Accurate portion sizes can come as a shock for those just jumping in to a new diet. For years, you’ve just eaten the amount that you think will satiate your appetite. A handful of almonds here, a cup of noodles there. Whatever looked like it would be enough to keep you full. But suddenly you’ve put on a few extra pounds and have no idea where it came from. You look at the nutrition label on those noodles for the first time and realize you’ve been eating double the usual portion size. It looked like a cup, but turns out it was a whole lot more. 

Eyeballing your meals can leave a lot of room for error. Using a food scale can seem a bit obsessive at first, but those little grams and ounces could be what’s standing in the way of progress. If taking a few extra minutes to weigh out your food guaranteed your weight loss, would you do it?

It’s been said that success in fitness and bodybuilding is 90 percent nutrition and 10 percent training. That’s because the exact amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals being consumed by the body determine the muscles’ ability to grow and transform. Without food and the right amounts of that food, your workouts won’t be nearly as productive and you’ll find yourself feeling stagnant. It all comes down to the numbers. To guarantee that you are in a caloric deficit or surplus, depending on your goals, you have to know the exact amount of each food that you are eating. Sometimes foods will be pre-portioned for you with the weight and calories already listed, but not always. And unfortunately, even those supposedly measured-out packages can be inaccurate.

The viral example of portion size and why it’s important to use a food scale, is a tablespoon of peanut butter. Peanut butter is a very dense fat source and can put you over your calorie count for the day with just a few extra grams. If you’ve been using one of your silver dining spoons out of your kitchen drawer for measurement, there’s a huge margin of error depending on the size of the spoon. Some dining spoons are closer to a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or maybe more. A tablespoon of peanut butter is 8 grams of fat. A teaspoon is only 3. But if you accidently scoop a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, you could get up into the 10-20 grams fast. And if you are on a limited, low-fat diet, that’s a huge chunk of your daily calories in just one bite. 

Whole foods like fruits and vegetables can also pose a problem. Things like bananas, apples, potatoes and broccoli can come in all different sizes. Fitness apps will usually give you the option of small, medium or large, but that’s all based on perspective. Using a food scale cuts out the guessing game. Even though these foods are packed full of essential macro and micro nutrients, they can be dense calorie sources full of carbs and fiber that you don’t want to overlook.

At the other end of the spectrum, you may be selling yourself short on portion size. If you naturally have a more restrictive personality, you’ll automatically cut down on your meals to keep from overdoing it. But once you measure the food, you may realize that there should be a lot more on your plate. Not eating enough can be just as detrimental to your physique as eating too much. 

One aspect of confusion is whether you should weigh certain foods raw or cooked. Chicken, for example, weighs more cooked than it does raw because it absorbs water. So if your macro calculator tells you to eat 4 ounces, does that mean raw 4 ounces or cooked 4 ounces? Typically, apps like MyFitness Pal will give you the option of inputting your food raw or cooked, and some food packaging will include this detail as well. If not, I find the easiest way out is to just weigh everything cooked. The vast majority of food items are tracked this way as a default and it’s already taken water weight into account. 

The most important aspect of this predicament is your consistency. If you’ve been weighing your food raw for months, keep it going. If your body has been accustomed to certain portions and showing positive results, stay committed to that method of measurement. If you’re used to cooked portions, stick with that. What will throw off your progress is jumping around from one to the other and pushing your body out of its routine.

Some pro tips include: buy a food scale that lets you use multiple units of measurement. Make sure you have the option of both grams and ounces. Make sure that you are zeroing out the container that you are weighing your food in. Some food scales come with their own tupperware to keep things as consistent as possible, but that’s up to you. For liquid items like sauces, butters and toppings, it can be a pain to pour the exact amount into a container to weigh only to pour it back onto your food. To save time, place the full jar onto the scale and scoop your portion out. That way you are just subtracting from the total in the container and you can pour it straight onto your meal. Lastly, make sure your scale is on an even surface to avoid any miscalculations.

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Take it from me

I didn’t start weighing my food until the last 6 months or so, and it’s seriously been a game changer. If anything, it’s taught me to eat more food. Eyeballing made me cut down on my portions “just in case”, but as soon as I started really measuring it, turns out I should have been giving myself more all along. Especially with carbs. Rice, pasta, sweet potatoes, it all looks different in a measuring cup. Putting it on a scale guarantees that I’m getting all the macros I’ve tracked for the day and that my goals are always being met.

There are so many contributing factors that determine whether or not your body is really going to change in fitness. From your workouts, supplements, food intake, sleep, the list goes on. Neglecting one tiny thing can limit your potential, even when you’re doing all the rest perfectly. I think of it like I’m going down a checklist in my head every day and cutting out every margin of error. That way, I know I’ve done absolutely all I can to succeed. Weighing my food is just one more way I can cut out any potential for mistakes. If I leave no stone unturned and no detail overlooked, than this journey is always in my control. My goals aren’t a possibility, they’re a guaranteed outcome.