NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mardi Gras began just as the Christmas holidays ended, but if you're watching your waistline, the diet-busting holidays stretch even farther.
"Here in Southeast Louisiana, I always say the holidays start with Halloween and end with Mardi Gras, so it's not just the Christmas holiday season," says Daphne Olivier, a registered dietician.
The problem is for so many of us, it's an excuse to eat and drink like there's no tomorrow, especially along the parade route. That's where you'll find friends and family setting up party headquarters for days on end, with enough food to feed an army. And the Carnival decadence begins long before the first parades, with long lines for king cakes.
"The things that you see on a parade route are things that are either nostalgic, things like Popeye's fried chicken or something that's really convenient that you can drive and pick up and bring along with you," says Olivier. "So nobody really considers the health aspect of any kind of food during Mardi Gras."
Which is why we enlisted the help of Olivier to see just how much damage you can do taking in the sights, sounds and especially the flavors of Fat Tuesday. She says oftentimes, alcohol is the catalyst for a day of unhealthy choices. And we all know there's lots of that hanging around during Carnival, driving up our caloric intake.
Olivier says, "Just in alcohol, you could easily be consuming 2,500 to 3,000 calories easily, and depending on food, if you're eating fried chicken, king cake, potato chips, boudin, it could easily be upwards of 4,000 to 5,000 calories in one day!"
Here's a breakdown:
A 32 ounce daiquiri has on average 1,800 calories.
Two pieces of Popeye's fried chicken, a breast and a wing, have 630 calories. Add a regular order of fries and a biscuit, it's another 520 calories for a one meal total of 1,150 calories.
When it comes to snacks for the parade route, the smallest bag of chips you can buy will be at least 150 calories.
Some New Orleans favorites like boudin on the grill have 330 calories for a 6-ounce serving.
One cup of jambalaya with meat in it will set you back 400 calories.
And don't forget the king cake, which is a bit of a challenge. Bakeries rarely include the nutritional breakdown on the package. The experts say there's a pretty easy way to count those calories though. A 1-inch slice of plain king cake contains more than 100 calories.
A more likely scenario is a 2.5 to 3-inch slice, which is about the same width as your iPhone.
That'll run you closer to 300 calories. Add some filling, and it's even more fattening.
Olivier suggests planning ahead with healthy snacks like nuts, veggie and fruit trays, so you don't derail your diet between now and Fat Tuesday.
She also suggests eating a meal before you head out to the parades.
And she says focus on your environment.
"Remember why you're there. It's to have fun, to be with friends and enjoy the festivities," Olivier says. "It's not really about the food. You can eat Popeye's chicken seven days a week. It's not really about the food. You can get that anytime."
Before you know it, Lent will be here and in a dieter's world, that's the perfect time for giving up all the bad stuff.