Habits of Healthy Eaters: Measure Portions

By , SparkPeople Blogger
My boyfriend recently started measuring what he eats and tracking it on SparkPeople. As it turns out, the oversized bowls that he uses for pasta hold more than 2 cups of noodles. A serving size is half a cup, so he was often eating four times what he should have been! That's an extra 250 calories.

He also discovered that the "splash" of half-and-half he used in his coffee was more like 3 tablespoons--60 calories and 6 grams of fat. Multiply that times two cups of coffee seven days a week and that's an extra 840 calories and 84 grams of fat.

Measuring portions helps keep you on track, and it keeps you from convincing yourself you only had "a few" chips when you know the bag was full when you opened it. (No one else does that? Just me? OK…) Find out how to recover from portion distortion.

  • Use measuring cups. It's just as easy and quick to serve yourself using a measuring cup as it is with a spoon or a ladle. You'll be exact every time.

  • Visualize your portions. What does a half cup of pasta look like? (a billiard ball or a cupcake liner) How much meat is 3 ounces? (a deck of cards) Learn what to picture when you serve yourself, then take our Portion Distortion quiz to reinforce what you've learned.

  • Shrink your dishes. That half cup of pasta looked skimpy in the large, deep bowls we were using. Once we used smaller bowls, the pasta with broccoli (1 cup, or the size of two billiard balls) and marinara sauce (also 1/2 cup) seemed like much more food.

  • Take advantage of generous portions of fruits and vegetables. A serving of leafy greens is one cup; that's the size of a baseball. Once you've got a serving of dairy, protein and a couple of whole grains, fill up on vegetables. You can trick your eyes into thinking you're eating more calories than you really are.

  • Liquid calories count. Unless you're drinking water, use the tallest, skinniest glass possible. Studies have shown that people pour more liquid into short, squat tumblers. Use a glass measuring cup to pour your milk, juice even wine to make sure you're drinking what you think you're drinking. A serving size of juice is 6 ounces (about the size of a hockey puck), and a serving size of milk is one cup (8 ounces, or the size of a baseball). Wine is slightly lower: 5 ounces a serving.

Once you know how to recognize a proper portion size, you can put away the measuring cups and trust yourself. Until then, a cheap set of measuring cups can help keep your portions under control.

NOTE: Weighing food is another option. However, as we're not on the metric system in the States, it's not always a familiar system of measurement.

Do you measure or weigh your food? How do you monitor portions?

