Are You Eating Too Much?

You’re Probably Eating More Than You Think You Are

Try this experiment. Portion out the following items according to their serving size:

  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • ½ cup of rice
  • 3/4 cup of cereal

Don’t weigh them out; eyeball your measurements. Now, weigh the amounts you eyeballed, using a food scale set to grams. How close did you come?

Most people (myself included) don’t do a great job of eyeballing portions. Three-quarters of a cup of cereal looks mighty skimpy in my cereal bowl. I like a peanut butter sandwich to have double coverage (keeps the jam from soaking through the bread, a legitimate concern). Left to my own devices, I probably use a quarter cup of pb on there.

Portion Control

Let’s take peanut butter for example. Peanut butter—and nut butters in general—are a perfectly suitable component of a healthy diet. Nuts and nut butters are healthy and nourishing. They are also extremely calorie dense. So much so, in fact, that you should view them not as a protein source, but as a healthy fat with a protein bonus.

A serving of peanut butter is 32 grams, or 2 tablespoons. But “2 tablespoons” is vague and iffy when you’re measuring a sticky solid. If you round your tablespoons, you might actually be getting 50 percent more peanut butter than the serving size. Or you might leave 10 grams of peanut butter behind in the spoon, getting less than the serving size on your sandwich.

So how do you measuring peanut butter correctly? There are a couple of ways to do it. If you’re making a sandwich, put your bread on the scale, zero it out, and then put the peanut butter on the bread and weigh it. Or you can line the scale with a little piece of waxed paper and spoon the peanut butter onto that.

Now maybe that seems a little extreme, weighing out peanut butter for a sandwich. Refer to the experiment we did earlier. And if you’re hungry when you make your sandwich, I guarantee you that your “2 tablespoons” will be quite a bit more than the 32 grams they’re supposed to be.

Does It Really Matter?

Yes. If you want to lose or maintain your weight, you will have to observe portion sizes. This becomes especially important if you suffer from type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, because you need to be in close control over your intake of carbohydrates and fats.

There are many portion maps available that correlate serving sizes to familiar household items. For example, a portion of chicken breast should approximate a deck of cards, or a baked potato should be the same size as your closed fist. These can be useful for measuring lean proteins or veggies, but I probably wouldn’t rely on them to measure fats or carbs. Personally, I have no idea what a “Ping-Pong ball” of peanut butter looks like, and I don’t trust myself not to make it a golf ball. A serving of pasta, rice, or cereal should approximate “half a tennis ball,” but I have no real idea what that looks like.

The Upshot

Your diet can be made or lost on portions. You can eat the healthiest foods in the world, but if your portion sizes are off, you won’t lose weight and you might even start gaining. There may be a world of difference between an actual serving of cereal and what you think constitutes a serving. The difference adds up in the form of excess calories and, eventually, pounds.

Get a reliable food scale and use it. Eventually you might be able to eyeball those amounts with more accuracy, but don’t rely on that, especially if you’re hungry. Weigh out your portions.

If you want to use a portion-correlation map, choose one that uses your hands, rather than household objects, as measuring components. Your hands are sized according to your body, so they’re a better measure. I would use this method only when you have some experience measuring out your portions and can somewhat reliably guesstimate amounts. This is useful if you’re dining away from home frequently and don’t have another way to measure your servings. If your goal is weight loss though, I highly recommend investing in a scale and using it as much as possible.

Portion control


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