At 7:00 on a cold January night, I turn on a portable electronic scale. I carefully pour the white powder onto the scale’s brushed-metal surface, watching the LED display flash to life. One gram, two grams, three, four…five grams. Perfect. I slide the fine powder off the scale and onto a bowl of gleaming spaghetti. Dehydrated mozzarella cheese dusts the crimson marinara sauce, like snow falling over a redrock desert.

I’ve spent 87 days weighing everything I eat, a nutrition regimen that, despite making me feel like equal parts cocaine kingpin and fitness-obsessed lunatic, has taught me more about weight management than I would have ever imagined.

I’ve always been a relatively fit guy. I work out at least four days a week—CrossFit, long trail runs, yoga, you name it—and I watch what I eat, sometimes even tracking calories. I’ve been called a Type A slacker, taking a Jeffrey Lebowski approach to the Tim Ferris lifestyle. And my casual method always seemed to work. At my last checkup, the doc said my health was great, and I’d finished in the top two percent of some decent-sized half marathons. Still, at 6’1″ and 185 pounds, I wasn’t as lean as I wanted to be. My BMI was on the higher end of what’s considered normal, and my hips often hurt after long runs. I wanted to see if shedding some weight might improve my fitness and help me look like Tyler Durden in the process.

I called Trevor Kashey, an Ohio-based registered dietitian who owns Relentless Dietetics. His suggestion was simple: weigh everything I eat. A lot of the Kashey’s clients are exactly like me, he said. They train hard and often, but they came to him because they were suddenly losing a step or not seeing the results they wanted in the mirror or in the gym. Diet is usually the problem, Kashey said. Nearly everyone radically underestimates serving sizes, especially in calorie-dense foods like oils, nuts, salad dressings, and nut butters.

Kashey is something of a diet prodigy. He got his BS at age 17, and his PhD in molecular biology at 23. And his methods apparently work. His Facebook page features dozens of before-and-after photos from clients to prove it. I was happy to let him be the brains of my nutrition.

For my first week, Kashey instructed me to eat my normal diet but to measure everything. On day one, I take a banana out of the freezer to make the same breakfast smoothie I’ve had every morning for the past half-decade. This time, though, I first place the banana on the scale: 130 grams. Next, I fire up MyFitnessPal, a free calorie-counting app that includes the USDA-verified nutritional stats of thousands of foods. I select “banana” and type in its weight in grams. I repeat this with almond milk, frozen blueberries, yogurt, walnuts, and protein powder.

When my wife walks in, I try to explain this new nutrition program. “That sounds exhausting,” she replies. Indeed. It takes me twice as long to make breakfast, and I wonder if this project is going to feel like a part-time job. At lunchtime, though, I become enlightened.

Like breakfast, I always eat the same lunch: a protein shake and a sliced apple with a serving of peanut butter. It tastes good and takes no time or effort to prepare, and I always figured it was a smart choice, delivering around 500 calories and a nice balance of carbs, fat, and protein. But when I weighed my peanut butter, I realized that what I had always assumed was one serving was actually three, or about 600 calories. My “light lunch” delivered the calorie equivalent of a BigMac and medium fries. “When you learn how much a serving of peanut butter actually is,” Kashey later told me, “it is completely soul crushing.”

There were more depressing lessons at dinner. I learned that those little snacks I munch on as I cook—a few carrots with hummus here, a cracker there, a piece of cheese for good measure—add an extra 300 calories. My chicken breast is nine ounces, not six. My potato has 279 calories, not the 100 I’d always assumed, and, of course, it takes way more than one serving of sour cream to cover a baked potato.

After week one, I send in my data, and Kashey gives me a new daily calorie and protein goal: about 2,500 and a little more than 130 grams, respectively. From now on, I’d use the scale to hit those numbers and weigh myself every morning. Each morning, I’d pull out the $14 Etekcity food scale I bought on Amazon and pour exactly one serving, or 30 milliliters, of half-and-half into my mug of coffee. At lunch, I’d weigh my apple and the one serving—32 grams—of peanut butter to slather atop it. At dinner, I’d work the scale overtime, measuring my cooked chicken breast, baked potatoes with sour cream, and mixed vegetables. I was using my food scale as much as my cellphone.

At the end of each week, the food data would again get sent to Kashey, along with my daily scale weight and progress pictures. He’d crunch the data, then raise my protein target and calorie load by 30 to 50 daily calories a week. “I’m looking for the amount of food where your weight stabilizes,” he said. “When you begin accurately measuring, you inevitably lose weight. Once we know the amount of food you stabilize at, then we can decide if we want you to gain or lose by tweaking that number.”

Slowly, the weight started to come off. Half a pound one week, a pound the next. Four months in, my weight settled at around 173—a loss of more than ten pounds. And we now had a daily calorie goal to keep my weight stable: about 2,950.

