The average adult gains 1 to 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but think about it: if you pack on 2 pounds annually on fattening holiday foods, then you’ll be up 10 pounds by year five.
This year, prepare for 6 weeks of temptation by familiarizing yourself with just how much activity you’d need to burn off your favorite foods. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people were less likely to buy a 20-ounce bottle of soda when they learned that they’d have to run for 50 minutes to burn it off. Note: calorie counts for these dishes vary widely by recipe, and exercise calculations are based on a 150-pound person.
Pumpkin pie is actually one of the healthier desserts you can eat during the holidays—the gourd is an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, and a slice racks up fewer calories than other seasonal favorites. Just be sure to limit yourself to one-eighth slice of a pie.
Calories: 323 per slice
Burn it off: Ice skate for 41 minutes
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The main ingredient in apple pie is, of course, apples. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the sweet treat is a nutritious food. One slice contains 14 grams of fat, with 5 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s one of the safer bets on the holiday dessert table.
Calories: 296 per slice
Burn it off: Build a snowman for 53 minutes
From the best, we segue to the worst. Pecan pie is notoriously high in fat and calories. Why? The main ingredients are butter, sugar, corn syrup, eggs, and pecans. One slice racks up 41% of your daily allowance of total fat, with 27 grams (5 saturated).
Calories: 503 per slice
Burn it off: Shovel snow for an hour and 15 minutes
Sweet potato pie
If you must have sweet potato pie over the holidays, at least follow a recipe that excludes the traditional meringue topping. The mixture of well-beaten egg whites and sugar adds about 125 calories to your slice.
Calories: 510 per slice
Burn it off: Go snowboarding for an hour and 11 minutes
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A giant turkey leg supplies a day’s worth of fat (54 grams) and enough calories for two large meals. Why not have a serving of turkey breast instead, and pair it with just a small portion of the dark meat? You’ll save over 800 calories.
Calories: 1,135 per leg
Burn it off: Run a Turkey Trot 5K race—and then run it three more times
Don’t let the relatively low calorie count fool you: bread stuffing is still a dieter’s disaster. This type of stuffing is no more than seasoned white bread cut into small hunks and soaked with melted butter. This year, try making your own stuffing.
Calories: 150 per 1/2 cup
Burn it off: Run for 15 minutes
Having a cup of eggnog is like drinking a small meal. The sugar, whipping cream, eggs, and your choice of brandy, rum, or bourbon add up to 11 grams of fat (7 saturated), 150 milligrams of cholesterol—half a day’s worth!—and 20 grams of sugar.
Calories: 223 per cup
Burn it off: Cross-country ski for 25 minutes
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A braised pot roast will be one of the healthier options at your holiday dinner table. Pot roast is made with chuck, a leaner beef cut, and is usually cooked slowly either in the oven or in a slow cooker along with carrots and potatoes.
Calories: 280 per 3-ounce serving
Burn it off: Showshoe for 34 minutes
The main ingredients in fruitcake are dried fruit and nuts. That’s not so bad, right? Wrong: dried fruit is a sneaky diet saboteur. Since dried fruit is just regular fruit with the water taken out (and sometimes with more sugar added in), a cup of dried fruit packs five to eight times more calories and sugar than a cup of the fresh stuff. And although nuts are filled with good-for-you fats, they need to be consumed in moderation.
Calories: 410 per slice
Burn it off: Chop firewood for 1 hour
Cranberry sauce (canned)
Though canned cranberry sauce doesn’t rack up as many calories as many of the other dishes on this list, you’d be better off making one of our delicious and healthy cranberry recipes instead. Why? Many cranberry jellies are made with high fructose corn syrup, which some studies show contributes to obesity more than regular sugar. (Besides, do you really want to eat something in the shape of a can?)
Calories: 110 per 1/4 cup
Burn it off: Go sledding for 15 minutes
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Sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping
Oh, sweet potatoes. The sweet spud packs 438% of your daily value of vitamin A and 37% of your vitamin C, and they’re also a good source of calcium, potassium, iron, and fiber. Too bad mixing them with scoops of brown sugar and topping them with marshmallows pretty much cancels out those benefits.