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I used to be fanatical about measuring everything. I do still measure a lot of stuff, but I have become much better at "eye-balling" food. It's something that comes in handy, especially when eating out or at a friend's house. But, I do still check myself sometimes on my eye-ball measurements to make sure I am still on track.
I've also found that the foods that I used to think one serving will never fill me up, are more filling. I know that I thought a 1/2 cup of pasta would never be enough. But you toss in some marinara sauce with chunks of tomato, onion and green peppers, and a salad with light dressing on the side, and a cup of milk...I'm usually not finishing everything at the end now.
I just started measuring everything this month. Just by eating the correct portion it has helped jumpstart my diet. I have already lost 5 lbs this week. I know most is water weight but before the scale only budged a pound or too. I have also started using smaller plates. I drink a glass of water prior and a glass after meals and i am full. I have had no indegestion or that "stuffed" feeling like i normally do. I went from eating 3000+ calories a day to staying below 1600-1800 just by eating the correct portion. Report
I know all this has to be true nut I never took the time to do it. But after reading this article I am determined to start putting these tips into action. Report
This article is right on the money. I used to only measure my treats to make sure I wasn't over doing those, however, after joining this site I can now see how important measuring everything is. It has turned out to be a real eye opener. Report
I agree with this article. I measure everything. Before i serve dinner i measure a portion and put it in the fridge for lunch the next day. It is amazing how these changes have helped in my weight loss effort. Report
I agree with this article. I measure everything. Before i serve dinner i measure a portion and put it in the fridge for lunch the next day. It is amazing how these changes have helped in my weight loss effort. Report
I agree with this article. I measure everything. Before i serve dinner i measure a portion and put it in the fridge for lunch the next day. It is amazing how these changes have helped in my weight loss effort. Report
I am learning to measure and identify portion sizes much better now. I love the idea of using smaller bowls. It is a "mind over matter" issue. If I think I'm getting more, somehow I might feel fuller. I bought a digital scale from walmart for less than $30.00. It weighs in both units of measure (ounces and grams). It is so handy. It comes with a cover, and it's attractive enough to leave on your countertop for easy access. My husband, and I are both on spark people, so we both get plenty of use out of it. Report
I agree with this article. I measure everything. Before i serve dinner i measure a portion and put it in the fridge for lunch the next day. It is amazing how these changes have helped in my weight loss effort. Report
Learning to use the nutrition tracker was the best investment of time ever. I use metric measurements as most food labels list grams or ml and they are much easier to remember than 23.7 fl oz (700 ml). I matched a handful to grams or half or third cups. My soup spoon is about a T. A ladle is about a half of cup. 50 g of meat is about 3 oz. I know how much my glasses and pyrex containers hold. The conversion calculator on the nutrition tracker page is a valuable discovery. I enter favorite foods from the nutrition label when I want to be exact and make food groupings often. I don't cook by recipes so that wasn't a problem. I tracked everything, usually at the end of the day. I became a muncher, snacker or frozen dinner eater without any regular meal times when my daughter left home (oops that was a long while ago!) I do like to cook so the SparkRecipe site has been inspiring and I am remembering things I used to fix. I read labels faithfully and even track the DQ Blizzard I like (looked up nutrition online). It does make a difference when I see how much artifical sounding ingredients are in a product. Keeping it simple was a priority. Current challenge is staying within the cal range, increase protein and eat at more regular times. Working all day and then eating a meal at 10:00 PM isn't good! I have tracking lapses when I get busy yet the portions sizes remain a part of my daily life. Report
I have used portion control for a long time .. but it is hard to tell others that there taking to much.. My 12 year old is wanting me to do this for her now.. It is hard for her not to eat what her friend are.. But she is been good so far.. She wants to loos 20 lbs.. Before everyone get up set her doc. said that would be great.. she needs to do this so it is are goal to do this together.. i need to loose a lot more than she does but i will help her and she is going to help me.. i also will not let her weigh her self more than once a week.. i do not what her to get to obsessed with the number on the scale.. i told her that if she looses it slow it will stay off.. she is not a salad eater so she eat carrot sticks cucumbers .. she will eat a little salad but not much.. i have been making a big salad and this helps me not to eat to much..
i will eat a big salad then eat meat starch after that so as not to eat to much..
she has also discovered that cottage cheese is good with fruit in it she saw be doing that and said Gross she then tried it and liked it.. also the yogurt thing she now likes so it is working out great.. She is wanting to do this so it will be good for us both.. i am letting my other daughter do this but she is fine she just wants to do this because we are.. so i will let her.. She may not need to ever worry about her weight if she does it her whole life.. the watching what you eat is the best part.. My husband will always snack at night and they will tell him that he is getting to fat and to stop.. I think that it hurts his feeling that his kids know that he is overeating Report
I hate measuring things. It makes me neurotic. However, I've gotten good at eyeballing smaller portions. I also do use smaller sized plates and I load up on fruits and veggies.

I have found that using smaller plates for food does make a difference. Eating off smaller plates means I am putting less on that plate. So yeah... it has made a difference.

I weigh and I measure, because otherwise, I lie to myself about portions. It's making all the difference for me! Yeah SparkPeople! Report
Since joining SP, I weigh and measure my portions whenever possible (which is almost always). To ensure I have an exact measurement when weighing food, I have a conversion chart posted in my kitchen along with a recipe sizer (in case I want to cut a recipe in 1/2 or into 1/3. The recipe sizer also has a section for doubling a recipe). Report
I either weigh or measure most of my food. I have some glasses that I know where 8oz of milk comes to. Unless something is "pre-packaged"-measured I most always put it in a cup or on the scales.

I use a cup to measure out of the pans that it's cooked in.

I love my scales -- I can put a plate on them - zero them, add food, zero again if I want to add more.

Scales make me more honest.

I also know that I'm not one that can eat "out of bag" or "out of bowl". I don't seem to know when to stop.

I don't measure everything but I have made great improvements in this area. I count out chips, and crackers, etc., and then put the bag away. I measure rice, pasta and the ounces in cooked meat. Because of all the wonderful pictures of recommended sizes, i.e. playing cards, golf ball size, or tennis ball, fists - I've learned to visualize according to those pictures.