Kashey’s plan was not easy. Some meals were quick and easy to measure, like my lunch of apples and peanut butter. More complicated recipes, however, required a mathematician’s mind. I’d have to determine exactly how many servings I was using of each ingredient, add all those numbers to determine the entire dish’s caloric load, and then calculate how much of the dish I ate and divide.

Weighing food also makes people think you’re a crazed narcissist. My office mates squirmed when I stopped eating cake at office parties (I didn’t want to do the math), and friends began to resent me for my supposed self-control. Instead of being present, chatting, and enjoying a meal, I was logging data. It also became a spontaneity killer. If I was going out to dinner with my wife, I had to know the restaurant’s exact hours beforehand so I could visit its website and figure out the calories in what I planned to order. I began thinking of food as a plug-and-chug numbers game rather than a pleasurable universal necessity humans share and enjoy together.

That said, it was worth it. After a few months on the plan, I’d lost more than ten pounds. I’m now the leanest I’ve ever been, and my fitness has exploded. For years, my hips had ached after any run longer than five miles. Shedding the weight means less overall stress on my joints. My pain is gone no matter how long I run, and I’m running faster at a lower heart rate. In the gym, I’m just as strong as I was before I started, which means I’m stronger pound for pound.

I want to weigh my food for the rest of my life as much as I want to mow the lawn every day. Four months was enough. (Just ask my wife.) But through Kashey’s plan, I learned a few important lessons about food that will surely linger and help me stay lean and fast for the long haul.

Those Little Things You Eat Add Up

When I used to get home from work, I’d typically graze around the kitchen as I prepared my dinner. I thought things like cheese and chips and salsa were harmless, insignificant snacks to tide me over before dinner—until I started logging them. Some nights those mindless appetizers packed in more than 400 calories.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

Fad diets will have you believe that to lose weight you need to cut out certain food groups, macronutrients like carbs, or just “eat clean” (whatever that means). But research consistently shows that weight loss lives and dies with simply burning more energy than you’re consuming. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what you eat so long as you’re eating less energy than you burn, says Kashey. If you keep your calories below threshold, you could technically lose weight on a diet of Skittles, pizza, and Big Macs and still lose weight. (Would it be healthy, though? Definitely not.) Throughout this experiment, I ate a nightly bowl of Lucky Charms with whole milk. I also ate foods like burgers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peanut M&M’s.

The key, as with all diets, is moderation. Those foods won’t fill you up, and they pack in more calories. Foods we consider healthy—vegetables, fruits, lean meats—are filling but contain fewer calories compared to processed foods. If you can feel full on fewer calories, you’re more likely to go into a calorie deficit, or the state where you’re burning more energy than you’re consuming.

Potatoes Are Miracle Workers

In the mid-1990s, researchers in Australia set out to determine which foods are the most filling. They created a metric called the “satiety index” and found that potatoes ranked highest, which is exactly why I ate potatoes five nights of the week.

A couple small potatoes at dinner keep me full until morning and contained just a couple hundred calories. Potatoes are such an effective weight-loss tool that magician Penn Gillette lost 73 pounds after eating only potatoes for 83 days.

Finding Go-To Meals Is Key

After a couple weeks on my plan, I’d settled into a routine, finding a right-size breakfast, lunch, and a few dinners that I’d eat most days of the week. This made my life easier, removing much of the tedious thinking and planning that went every ounce of food. Now that I’m phasing off the plan, I’ll still take the same approach. By having a handful of healthy go-to meals, you can better control what you eat.

Eat “Enough” Food

I’d always viewed weight management as a matter of eating more food or less food. Kashey says a better way to look at it is to eat enough food. Enough isn’t too little or too much; the former leaves you underfueled, while the latter adds pointless pounds. Enough, on the other hand, is the sweet spot that leads to an ideal weight. Kashey, for example, has worked with men and women who were overweight because they were eating too little, which resulted in frequent binges. A regular bump in healthy calories gave them fuel to exercise harder and kept them satiated for longer.

Filed To: Weight LossNutritionDiet Lead Photo: Kelsey Dake

It’s easy to think that you’re eating correct portion sizes. You measure a salmon filet by the size of your palm and judge the peanut butter you spread on toast to be no more than a teaspoon.

Yet, studies have found that most people underestimate their portion sizes, especially for high-calorie foods such as peanut butter, nuts, sauces and salad dressings. And if you’re hungry, research suggests that you’ll miscalculate portion sizes to a greater degree than you would after eating a meal.

Studies have also revealed that dieters who measure their food are more successful at losing weight compared to those who don’t.

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Enter the food scale, a tool I often recommend to my clients.

If you’re embarking on a meal plan to lose weight, using a digital food scale will ensure you’re not consuming more calories than you think you are. If you’re logging your food intake on an app, weighing food portions will allow you to accurately track your calorie intake.

The food scale advantage

Unless you’re really good at it, the eyeball method of sizing up portions can be off, sometimes by more than 100 calories.

No doubt you’ve heard that three ounces of chicken, fish or meat is the size of your palm. Yet we don’t all have the same hand size.