Calories: About 250 per scoop
Burn it off: Downhill ski for 35 minutes
Mashed potatoes with gravy
A typical mashed potato recipe features cream, salt, and lots of butter. You know what that means: calories and unhealthy fats. Cut the calorie count of your recipe in half by skipping the gravy altogether, limiting the butter to 1 tablespoon per potato, using naturally creamy Yukon Gold potatoes, and swapping in reduced-fat milk for the cream.
Calories: 230 per 3/4 cup
Burn it off: Do jumping jacks for 23 minutes
A candy cane is one holiday sweet we can endorse. Sure, they’re made from sugar and…not much else, but at 60 calories, having one (just one) won’t wreck your diet. It also takes a while to eat one, which will make you more satisfied in the end.
Burn it off: Walk up and down stairs for 7 minutes
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Nothing says Christmas dinner quite like a juicy glazed ham. Lucky for you, a serving of the traditional dish only sets you back 120 calories. A 3-ounce slice also supplies 16 grams of protein, which will help fill you up (and with any luck eat less off the dessert table). Just be sure to choose a low-sodium piece of pork.
Calories: 120 calories per 3-ounce slice
Burn it off: Go hiking for 15 minutes
The good news: dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and has been shown to reduce blood pressure, protect the heart and brain, and curb cravings. The bad news: a chocolate orange is made with milk chocolate, which doesn’t boast the same benefits and contains a lot more sugar. Indulge in a couple squares of 70% cacao dark chocolate with an actual orange instead.
Calories: 230 per 5-slice serving
Burn it off: Sing Christmas carols door-to-door for 77 minutes
Having a glass of red wine a day may boost heart health, but that may not be the case when it comes to mulled wine. Served warm and mixed with cinnamon, cloves, and orange, some mulled wine recipes also call for added sugar. Make your own healthy indulgence by nixing the sugar altogether by intensifying the spices.
Calories: 183 per glass
Burn it off: Walk up hill carrying a 10-pound turkey for 22 minutes
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Cutout sugar cookie
Cutout cookies in the shape of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and reindeer may be the ultimate comfort food. Not only do they taste delicious; they also bring back fun childhood memories. As long as you have just one, they’re a relatively guilt-free treat. Try a healthier spin on the classic recipe with this whole-wheat version.
Calories: 126 per cookie
Burn it off: Stand for 1 hour
Green bean casserole
Take a can of green beans, a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, some fried onions, and what do you get? A total sodium bomb. Sure, it’ll only cost you 120 calories, but canned foods are notoriously high in salt. One tiny scoop contains 550 milligrams, or about a quarter of what you’re supposed to consume in an entire day.
Calories: 120 per scoop
Burn it off: Volunteer at a soup kitchen for 27 minutes
Popcorn is a healthy whole-grain snack—when you eat it plain. Rolling the kernels into balls with sugar, corn syrup, and salt probably negates any of the nutritional benefits. For a healthier holiday treat, sprinkle your popcorn with cinnamon.
Calories: 170 per 3-inch ball
Burn it off: Walk through snow for 30 minutes
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With potassium, iron, and no added sugar, apple cider is a relatively smart sipper. Try this recipe for Spiced Apple Cider, which is spiked with your choice of Calvados or applejack.
Calories: 100 per cup plain; 173 per cup spiced
Burn it off: Do 15 minutes of body weight exercises in your living room
If losing weight is one of your new year’s resolutions, then you’ll want to cut back on booze. But go ahead and ring in the new year with a champagne toast. You’ll easily burn off the bubbly when you get back on the dance floor.
Calories: 90 per 4-ounce glass
Burn it off: Hit the dance floor for 18 minutes
Be sure your gingerbread recipe contains real ginger. In addition to adding flavor to your cookies, the multitasking spice also soothes achy muscles and improves blood flow and circulation.
Calories: 158 per cookie
Burn it off: Go holiday shopping for 1 hour
As long as you stick to one handful, the nut bowl serves up a healthy holiday snack. Nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember, unsalted nuts are best.
Calories: 172 per ounce
Burn it off: Rake leaves for 34 minutes
Pile a few sides on your plate along with your slice of prime rib, and you’ve consumed enough calories to last you an entire day. Eating a lot of red meat has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and a shortened lifespan, but an occasional indulgence in a lower-fat cut, like tenderloin, is OK.
Calories: 1,035 per slice
Burn it off: Play touch football for 2 hours