Fast Food Facts: How Long Does It Take to Burn Off Your Meal?

Research shows we don't have a sense of how many calories are in our fast-food meals, and that the more caloric the item, the more likely we'll underestimate the amount. So how do we get better at knowing how much we're putting in to our bodies--and how much we'll need to move to work it off?

By Perri O. Blumberg
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    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    New Harvard research: 25 percent of people surveyed underestimated their fast-food intake by at least 500 calories.

    On average, adults and kids thought they ate 175 calories fewer than they actually did, and teens were off by 259 calories. (When the survey was conducted, none of the chains were posting calorie counts on their menus, which included McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, KFC, and Subway.) However, in another study from Texas Christian University, researchers used food menus listing the number of minutes it would take to walk off the items and found those may help people make healthier choices. So: Can you guess how much exercise you'd need to work off the following?

    Courtesy of Subway

    Subway's 6-inch Double Roast Beef Sub, Veggie Delite Salad with Fat-Free Italian Dressing, and Medium Iced Tea

    How long would you have to jog to work off these fast-food calories?

    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    Subway's 6-inch Double Roast Beef Sub, Veggie Delite Salad with Fat-Free Italian Dressing, and medium Iced Tea

    Jog for 57 minutes and you'll burn off this 455-calorie meal.

    Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

    Wendy's plain Baked Potato and small Chili

    How long would you need to lift weights to work off this meal?

    Design Pics/Thinkstock

    Wendy's plain Baked Potato and small Chili

    It would take two hours of weight lifting to burn off this 460-calorie fast-food meal.

    Courtesy of McDonald's

    McDonald's Mighty Kids Meal of Double Cheeseburger, French fries, and chocolate milk

    How much frisbee would a kid need to play to work off this fast-food meal?

    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    McDonald's Mighty Kids Meal of Double Cheeseburger, French fries, and chocolate milk

    This kids' meal, which is 840 calories of fast food, would take a solid 4 hours and 3 minutes of frisbee-playing to burn it off.

    Courtesy of Domino\'s Pizza

    Domino's slice of medium cheese pizza

    How much bike riding, at 12 to 14 miles per hour, do you think it takes to work off one slice of this pizza?

    Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

    Domino's slice of medium cheese pizza

    To burn off just one of the 210-calorie slices, it would take 22 minutes of biking at 12 to 14 miles per hour.

    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    Cosi: Bombay Chicken Salad with a tall cafe blend coffee

    How many minutes would you need to do sit-ups (at a moderate intensity) to burn off this fast-food meal?

    Adam Gault/Thinkstock

    Cosi: Bombay Chicken Salad with a tall cafe blend coffee

    If you want to work off this 481-calorie meal with moderate intensity sit-ups, you'd need to go non-stop for 93 minutes.

    Courtesy of KFC

    KFC's 3 Crispy Strips with Green Beans and 3-inch Corn on the Cob, and a medium Diet Pepsi

    How long do you think you'd have to spend washing dishes to work off this fast-food meal?

    Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

    KFC's 3 Crispy Strips with Green Beans and 3-inch Corn on the Cob, and a medium Diet Pepsi

    This 475-calorie meal can be worked off with 3 hours and 5 minutes of washing dishes.

    (Note: All calculations are based on a 150-pound person. Exercise equivalents are rough estimates; actual results may vary based on weight and intensity.)

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    Your Comments

    • dave

      You never “burn off” fat. Once a fat cell is formed, it is there for life. The best you can do is shrink them or get liposuction.

    • scodavis

      If it takes you 3 hours and 5 minutes to wash dishes, then you have a lot more problems than eating a fast food meal.

    • Munchme-I’mAburger

      If you guys read the introduction, well then you’re fatass couch potatoes for not understanding it:

      “and how much we’ll need to MOVE to work it off?”

      This article explains how much movement it will take to work off the calories of each meal, not how much exercise you’ll need to perform you lazy chops. Too lazy to read the introduction properly, now I expected more from you people.

      Good JOB RD!!

    • Kessabug

      What they fail to mention- you burn a good 80 calories an hour sleeping- why not just sleep a few hours? What about ‘not eating’? Living life in general burns calories too- why not compare it to counting stars or window shopping?

    • Diane Phillips-Herman

      Why the hell do they go from real work outs to washing dishes? Stupid.

    • PJ

      Really? Why would I care how many minutes of exercise to burn my meal? It’s my meal, for crying out loud! Knowing how many calories are in the meal is good and all of these I was within 100 calories. We do have to eat. I have to agree with Jennifer, this was STUPID and not based on anybody’s reality.

    • Jennifer Good

      This is stupid. 1) Everything in moderation and 2) Yeah, it WOULD take 93 minutes to burn ANYTHING doing sit ups, but you don’t want to mention a treadmill, or anything that actually raises your heart rate so it SEEMS like a lot more. Jeeze, RD, I expected more from you.