A palm’s worth of salmon could weigh three ounces, but it could also be six ounces, delivering an extra 155 calories that you don’t account for.

When it comes to whole fruits and vegetables, terms like small, medium and large are subjective. A medium-sized sweet potato weighs 114 grams and has 100 calories while a large sweet potato weighs 180 grams and contains 160 calories.

Measuring cups are quicker and more convenient than a food scale. Keep in mind, though, that the amount of food that fits into one cup can vary, especially for calorie-dense foods like cooked grains, nuts and fruit.

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The calories in one cup of quinoa, for instance, will depend on how much of it you pack down in the measuring cup. One cup of diced avocado will likely have more calories than one cup of larger chunks.

These calorie differences may seem small, but they can add up over the course of three meals, day after day, enough to slow down – or stall – weight loss.

A digital food scale isn’t just a weight-loss tool. Weighing protein-rich foods can ensure you’re eating enough of the nutrient to help build muscle in the gym.

Learning portion sizes by weighing foods will also make it easier to recognize right-sized portions when eating in restaurants.

What to weigh, what to measure

Keep the food scale on the kitchen counter so you’ll be reminded to weigh your meals.

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Use measuring cups and spoons for liquids such as milk and juice, cooking oils, salad dressings and nut butters.

After weighing and measuring foods for a few weeks you’ll be able to eyeball portion sizes more accurately. Pull out the food scale every so often, though, to make sure your portion sizes haven’t crept up, which can happen over time.

Portion control tips

Not everyone wants, or needs, to weigh the foods they eat. And let’s face it, overestimating by half an ounce of chicken or 2 tablespoons of rice isn’t going to prevent you from achieving results.

Another approach: Serve meals on smaller luncheon-sized plates (8 to 9 inches in diameter). The plate will look full and you’ll end up eating less.

Divide your plate into quarters. Fill one-quarter with protein, one-quarter with whole grain or potato and the remaining half with cooked vegetables and salad.

In some cases, weighing foods isn’t recommended. Weighing and measuring foods can become an unhealthy obsession for people with disordered eating.

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I also don’t recommend that parents weigh and measure foods in front of their children. Doing so can influence a child’s perceptions about food and healthy eating.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

Say goodbye to those gross dieting fads and pricey gym memberships. Turns out, weight loss starts right in your kitchen—but it isn’t (technically) a diet. According to journalism professor Michael Easter, the secret to losing weight isn’t even to weigh yourself. You should weigh your food, instead!

The reason why is simpler than you might think. Believe it or not, putting your food on a scale can reveal a lot more about your eating habits than putting yourself on a scale. Weighing your food helps you get an accurate idea of exactly how much you’re eating down to the calorie, not what the serving size says on the box. It also teaches you what a common serving size looks like, so you can eyeball it in the future. (You can also try these genius portion control tricks for quick weight loss!)

“When starting a diet, measuring food is an important part of learning about correct serving sizes,” Madeline R. Vann, MPH wrote for Everyday Health. “A food scale will show you that the portion you thought was four ounces may actually weigh eight ounces. That’s the kind of mistake that could derail your diet.”

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And it really works! Easter spent his mornings running the canyon trails outside of Las Vegas, where he lives. But when he started to have knee pain, a nutritionist recommended weighing his food to track how many calories he ate per day. The results totally shocked him.

“I had the same lunch every day and it was a protein shake with an apple and peanut butter and it’s like, ‘Oh that’s totally a healthy lunch—this is a great lunch.’ But when I weighed peanut butter for the first time I was taking like three servings and I thought it was only one,” Easter told NBC News Better. “So here I was thinking I’m eating 200 calories, but I’m really eating 600.”

And Easter isn’t alone. A national survey found that, among more than 6,000 adults, those who measured their food were more successful at losing weight and keeping it off than those who did not.

If you’re convinced and ready to try it, experts recommend investing in a scale that shows both grams and ounces. Of course, you should still hold on to your measuring cups, because those help you track your calorie intake, too.

Long story short: When it comes to watching what you eat, you won’t only need to avoid those diet-busting foods. You’ll also want to invest in a scale (but keep it in the kitchen—not the bathroom!).

Ever feel frustrated because you’re eating all the right foods but your pounds aren’t melting away? Even though you’ve cut carbs, ditched fats and passed on the booze, your weight-loss efforts aren’t being rewarded. Maybe you’re suffering from portion distortion. There are a few simple remedies.

Portion Control Devices

First of all, stop relying on your own body parts — like your hand — to judge portion size. It’s not consistent or reliable. Instead, use universal items like:

  • a deck of cards, which looks like a 3-ounce portion of protein
  • a tennis ball, representing a cup of pasta
  • one die, like a teaspoon of nut butter

Or, you can try a a number of products that you can find online that are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and will take the guesswork out of measuring.

Measuring cups

Measuring spoons can help you weigh out high-calorie fats like oils (120 calories per tablespoon) and nut butters (100 calories/tablespoon).

