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The Truth About Thanksgiving (Infographic)

This infographic was originally posted by Adam Bornstein on November 20, 2011.

Certain dates in the year exist for a particular purpose: Veteran's Day salutes those who have fought (and do fight) for our country, Mother's Day reminds us to tell our mothers we love them, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorates a man who helped change the face of history. Thanksgiving falls into the same category--only it serves a much different purpose. Thanksgiving is a day to enjoy food, and I'm not just talking about the healthy stuff. Everyone deserves a day to indulge. The key is making sure that those days are few and far between, and surrounded by general eating habits that demonstrate a little more control.

But on Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember there's nothing wrong with breaking some rules, eating a few extra calories, and indulging in dessert. In many ways, Thanksgiving is the national holiday of eating--and the behaviors of the 4 million users who tracked food and fitness with LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate Calorie Tracker during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday season. Here are a few interesting facts about the most common behaviors on the unofficial day of excess. (click on the image if you want to zoom in)

The truth about thanksgiving

Copy and paste the embed code below to embed the Halloween candy infographic on your site:

1) Turkey Spices up the Dance Floor--and the Bedroom
You know the old adage about turkey: It makes you tired. Blame the tryptophan or the extra calories, but the old myth might not be as accurate as we once thought. New research shows that protein is a better energy source than sugar. And while people are definitely less active on Thanksgiving, (more on that soon) your feast still helps you have a good time. Dancing and having sex are two activities that show a spike--and in that order. In fact, nearly twice as many people head to the dance floor than the bedroom during Thanksgiving.

2) You're Healthier than you Think
Thanksgiving is admittedly a heavy calorie day. Most people have meals that fall between 3,000 to 4,000 calories--which is about 2 days worth of eating for most people. However, it could be a lot worse. According to MyPlate data, 85% of people choose white meat over dark meat. That decision alone (depending on portion size) can save you about hundreds of calories, and about 15 to 20 grams of fat per 6 ounce serving. What's more, about 25 percent of Thanksgiving eaters also list sweet potatoes as their preferred starch. Compared to the mashed white version, you cut out about 150 calories per serving.

3) The Worst Side is Also The Most Overrated
Don't kill the messenger, but odds are your guests don't want to eat your gravy--at all. Despite its apparent popularity on mashed potatoes or turkey, 75 percent of people don't enjoy gravy on Thanksgiving and avoid it completely. Save yourself the time and stick to other sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole (or just sautéed green beans for a healthier slant).  These sides are rated as the most popular complements to your turkey.

4) Thanksgiving is the New Halloween
It might come as no surprise, but the most popular Thanksgiving flavor is pumpkin. The pie is the most popular dessert, as 70 percent of people list that as their after-meal sweet du jour. But it's also the most popular form of cookie, coffee, and bread--beating out other seasonal favorites such as peppermint and gingerbread.

Bonus fact: While pumpkin pie is extremely popular, there's a different type of sweet that's consumed much more frequently. People eat 4 times as many Clementine oranges than pumpkin pie slices on the holiday.

5) Exercise is NOT (as) Popular on Thanksgiving
Turns out, most people don’t try to earn their way to a bigger meal on Thanksgiving. The amount of physical activity tracked on MyPlate drops more than 30 percent. And it's not just people exercising for less time, its people abandoning physical activity altogether. Of the 355 activities tracked on MyPlate, 86 percent show a decrease. And while football might be the most popular show to watch on television, it's one of the least popular activities to play. (clearly my Thanksgiving is a little different than the rest of the nation) But that doesn't mean everyone takes a day off from activity. Popular forms of exercise including walking, weightlifting, and biking--all great ways to burn a few extra calories and earn more room for dessert.

No matter how you choose to approach Thanksgiving--with a healthy slant or an all-out cheat day--remember that either way can be a part of your healthy living plan. Personally, I'll create the best of both worlds: Eating the foods I love, but preparing them in a healthier way. I'll pile on lots of turkey, dine on large servings of stuffing, and dive in for dessert without any regret. But you can be sure on Friday I'll be in the gym, back on track, and thankful for the day where I was able to celebrate the joy of food.

Adam Bornstein is a fitness and nutrition journalist. With a background as a university researcher, he combines the latest in science with the techniques practiced in the trenches to provide information that anyone can use to improve their health. Formerly the fitness editor at Men's Health magazine, Bornstein is the author of four fitness books and has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, and E! News. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook

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