Burn Off a Holiday Meal in 3 Days

Don’t let the season of family dinners, cocktail parties, and cookie swaps hijack your slim-down strategy. Use this action-packed plan of attack to burn off more than 3,000 calories’ worth of indulgences

November 15, 2011
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Cocktail parties, cookie swaps, and family meals help the average American pack on a pound of body weight between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and those who are overweight could gain 5 pounds or more during the holidays, according to research from Tufts University.

Dietitians estimate that a holiday meal alone—like the plate you pile high with turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, and pie—can pack 2,200 to 2,400 more calories than an everyday dinner. To burn off these calories, a 165-pound person would have to swim laps for 4.5 hours or walk almost 30 miles on the treadmill. But you have better things to do this season, like shop, string lights, and entertain guests--and that's okay. This plan of attack will show you how to use these activities, along with classic calorie-cutting tips, to burn off an oversized meal (and then some!) in three short days.

Calorie ranges have been calculated for a person who weighs 165 to 195 pounds, the average body weights for American women and men ages 20 and older.

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Day 1: Work Out with the Early Birds

You'll burn: 112 to 133 calories

If you have no trouble waking at 5 a.m. to hit up holiday sales, tackle your workouts with the same a.m. ambition. "Hitting the gym early will help you burn calories before you eat them," says Marjorie Nolan, RD, CPT, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "It keeps your metabolism up and acts as a motivator not to eat as many calories in the first place." If your gym is as packed as the shopping mall this season, snag a single set of weights and try this 15-minute full-body dumbbell routine for men or this total body kettlebell workout for women.

More: How to Become a Morning Exerciser

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Day 1: Incorporate Interval Training

You'll burn: 284 to 336 calories

Next stop, cardio. But ditch the zone-out-while-you-watch-TV type. When you have a mile-long to-do list your workout needs to be fast and effective. "Interval training--not just setting the treadmill to one speed but really paying attention to your workout and adjusting the resistance and/or speed every 1 to 2 minutes--will burn up to double the amount of calories," says Nolan. Instead of walking at a pace of 3.5 mph, which burns 142 to 168 calories in 30 minutes, alternate between walking and jogging, switching your pace between the two every 1 to 2 minutes for 30 minutes.

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Day 1: Brave Mall Crowds

You'll burn: 213 to 252 calories

Shopping in your underwear is easy, but the calorie-burn from clicking a mouse is minimal. Gather your gifts on foot to squeeze in extra activity. If the time you spend walking from store to store totals 30 minutes, you'll have burned 112 to 133 calories, and standing in line for half an hour torches another 45 to 53 calories. Take 30 minutes to wrap your purchases once you're home and you'll shave another 56 to 66 calories. Bonus points if you pick a far-off parking space and use a basket instead of a cart while shopping.

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Day 1: Cut Coffee Calories

You'll save: 65 calories

A morning of running errands is bound to make you crave a little caffeine. Instead of grabbing a sugary latte on the run, cut calories by drinking black coffee or espresso, and by switching to a low-calorie, stevia-based sweetener such as Purevia or Truevia, suggests Monica Reinagel, LDN, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast. Also opt for skim milk over coffee creamer. Two teaspoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of creamer set you back 70 calories, but using 2 teaspoons of zero-calorie sweetener and 2 tablespoons of skim milk comes to only 5 calories. These savings really add up if you gulp down multiple mugs per day.

More: 9 Incredible Benefits of Coffee

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Day 1: Clean Up After Guests…

You'll burn: 262 to 310 calories

When your in-laws, cousins, and rambunctious kids wreak havoc on your home, turn tidying up later into a workout of its own. Set a timer for 1 hour and see how much laundry, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing, and dusting you can accomplish. Bonus: Maneuvering a vacuum, broom, or mop during a speed-cleaning session requires rotational movements that work your core and oblique muscles.

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Day 1:…Or Winterize Your Yard

You'll burn: 358 to 390 calories

Get some fresh air and torch calories when you turn yard work into a 1-hour workout. Rake leaves for 15 minutes and burn 80 to 95 calories, then spend 15 minutes bagging them and blast through 75 to 88 calories. Stack firewood for 15 minutes and you'll zap 94 to 111 calories. Finally, clean out the rain gutters and torch another 94 to 111 calories in 15 minutes.

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Day 1: Lace Up Your Skates

You'll burn: 225 to 265 calories

Instead of watching the latest holiday blockbuster on the big screen (and tempting yourself with buttery popcorn and king-size confections), gather the gang and head to the ice-skating rink for some old-fashioned family fun. An hour on the ice burns as many calories as there are in 1 cup of homemade mashed potatoes. Can't skate? One hour of bowling has the same calorie-burning (and family fun) potential.

More: 6 Hard-Body Winter Sports

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Day 2: Short Circuit Your Strength Training

You'll burn: 150 to 177 calories

'Tis the season to multitask. Build strength, incinerate calories, and hit every muscle group by rotating through an intense training circuit that allows little rest between sets. Try the 2-in-1 moves in the Double Your Gains workout for men or fire up fat burning with the four explosive moves in the Crush More Calories workout for women.

Video: Burn 100 calories right now

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Day 2: Deck the Halls

You'll burn: 261 to 308

It's beginning to look a lot like fit-mas! Spend 10 minutes climbing up and down a ladder while stringing outdoor lights and you'll burn 100 to 118 calories. Head inside to retrieve boxes of holiday decorations from the attic for 10 minutes and zap 75 to 88 calories. Put up your Christmas tree to torch another 86 to 102 calories in 30 minutes. Bonus: Fill your house with holiday cheer by lighting a peppermint-scented candle. Studies show that peppermint fragrance can improve your workout, increase alertness, reduce perceived fatigue, and boost your mood.