Measuring cups can keep grains like cereal, rice and pasta in check (1/2 cup cooked grains or pasta is 1 serving, equivalent in calories to a slice of bread).

If need a new set of cups and spoons, you have a wide array to choose from whether glass, metal, plastic), color, and price — and the number of pieces you need.

If space is an issue, some sets are collapsible like this 8-piece set made of silicone.

Leepiya collapsible Measuring Cups and Spoons, $11 (Originally $21), Amazon

Leepiya collapsible Measuring Cups and Spoons, $11 (Originally $21), Amazon

Besides the space-saving feature, an important attribute for measuring equipment is that the measurements (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 teaspoon, and so on) are engraved or raised on the surface and not just printed on. If you wind up using these devices frequently, over time the print will wear away.

Portion control containers

If the containers you saved from restaurant delivery services have mismatched covers and are never the size you need, this 7-piece 21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Containers Kit comes with:

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  • a 12-day meal planner
  • a guide showing how to use the containers
  • a recipe ebook

The system is color coded so you can match various containers to the amount of daily proteins, carbs, fruits, vegetables and fats you require, depending upon the amount of calories you need to consume. The containers are BPA-free and easy to store and carry along to work or on-the-go or when you’d like to pre-measure the amounts of food you plan on eating for the day.

The set includes a sample grocery list, meal tracker, and other guides to help you account for your daily intake. Beyond the 21 days you’ll have to repeat the positive behaviors you’ve learned over the previous three weeks. This is a good set to help you jump start and balance your diet plan.

21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Kit + Planner + Recipe eBook, $13 (Originally $50), Amazon

21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Kit + Planner + Recipe eBook, $13 (Originally $50), Amazon

Digital food scale

Are you over- or underestimating portions? A food scale is the most precise way to tell. You could try an inexpensive postal scale, but digital scales are reasonably priced and easy to use and store.

The Ozeri ZK14-AB Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale lets you measure in grams, pounds, ounces or millimeters and it even allows you to convert grams to pounds, and so on.

Results are displayed on a LCD screen powered by 2 AAA batteries (which are included). To save battery life the scale automatically powers down when not in use.

Ozeri Digital Kitchen and Food Scale, $15 (Originally $35), Amazon

Ozeri Digital Kitchen and Food Scale, $15 (Originally $35), Amazon

To take the food scale to another level, the EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale – Professional Food and Nutrient Calculator can also calculate calories, carbohydrates, fiber, sodium, fats, vitamin k and six other nutrients from thousands of packaged and whole foods by using the built-in codes or the nutritional calculations found on food labels.

This scale weighs in grams and ounces and runs on 4 AAA batteries (included).

EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale, $40 (Originally $42), Amazon

EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale, $40 (Originally $42), Amazon

A food scale is most helpful if your judgement of portions sizes is inaccurate, but the goal is to learn to use your eyes and estimate portion sizes so that you can feel confident about measuring portions when outside of your home. This food scale is useful for those following recipes, even when weight loss is not a goal.

Portion control plates

A more subtle way to assess the amount you should be putting on your plate, especially when you’re dining with others, is to use a dish that is sectioned.

Since most healthy eating plans say half your plate should contain fruits and veggies, with the remaining half divided equally among proteins (like meat, fish, poultry, tofu) and carbs (such as grains, pasta, potatoes), divided plates are a reliable visual guide.

The Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions comes with a meal plan guide to help with proper portions for kids and adults. You can get these plates with just a design dividing the plate into sections or with display words. That way you’ll know what goes in each section and how much you should be eating.

Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions, $30 for 2, Amazon

Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions, $30 for 2, Amazon

Precise Portions also makes portion control snack and cereal bowls for breakfasts and mid-day noshing.

Portion Control Cereal & Snack Bowls, $35 for 8, Amazon

Portion Control Cereal & Snack Bowls, $35 for 8, Amazon

Additionally, the brand sells microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe section plates with lids that are perfect for lunches or leftovers.

Portion Control To-Go Plates with Lid, $30 for 4, Amazon

Portion Control To-Go Plates with Lid, $30 for 4, Amazon

The takeaway

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight or just maintain the body you have, you should be aware of how much food you’re consuming. If you don’t watch your portion sizes, you may not fit into your favorite sizes!

Want to learn more about how to get fit and eat right? Today Health has a whole collection of healthy cookbooks to jump start your diet, as well as digital smart scales to keep you on track.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, is the founder of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.” You can find her on Twitter @eatsmartbd and Instagram @bonnietaubdix.