But today, I read a great suggestion from someone here on spark. I think she said it was a suggestion made at a WW meeting. She bought a children's divided plate and has started using it for every meal. Awesome idea. They cost about $1.50. You can buy the "Diet Plate" for about $30.

I plan to pick one up the next time I am at Wal-Mart. Report
I have been measuring my food portions for years now and using smaller plates and have found it to be very helpful. When people see how much I eat and then look at me, I know they were wondering if I did that then how did I get to be the size I am. My problem was also eating the wrong things - I love bread and pop. Now that I've eliminated pop from my eating habits and also switched to 100% wheat bread for some other type of healthy bread and monitoring those sizes also, I'm beginning to see a difference. Eating 6 small meals a day keeps me pretty full. For example, one meal might be 1/4 spaghetti sauce (made with plenty of peppers, mushrooms, onions and salf free tomato sauce and spices) with 1/4 cup ground turkey is quite filling. Report
I use measuring cups as my serving spoons. That way you don't over eat. Also I do not put food on the table. I leave it on the stove. That way you have to walk to the food and you don't pick when your finished. Report
Weighing everything is time consuming but I have realized it is nessessary. Did you ever look at peoples plates and an all you can eat restaurant. Wow it just amazes me. Report
This is very good .. I have been having a rough time also with this . Plus this is a habit I am having to change to achieve what I want .. I have read also the comments and have taken away some outstanding ideas .. THANKS TO ALL YOU WISE S.P. Report
Barb - I'm totally with you! I cook big meals of stews, soups, stir-fries, and then portion them into tupperware containers for me and my roommates to take to work. Trying to figure out how much I put in there, in what quantities, and sorting out the nutritional information seems like so much work, that I haven't found the motivation to do it yet!

Personally, I've decided that what I'm going to pay more attention to is how much oil, fat, salt, protein and grains I put in. So knowing how much broth (and how high sodium it is) that I'm putting in, knowing how much coconut milk I put in my curry, how much oil I throw in the pan before putting in my garlic and onions, is something I can control.

But maybe this is just me being lazy! Report
I measure everything when at home, and eye ball it when I eat away from home. My scale does both grams and lbs so I am getting use to the grams in a serving too. Measuring servings is what has helped me the most. Packages/servings are deceiving unless you measure (imo) Report
I measure and weigh everything. I 'm actually workng on my 2nd food scale since I started my SP adventure, I guess I over worked the fist one! Report
I also find it a little annoying sometimes to enter all food items in my recipes. However, I find the benefit well worth it. Once the recipe is entered (in sparkrecipes), you never have to do it again. Depending on what you make, there may be the same, or similar one, already there.

Logging everything really helps me - and it's even rubbing off on my hubby. He now tells me how much of everything he put in the meal. We make a lot of healthier substitutions, too.

I also think that I have gotten really good at "eyeballing" even though I don't do it very often - usually only when I'm out and about. I measure everything at home - yes servings are smaller than I thought, but I am now adding way more veggies to supplement

This is a great article. This is probably one of the BIGGEST pieces of education I have received from Spark! Portion control. I already knew I was eating portions that were OVERsized, but it was incredible to me to get measurements on correct portions. WOW! Report
My measuring cups and spoons are the most important things in my kitchen. I use them every day!! Report
My husband says that I am obsessed but I measure everything. I have a food scale and measure cups and spoons. I usually use the food scale the most because everything is in grams for serving sizes on the boxes. However, with rice and pasta and things like that I always use my measure cups. I love them and they were well worth purchasing because it has shown me how much I was eating before and has allowed me to continue with my lifestyle change process and losing weight!! Report
Portion control is key for me. I have a scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons. I don't have them at work, but I am getting good at visualizing the portion....or just taking things in that I know will be okay. Report
I also always measure & I'm careful of my portions!! I never want to go back to what I was!!.. Report
I measure and weigh everything. I'm no good at eye-balling things. Call it a spatial relations challenge or whatever. I don't panic when I eat out, but I try to pick things that won't break my calorie bank if I under-estimate the portion size. Drives my family crazy to see me haul out the scale and the measuring cups and spoons for every meal and snack that I prepare, but I tell them to get out of my kitchen and just enjoy their good health. Report
I, too, was amazed at how many extra calories I was consuming. When I joined spark people three months ago I measured everything. I bought an inexpensive food scale so I could get the right portion size on meat and other items. Now I know how large the slice of banana bread should be to measure 1 oz. I also started going by the package serving sizes. Cereal is 1 cup not the whole bowl even though the bowl is a cereal bowl. I have managed to lose 16 pounds and have not altered my diet agreat deal. I have cut out potato chips and cola as even if I measure I am very apt to consume too much. Of course getting at least 90 minutes of cardio exercise and some strength training each week has contributed to the weight loss too. The old saying about "everything in moderation" is very true and really easy to apply to one's daily diet. Report
I measure everything, using cups, measuring jugs and the scales. I was amazed to see when I started out that I had been eating twice the recommended portion of almost everything, breakfast cereals, slices of bread for my sandwich etc. One of the most important things I have learnt with Sparkpeople while on this journey is the importance of portion control. Sounds good when you say it, and I say it a lot. "Portion control is important". As a result I have lost over 13 kilos ( 28 lbs) since September. Report
I need to measure. I'm still not good at eyeing portions, even with small plates. And I've gone to measuring in grams because I was appalled to find out my rough measured Tablespoon single serving of something like mayo or dressing was often more like the equivalent of 1 1/2 or even 2 when measured in grams. And since speaking to the food companies, they only promise accuracy in their portion size for the METRIC measurement...the teaspoon or cup portion is "only an estimate" and per one company, "not supposed to be used as an indication as to how many people you can serve with one of our products." Wow!

