Measuring Your Food: Is it Necessary?

Going along with the theme of new beginnings, many people are re-starting a healthy eating plan this fall. One of the questions that I get asked a lot is whether it is really necessary to count calories or measure your food. For most of us, the answer truly is YES. Here's why....

What gets measured gets managed. -Peter Drucker

There are tons of apps out there for tracking your food and exercise (personal favorite is MyFitnessPal). But the fatal flaw in the tracking system is that YOU enter in the portion size. So if you suffer from portion distortion, or even just regularly estimate incorrectly, you're going to end up with poor results.

Do you find yourself frustrated with your weight loss results? Are you making the right food choices, but haven't seen the scale budge? Feeling like you want to give up? Then try one more thing for me: measure.

You don't need much to get started. If you don't have measuring tools at home, stop by a thrift store to pick up some inexpensive options. I would recommend starting with the following:

From left to right: 1 Tbs and 1 tsp; 1 cup and 1/4 cup for solid foods; 1 cup for liquids.

If you start here, you can measure most things that you're going to be consuming or making. As you measure regularly, you'll get better at eye-balling it. But be careful, over time, your eyes will become distorted. Start measuring again to keep yourself on track!

What about when you eat out? This doesn't seem super practical to bust out in a restaurant. I mean, maybe you're not ready to be that person. Consider other visual clues:

From left to right:

  • a deck of cards or an iPhone = 3 oz meat or seafood
  • DVD or CD = 1 pancake, waffle or tortilla
  • 4 dice = 1 ounce of cheese

These are rough estimates, and not going to give you those precision results, but they're a place to start.

Maybe you can't bring yourself to measure EVERYTHING you eat? What about starting with the diet-busters. These are concentrated sources of calories, fat, or sugar, as well as the things that you know you want to eat in large quantities.

For example, the diet-busters:

  • oils or butter
  • nuts and seeds
  • avocado and guacamole
  • nut butters
  • pesto, salad dressings, dips
  • honey, agave, jam, jelly
  • dried fruit

Note that many of these diet-busters are HEALTHY foods. The amount still matters!

And each person is going to have their own personal list of foods they need to be mindful of. Here are a few items that I could eat by the truck-load if I didn't measure them out first: 

  • crackers, popcorn, pretzels
  • ice cream or frozen yogurt
  • cheese
  • cereal, granola
  • pasta

Things I'm not so concerned about measuring are non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruit. I aim to get a serving or two at each meal, and don't stress past that. Starchy vegetables (potatoes, winter squashes, peas, corn) get measured, but things like onions, tomato, most green veggies, mushrooms, cauliflower I just enjoy :)

Oh, finally, you can always pick up a food scale for more accurate measuring, but that can get expensive and tedious. There are plenty of reasonable options out there (Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon, etc) for under $30 that can help you out.

What tricks have you found that help you measure your intake? What are your trigger items that you do (or should) measure out before eating?

Remember, it's not about being a control freak, or putting harsh restrictions on yourself. It's about being mindful of how much is really enough, what is reasonable, and not accidentally sabotaging yourself. Also check out my post on Why You're Not Losing Weight for more info.


Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.