<!– <p>We all know how important portion control is for maintaining or <a href=”/drop10″ target=”_blank”> losing weight</a>, but it’s definitely one of those things that’s easier said than done. Many times we think we can eyeball a portion, but studies show that most people underestimate the amount of food that they are actually eating. Using measuring cups and spoons is always a good way to keep sizes in check, but what happens when they are in dishwasher or you just don’t feel like using them? That’s why we need other ways to keep an eye on our portion sizes. With these tips and tricks, portion control will be much easier to do!</p>–>Portion control is one of those healthy-eating tricks that’s definitely easier said than done. You can try eyeballing it, but studies show that most people underestimate the amount of food they’re eating (and therefore eat way more calories when they should) with this technique. So what do you do when your measuring cups are in the dishwasher or when you just don’t feel like using them? Try my handy tips and tricks below!

  1. Juice: Buy clear glasses with horizontal stripes on the outside. Before you drink out of them for the first time, measure out 6 oz. of water and pour it into the glass, then take note of the line the water reaches (i.e. it stops at the third red line for a 6 oz. portion). Then you will always know how to pour the perfect serving size of juice!
  2. Meat, Vegetables and Starches: Try eating off of plates that have the three sections (one larger section and two smaller sections, like a picnic plate). Fill the larger section with vegetables and the smaller sections with a meat and a starch.
  3. Cooking Oil: Try attaching a control pourer top to your oil bottle. This allows only a set amount of liquid to be poured at once. Bartenders often use these to make sure they don’t overdo it when making a drink, but they are great to use for cooking as well.
  4. Mashed Potatoes, Rice, Beans: Trade your serving spoons out for a half-cup ice cream scoop. It’ll save you the step of using an extra measuring cup and you’ll still know how much is on your plate.
  5. Quiches, Cakes, Frittatas, Souffles: Try baking them in a muffin tin! They are cute, fun to serve and perfectly sized!
  6. Burger Patties: Save the lid to a large container of peanut butter after you finish the jar. Wash the lid, then use it as a mold to keep the patties’ portions in check.

What are your favorite portion control tips and tricks?

Comments? Requests? Tweet me @sarahjaneRD or @SELFmagazine or find me on SELF’S Facebook Page! Related Links:

How to Finally Stop Stress Eating
Your Super-Simple Diet-Friendly Grocery List
Shed 2 Pounds This Week!

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,

There’s a difference between “portion size” and “serving size.” A portion is the amount you pile on your plate, while a serving is a standard measurement of food, such as a cup or an ounce.

The best way to determine the amount of food in a serving is to measure it out. And precision is key: If you eat too little, you could rob your body of the nutrients it needs. And if you eat too much, you could ingest too many calories, and eventually put on weight. That said, measuring and portioning food can be a real pain. To help you meet your weight loss goals–or stabilize that number on the scale—use this guide to get your portions right.

Raw Vegetables or Chopped Fruit

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Cooked Veggies

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Whole Fruit

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Fruit Juice

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Dried Fruit

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Cheese

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Tuna or Chicken Salad

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Yogurt

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Milk

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Potato

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Bread

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Waffle or Pancake

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Rice, Couscous, or Quinoa

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Cooked Pasta

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Cereal

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Pretzels or Chips

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Oil or Butter

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Nuts

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Meat, Poultry, or Fish

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4 Ways Measuring Cups and Spoons Helped Me Lose Weight

By Tina Haupert

When I gained more than 20 pounds after college, I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of myself. I was eating fattening foods (hello, nachos and beer!) and skipping my workouts at the gym, but I didn’t know where to start with losing weight.

For most of my life, my weight was never an issue. Counting calories was a foreign concept to me. But I knew if I wanted to lose those unwanted pounds, I needed to do something. Around that same time, a friend of mine told me about Fitday.com, a free online weight-loss journal that tracks calories, exercise, goals, and progress. It made keeping track of what I was eating easy—for the most part.

Foods that clearly stated the serving size (1 slice of bread, 15 crackers) or came in a single-serving package (a 6-ounce container of yogurt, a single granola bar) were easy to track. I just looked at the calorie count and entered it into my online journal. Other foods were a bit more difficult to track, however, such as cereal, pasta, and nut butters. Even though the serving size on these containers was clearly marked, I didn’t know if I was eating what was considered a serving. I halfheartedly kept track of these calories, but I knew hundreds of them went unaccounted for each day.

Eventually, I realized I wasn’t being completely honest with my weight-loss efforts, and I started to pay more attention to serving sizes with the help of measuring cups and spoons. Here’s how these slimming kitchen gadgets helped me lose weight.

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I keep them in my prep area
I used to try to eyeball high-calorie ingredients like oils and butter, but I noticed I was being way too generous with my estimates and it was costing me. A tablespoon of olive oil, for instance, has 120 calories! Same goes for the peanut butter I was adding to my morning toast. I was spreading close to 400 calories on it! Instead of overestimating, I keep my measuring cups and spoons in my prep area to help me with my portion sizes.

I don’t overfill them
Most mornings, I eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. I used to use a small cup to scoop my rolled oats from the canister, but the heaping portion was many more calories than a single serving. Now I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop my rolled oats, and I make sure to level-off them off for the perfect portion of oatmeal. At first this new serving size seemed whimpy, so I started to “plump up” the volume of my oatmeal with nutritious ingredients. My favorite combination is sliced ripe banana, ground flax seed meal, and soy milk, which makes my oatmeal creamy and fluffy.