Barbt...in response to the 'pain in the neck' aspect of being a multi-ingredient cook who makes up your own recipes as you go, yes, I do that, too. And yes, there are times it's a real pain to do it.

Especially since lately I've been using a new scale and weighing things in grams because it's so much more accurate--you'd be surprised how much leeway I can manage with measuring cups, lol--and then you find ingredient components only listed in Spark in a different unit of measure than you used, and wrote down, and you're back to guessing, which I, btw, am still not good at. Often enough, I even have to go track down nutritional info online for something not available, then hand enter the info for the ingredient and then add it to the recipes. Yikes...if only I were getting paid!

Oh wait...I am. I've lost over 70 lbs, I'm down almost 5 dress sizes, I'm gaining self respect and discipline, and I'm learning how to manage big goals on a daily level. The best way I've found to manage this onerous task is in two parts: 1) I often just scribble it all down on paper and enter it later and 2) I cook really HUGE batches of food, then immediately portion it out, and put a whole bunch of single or double serve containers in the freezer, labelled with the recipe name and date. Later, I enter it in SparkRecipes and save it to my favorites, this way, whenever I have leftovers--I'll usually do about 2 dishes a week--or when I pull out one of those freezer dinners, I can grab it off my favorites list. This way it limits my maual inputting to a couple time a week, sometimes less.

Oh, btw, one other good trick, be sure to list, somewhere in the recipe title, the recipe instructions exactly HOW MUCH 1 serving is. It drives me crazy when people make a big recipe and then just say, makes about 15 servings. Is that serving a half cup, a whole cup, what??? Report
I hate the metric system, so I will continue to lose POUNDS and measure my food in cups and ozs. LOL Report
BARBT1956: I have the same issue. I also will make a lot of stirfrys & such with lots of ingredients. I stopped logging in food most of the time b/c it just took too long when I eat lots of different multi-ingredient meals everyday. I tracked & measured everything for a while, so at least I have a decent idea how many calories I've eaten most days. If I'm really not sure & think I may have eaten too many non-veggies, I'll go ahead and track just to check. Report
Hi, no I don't weigh everything. I am a creature of habit and currently have a protein drink for breakfast and lunch. I add to that some fibre, frozen berries etc, I don't snack as plenty full, so I really only have to think about dinner, am losing weight so it is working for me, the drinks are convenient too. We eat fresh veges nearly every night plus we grow our own tomatoes, I eat cherry ones if I am looking for something. Report
I certainly do measure the amount of food I eat, and I have to check often that I still estimate right after some time not doing measuring, because I tend to "stretch" the quantities up (of course! LOL)

I have invested into a set of glass containers with lids that contain just 1 cup, and when I cook a batch of rice, pasta or any other grain, I fill those little containers and store them in my fridge for quick ulterior use. It is very convenient because I don't have to measure when I am in hurry. It also benefits my kids as I know exactly how much grains I give them to eat.

I also do that with vegetables - although I don't worry about eating too much veggies.

