pumpkin patch will like that).

3. Offer to bring a dish or two to dinner.

Funny story: A few years back I did this and started bringing egg white salad to Thanksgiving dinner. I did this because I wanted an item on the menu that was calorie-friendly. It was the stuff from Trader Joe's (Spicy Egg White Salad). I would just throw it in a dish that made it look homemade. People would go crazy for the stuff, and every year started to request that I bring it. Of course, I was happy to, because I knew there was at least one dish that was going to keep the calorie count low. So, if you are a bit worried that even the veggies will be covered in butter, offer to bring a dish or two. This will give you a chance to be healthy and bring something you know won't widen your waistline.

RELATED: Three Pounds Heavier: The Holiday Struggle

4. Focus on fiber-filling and protein-pounding your plate.

To keep the calories below astronomical numbers, try to fill your plate with turkey (sans stuffing and gravy), greens (Brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, etc), and fibrous nuts like roasted chestnuts (70 calories/84 grams, 1.8g fat, 4.3g fiber, 2.7g protein). This is a good strategy to keep the calorie count low and your plate full! 

5. Knockout a heavy training session and carb backload Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to practice carb backloading. Just spend the morning/afternoon leading up to dinner limiting your carbs to under 30 grams. Then, train heavy legs prior to the big meal. Post-training, feast up as you see fit. The ketogenic morning and afternoon heavy training will make your muscles use up a lot of their carb stores, so that by the time dinner comes around, you will nutrient partition those calories into your muscles instead of fat stores!

6. Tackle Thanksgiving like the ultimate cheat day.

You could always just take the easiest approach and treat Thanksgiving like the ultimate cheat day. Hang out with the family, watch some football, and smash all the calories you want. Like I said at the beginning of the article, one day isn't going to cripple your body composition, so enjoy it!

**All calorie counts and macros are approximations and may vary**

*Calorie-burning predictions are based on a 150-pound person.