I downsized my dishes
When I first started to measure my food, the smaller portions didn’t seem like enough to fill me up. I downsized my plates, bowls, and glasses to compensate. A regular-size dinner plate encouraged me to load it up with food, but a smaller plate looked full with much less food. Most of the time, I don’t even notice that I scaled back my portions.

I took mental notes of serving sizes
Measuring cups and spoons were essential to my weight loss, but I knew I didn’t want to rely on them forever. Once I started to get the hang of measuring, I could visualize what the serving size looked like. Eventually, those mental images stuck, and now I don’t use them all the time.

Ask the Diet Doctor: What’s the Best Way to Measure Portions?

Q: What is the best way to measure my portions? Are cups or a scale more accurate?

A: This is a good question, as there are many ways to measure portions and control calories. The gold standard of portion control is weighing. When I helped run a nutrition clinical trial at Penn State University, we gave study participants all their food and drinks for about six months. We needed to control exactly what nutrients and how many calories each person ate, and to do this we weighed everything on digital scales. So if you want university clinical trial control, then you should weigh your food.

But do you need that kind of control? Probably not.

For most people, weighing food is overkill. It is time-consuming and not much fun, and these two things can drain your willpower. Even worse, the variability in measuring will simply drive you crazy.

You know weight loss is fundamentally about calories in versus calories out: You need to burn more calories than you take in. But the amount of calories that we burn on a daily basis and our ability to accurately measures them varies.

For example, let’s say our calorie-burning estimates are only accurate to +/- 15 percent. Even if your food measurements are 100 percent accurate, you will still be off by +/- 15 percent each day because of the variability and inaccuracy of our estimates of “calories out.” As a result, you don’t need to be 100 percent accurate with your food measurements, and instead can use cups, tablespoons, and the like and still get the same results.

For most foods, the difference in measurement error between using a scale and using cups is less than the variability in our daily calorie expenditures, plus using cups is much easier and faster. If we use brown rice as an example, 100 grams of cooked brown rice is approximately a half-cup. Even if your measurements were off by 25 percent, you’d only be eating 25 more calories, a difference you could burn just by standing while taking phone calls during the day at work instead of sitting.

There are also lots of ways to estimate portion sizes of foods without weight them. Try these tricks that use everyday objects as comparisons to determine serving sizes.

The Caveat

If your weight loss has stalled and you are looking for ways to troubleshoot the problems, getting more control over your food intake and weighing your food may be warranted. But I try to use this as a last resort for regular clients, and it becomes more relevant for individuals that need to achieve rock-bottom body fat percentages due to their occupation or their sport’s requirements.

Aside from these situations with special populations, weighing your food is not worth the hassle and it won’t get you to your weight-loss goal faster.

  • By Dr. Mike Roussell

If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less – period! Any diet in the world only works because it controls the amount of food you eat. There are lots of different diets, some better than others, but without a doubt they all work because they artop you from eating as much as normal.

There are lots of ways to eat fewer calories including:

  • Eat less fat
  • Eat fewer meals
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Eat more protein and less carbs
  • Eat from smaller plates
  • Choose lower calorie options
  • Cut out sugar

However, the easiest way to make sure you are eating less but not starving yourself is to use portion control containers.

Many eating plans specify how many calories you need to eat or how many grams of protein, fat, or carbs you are allowed. These numbers might be based on your metabolic rate, how much weight you need to lose, or some other arbitrary number.

However, if you have targets to hit, you are going to have to know more about the food you are eating. How many calories does it contain? How many grams of fat? How much sugar? You get the idea!

This invariably involves weighing and recording all the food you eat. You might use a calorie tracker app to make this a little but easier but, however you do it, you are going to have to get used to the idea of weighing all your food.

I don’t know about you but that sounds like a lot of work to me! And as soon as any diet seems to be more trouble than its worth, I know I’ll give up on it pretty darn fast. I’m not alone either – many of our readers have the exact same opinion.

Thankfully, there is an alternative to counting calories that is every bit as effective but way, way, WAY easier! That method is portion control containers.

Portion control containers are brilliantly simple but super effective. Each container is designed to measure one specific food group. Instead of weighing your food, you simple measure it with the appropriate container.

There are different brands available and this are my favorites.

If you are doing 21 Day Fix, I recommend this 2 options as this are the ones designed to be used with the 21-Day Fix eating plan.

In that set, you get seven containers, each color-coded so you know which one to use when.

  • Purple = fruit
  • Green = vegetables
  • Red = protein
  • Orange = seeds and oils
  • Yellow = carbs
  • Blue = healthy fats and cheese

Using the portion control containers, you can easily control your food intake without having to weigh your food. For example, you might make your main meals from two green containers full of veggies, one red container of protein, one yellow container of carbs, and half a blue container of healthy fats.