More: Everyday Scents That Boost Weight Loss

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Day 2: Lighten Up Your Leftovers

You'll save: 183 calories

A fridge full of leftovers isn't an excuse to hit replay on past overindulgences. Instead of succumbing to the comfort of a hot turkey sandwich, enjoy your entrée au naturel with a plate of leftover veggies. Forgoing those two slices of white bread saves 133 calories, and turning your nose up to 1/4 cup of homemade gravy saves you 50 calories.

More: Cheap Foods for Cold Weather

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Day 2: Reunite Responsibly

You'll burn: 187 to 221 calories

Don't sink your slim-down strategy at the local watering hole. Instead of catching up with old acquaintances while camped out in a booth, reconnect as you play pool or darts for 60 minutes. Also schedule your reunion after the dinner hour so you won't be tempted to satisfy a growling stomach with fattening bar food. Finally, don't overdo it on drinks. "In addition to providing empty calories, alcohol tends to lower inhibitions, which may encourage you to overeat," says Erin Palinski, RD, CPT.

Success Story: Her Friends Helped Her Lose 48 Pounds!

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Day 2: Slim Down Weekend Cocktails

You'll save: 175 calories

"Alcoholic beverages are a huge source of calories that people often overlook," says Reinagel, who recommends trimming cocktail calories by choosing light beer, mixing white wine with sparkling water, and avoiding drinks made with sugary mixes, like margaritas or daiquiris. "A Bloody Mary is a nice low-calorie cocktail that offers some bonus nutrition," she says. Sip on this zesty 125-calorie beverage instead of two regular 12-ounce beers (300 calories) and you'll get a healthy dose of lycopene, a nutrient found in tomatoes that may promote heart health and protect against certain cancers.

More: 8 Beers That Won't Grow Your Gut

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Day 3: Concentrate on Your Core

You'll burn: 112 to 133 calories

When you go overboard on holiday goodies, the first place you'll feel it is in your gut. Take time to tone this trouble spot by performing this 15-minute standing abs workout (no crunches!) for women at home with a pair of dumbbells. Or torch the fat that's hiding your core and back muscles with the 15-minute Drill to Your Core workout for men.

More: Get MSN OnPoint for Fitness Tips on the Go

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Day 3: Pick an Eating Plan

You'll save: 333 to 475 calories

The CDC estimates that American men consume about 2,475 calories per day while women put away approximately 1,833 calories daily. Cut down your total consumption by adhering to a structured eating plan packed with foods that keep you full for hours. Women can enjoy tasty eats like eggs and lox, taco salad, and red wine with this 1,500-calorie flat-belly meal plan, while this eating plan for six-pack abs can help men scale back to less than 2,000 calories a day.

More: Sign up for the Flat Belly Diet or the Flat Belly Diet for Men and get 2 weeks of fat-fighting meal ideas

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Day 3: Be a Good Sport

You'll burn: 225 to 265 calories

Sure, you spend a lot of time sitting when you hit the stadium to watch a football, basketball, or hockey game, but you'll also torch more than 100 calories an hour as a spectator, especially when you leap from your seat to cheer on your team. If you're watching a game at home, don't get too comfy on the couch. "Get up at every commercial break and jog in place, jump rope, do pushups, or just march," says Palinski. "This can burn another 100 or more calories by the end of the game."

More: 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Being a Sports Fan

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Day 3: Cut Calories in Your Cup of Holiday Cheer

You'll save: approximately 300 calories

Curling up with a holiday movie and a cup of hot cocoa sure sounds cozy, but the number of liquid calories in your mug may make you cringe. One cup of eggnog packs 343 calories. A medium mint hot chocolate from Dunkin' Donuts sets you back 310 calories. A Starbucks tall gingerbread latte made with whole milk (no whipped cream) weighs in at 290 calories. Instead of indulging in high-calorie beverages and specialty coffee drinks, save your calorie budget for food, and stick to low- or zero-calorie drinks like Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea, a festive and satisfying blend of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves.

More: The Worst Holiday Drinks for Weight Loss

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Day 3: Play Active Video Games

You'll burn: 168 to 199 calories

Quickly turn a Sunday night at home into a living room workout by gathering the family and flipping on the Wii or Kinect. "Play games that use both upper- and lower-body muscles at the same time such as dancing, boxing, or tennis," says Nolan. Just Dance 3 for Wii and Dance Central 2 for Kinect are popular options. "An extra benefit is the time you and your family spend away from the dessert table," says Nolan.

More: Help Your Kids Commit to Being Fit

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Day 3: Sign Up for a Fun Run

You'll burn: 374 to 442 calories

If nothing motivates you to lace up your running shoes quite like a crazy race-day costume, sign up and start training for a holiday-themed fun run, like the Ugly Christmas Sweater 5-K Run in Colorado Springs, CO. In Milwaukee, all Santa Shuffle 5-K runners don Santa hats and enjoy holiday music along the course. Run your 5-K at roughly a 10 minute per mile pace to finish in 30 minutes and melt more than 100 calories per mile.

Use the Runner's World Race Finder to locate a festive fun run in your city.

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Day 3: Grab a Calculator

What's your tally? If you've incorporated all of these tips and activities into your hectic holiday schedule, you've likely burned between 3,600 and 4,300 calories, which technically equates to more than a pound of body fat. But don't let undoing the damage from one indulgence grant you the permission to enter a cycle of overeating and erasing. "Remember that it's not your best day or your worst day that matters, it's how you eat most days that determines your health and your weight," says Reinagel.

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