If you follow the 21-Day Fix diet, you’ll soon learn how many containers worth of food you should eat to lose weight and there are also recipes that specify which containers to use.

So, if you are fed up with either guessing how much food you should eat, or wasting your time weighing your foods, you really should try using portion control containers instead.

The 21-Day Fix ones are my favorite and you can get them direct from Amazon.com, with or without the 21-Day Fix plan.

21 Day Fix Approved Foods by Color

21 Day Fix Approved Foods by Colour – Click for Full Size

Conclusion

Counting calories really is a drag and is probably the last thing you want to do when you are preparing a meal. Using portion control containers is a very good alternative to counting calories that still allows you to reduce your food intake and lose weight. Simply put, using calorie control containers make losing weight easy!

A Food Scale: Your Best Diet Tool

If you’re on a diet, you’re watching serving sizes and calories. A great way to keep yourself honest is to use a food scale. Why? Because many people normally eat servings that are much larger than recommended amounts. A food scale teaches you portion control and keeps you from eating more than you planned.

“I definitely promote food scales,” says Liz Weinandy, RD, MPH, a dietitian in the non-surgical weight-loss program at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

A food scale can be used for any meal plan or diet that specifies a serving size in ounces. A national survey of more than 6,000 adults showed that people who measured their food were more successful at losing weight and keeping it off than those who did not.

Food Scale: How it Works

When starting a diet, measuring food is an important part of learning about correct serving sizes. A food scale will show you that the portion you thought was four ounces may actually weigh eight ounces. That’s the kind of mistake that could derail your diet.

Weinandy stresses that a food scale is only one of the measuring tools you will need; measuring cups and spoons are also essential diet implements. Food scales are best for meat, which should weigh in at 3 ounces per serving, and cheese, 1.5 ounces per serving. Cups are best for cooked pasta or rice — a serving is 1/2 cup — and fruits and vegetables.

Generally you’ll measure your food after it is cooked. However, a food scale may also be handy if you are preparing meals using meal plans or recipes that specify certain weights of ingredients.

Food Scale: Calculating Portion Sizes While Eating Out

You could take along your measuring cups and scales when eating out, but that is a bulky way to travel. Weinandy prefers teaching dieters about visual comparisons that can help guide their recognition of serving sizes on their plate.

For example, a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and a serving of pasta should fit in the palm of your hand.

“I really focus on those because people can visualize them when they are out and about,” Weinandy says.

If you frequently use a food scale at home, you will gradually become accustomed to the look and feel of correct serving sizes. Data show that exposure to correct serving sizes does help people make better choices in restaurant settings, too.

Food Scale: Choosing the Best One

Food scales range from a small plastic cup on a small plastic base to old-fashioned metal scales with weights and measures to expensive, programmable digital scales that can give you the full nutritional information for each serving size. The best food scale for you:

  • Is within your budget
  • Has numbers you can read easily
  • Has a cup or bowl large enough to hold the food you need to weigh
  • Is easy to clean and store

“What I find is that people will go out and buy one and then it ends up in the cupboard,” says Weinandy. “I usually just recommend one of the cheaper kinds. It’s not like you’re measuring your food for some kind of experiment.”

If you find that measuring your food suits you, you may want to upgrade to a more expensive model. “Some people really like to get very precise with a food scale,” she says.

Using a food scale, even if you eventually stop using it, can help you learn more about correct serving sizes, which is a good investment in your long-term weight loss and weight management plan.

Measuring and estimating portion sizes

If you are new to logging, or have been at it for awhile, you may have wondered about the best way to measure or calculate portion size. A key aspect of tracking is accurately figuring out how much food and drink you’ve consumed.

If you don’t measure your portions you’ll often underestimate how much you are taking in. If you are trying to lose weight this can lead to frustration and lack of progress. Figuring out portions of commonly consumed foods such as bread or crackers where the serving size is listed on the package, is straight forward. However, what about figuring out portions of pasta, meat, peanut butter and oils? This article delves into the details around how to calculate the portion size of foods and drinks with specifics around weighing, measuring and estimating food portions for weight loss.

How to calculate portions with accuracy Weigh your food!

Weighing is the most accurate way to measure or calculate portion size. You can purchase a kitchen scale at most big box stores or online. We suggest investing in a digital scale as opposed to an old fashioned spring-loaded scale. The digital scales are easier to use and more accurate. With a digital scale, you can easily zero out the weight of the container as well as select different units of measure (e.g. grams, ounces, etc.). Serious about losing weight? Check out MyNetDiary and start weighing your food!

Measuring volume-Use measuring cups & spoons

Another approach to calculating portion size is to use measuring cups and spoons or a glass measuring cup to figure out volume (e.g. cups, fl oz, ml, etc). These items can be purchased at big box stores or online.

When measuring a liquid, it is easier, more accurate, and less messy if you use a measuring cup designed for liquids. See below for an example of this type of measuring cup.

When measuring the volume of a solid (e.g. flour, cereal, etc.), you can use standard measuring cups (if measuring weight is not an option). Level off the contents with the flat side of a knife to get an accurate measurement. Use metal or plastic measuring cups, whichever you prefer. Standard measuring cups look like those shown in the photo below.

For measuring very small amounts of liquids or solids, you can use measuring spoons. Level off solids with the flat side of a knife. Use metal or plastic measuring spoons – whichever you prefer. They look like the ones shown in the photo below.

Buy several sets of measuring cups and spoons. That way, you always have one clean and ready for measuring.

Estimating portion size

If you have already started recording your intake, then you know how difficult it is to estimate portion size. MyNetDiary created a Portion Guide to aid in the process. Look for the open book icon (see example below) when tracking to access the guide.

Tip: Metric system is available for weight, length and volume measurements.

For more help on estimating portion size when you cannot measure, check out the Serving Size Card from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. This card displays portion size using familiar objects. Also visit WikiHow’s How to Estimate Portion Size for more helpful visual representations of portion size. See below for a quick summary.

Grain Products 1 cup cereal flakes = 1 fist
1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or potato = 1 tennis ball
1 oz slice of bread = 1 cassette tape
1 oz chips = 1 handful
Vegetables, and Fruit 1 cup of salad greens = 1 baseball
1 medium baked potato = 1 computer mouse
1 medium piece fruit = 1 baseball
1/2 cup fresh fruit = 1 tennis ball
1/4 cup raisins = 1 egg
Dairy and Cheese 11/2 oz cheese = 4 stacked dice
1/2 cup ice cream = 1 tennis ball
Meat and Protein Alternatives 3 oz meat, fish, or poultry = 1 deck of cards
3 oz fish fillet = 1 checkbook
2 tablespoons peanut butter = 1 ping pong ball
Fats 1 teaspoon = 1 dice or tip of a finger
1 tablespoon = 1 poker chip

Tip: We tend to serve ourselves more food when we use larger dishes and less food when we use smaller dishes. If you are trying to lose weight, consider using smaller plates and bowls if you are not able to measure your portion size.

Some foods are so high in calories that an error in portion size means a large error in calories intake. If you are focusing on selecting portions for weight loss this can translate to unexpected calorie intake and potentially impact your weight loss.

Therefore, I strongly recommend that you always measure the following items:

  • Fats and oils
  • Nuts, nut butters, seeds, and seed butters
  • Avocado, guacamole, pesto, dips, and salad dressings
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Syrups, honey, and sugar
  • Dried fruit

Always measure comfort & snack foods

Let’s be honest. If you consume foods straight out of the original packaging, then you have no idea how much you have eaten unless you eat the entire package. Portion out what you want, log it, and then enjoy it. You can save hundreds of calories by implementing this simple rule.

Here is a list of foods people tend to overeat unless portioning out ahead of time:

  • Ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Guacamole

Make up your own list of items and post somewhere near the food – This will help remind you to measure out these items before eating them!

Tricky portion sizes

Food labels typically display serving size as consumed, but not always. There are many exceptions that make logging a little bit tricky. Here are some tips that will help you figure out how to calculate portion size.

  • MyNetDiary uses the USDA National Nutrient Database as the foundation for the food item file. If you visit the USDA database, choose “Standard Reference” under “Select Source” – this will allow you to search basic or generic foods to find equivalent weights and measures, check to see if there is a cooked version available, and check how food items are worded if you can’t find them in MyNetDiary.
  • If you eat a food that is cooked, then ideally, log the cooked generic version of the food item. Doing so will give you the most accurate calories and nutrient content.
  • Pasta and rice. Food labels typically display 2 oz dry, which makes close to 1 cup cooked (about 220 calories). USDA has a number of cooked pasta and rice options so I would choose one of those unless you use a flavored convenience product.
  • Oatmeal and other cooked cereals. Food labels typically display the dry weight and/or volume that corresponds to 1 cup of cooked product (about 160 calories). USDA has cooked generic versions so use those unless you use a flavored convenience product.
  • Meats, fish, and poultry. Most meats shrink about 25% with cooking. For example, if you started with 4 oz raw ground beef, then the actual cooked weight of the patty is closer to 3 oz. Food labels, if available, typically list raw weight but USDA has many cooked versions of various meats to select.
  • Fresh fruit. For fruits with edible skin, there are food items with and without the skin so choose the one that you consume. For bananas, peel the banana, then measure the weight to be consumed. If you can’t measure the weight, then measure the length and find the closest description (small, medium, etc.).
  • Tip: add “raw” to your name search to find basic fresh fruit or vegetables.

Measurement equivalents

The measurements provided in the table below might be helpful when logging.

Ask us for help

If you need help figuring out how to log a food item, or just have questions about nutrition, weight, or diabetes, post us a question at “Ask a Registered Dietitian” forum in Community. We are available to help you.

Last Updated on Jan 30, 2020

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