This is a great blog! THANK YOU! :-)) Report
BTW - the Italians don't eat pasta as an entire meal - only as one course - as a side dish. If you love pasta, serve yourself the 1/2 cup portion and eat it with steamed vegetables, a big salad, and a bit of seafood or chicken. You won't feel deprived! I'm pretty sure the Italians don't. Report
I have a very difficult time because I don't cook using recipes. I hate having to try and calculate the caloric value for what I am eating because I basically have to enter each ingredient individually into the database and then identify how much of it I ate. I find it takes me over an hour per day to record what I eat. I don't want to have to limit myself to plain chicken breasts, plain vegetables, and a plain sweet potato when I prefer making a stir fry of every thing I have in the house or a stew or something else wonderfully healthy and fabulous tasting. This totally frustrates me and makes recording what I eat a real pain. Does anyone else struggle with this or am I just being a whiner? Report
I weigh or measure just about everything I eat. It can be a real surprise to see what an actual serving of something is. And like others have stated, after a while you get really good at telling what an ounce is. Report
I don’t want to measure or weigh food on a regular basis and I don’t. Life just shouldn’t be that fussy if you can avoid it. I’m usually pretty good at seeing things as they are. Every time I check I do pretty good. So I think I’m fairly safe right now if I track what I see…

Ofc knowing that you have 2 or 3 ½ cup servings of pasta on your plate doesn’t mean you’re not going to eat it all if you want it. You just track it and hope you can make it fit in with the rest of the stuff you’re eating. Still, I’ll keep measuring from time to time to keep my eye trained. Come to think of it though it’s been awhile since I eye-balled a true measure of peanut-butter or mayo. I should check on that… but all-in-all I think gesstimations are safe enough right now.

I use those visualization techniques all the time, especially when the food item looks like what you are comparing it to. Say a slice of meat with a deck of cards or a couple cubes of cheese with a pair of dice. But 6oz of juice looks like a hockey puck? I don’t often drink my juice from a Petri dish lol… ;)

Wherever possible I use tricks to make it easy. Like the way I slice up an 8 oz brick of cheese. Why weigh it out? It goes into 8 sections then I slice each section twice to make 3 slices per ounce of cheese. I could probably get 4 slices per ounce if I had a wire cutter. Anyway, if it was bought for snacking I slice it up and it’s all nicely handy in some Tupperware and premeasured for easy portion control.

It’s easier to restrain myself too if I repackage things like chips into plastic containers. I bought a bunch of containers recently on clearance but I also keep and reuse butter and other small plastic containers for this kind of thing. If I want some chips with a movie and take in a single serving I’m usually ok. If I take the whole bag to the couch I almost always eat more than one serving.

For things like snack nuts I just go by the container and just count out how many nuts they estimate to an ounce. I put them into the lid as I go then can snack slowly from the lid as I like… Saves dishes.

For liquids I measured the glasses I use and I just know now which ones are a cup or half a cup and to what lvl. The clear mugs I drink my water out of all day are two cups when filled to the top of the handle. I try to go through 4 a day of either water or tea.

If I were exercising every day as I should, and if I were staying within my calorie range most every day and eating healthy stuff and drinking water… If I did all that and I still wasn’t losing weight… Then I’d start measuring everything until I figured out where the problem is. But at this point the problem isn’t that I’m fooling myself. I see perfectly well when I’m eating too much, too often, and especially when I’m not meeting my exercise commitment. Report
It's amazing how fast the pool ball of pasta turns into grapefruit size and a deck of cards into a pile of index cards or larger. Report
Small Plates/Big Salad work for me. Portion size was a new change for us at my house, it makes a big difference in our progress. Report
"Once you know how to recognize a proper portion size, you can put away the measuring cups and trust yourself. "

is 1/2 of the statement. The other part being that you should bring the measuring cups out from time to time(about every 3-4 months) and make sure your eyeballs are still seeing the same serving and havent grown. It's amazing how fast the pool ball of pasta or deck of cards for meat can grow when unchecked.
I weigh and measure all I can -- everything at home, if I'm not preparing something where a one package = one serving. Sometimes it is tricky to convert the measurement I'm able to get (say, ounces) to the measurement in the SparkPeople food database (e.g., grams). But here's the solution I found:


The system at the above link will convert any weight measurement to any other weight measurement, or any volume/cooking measurement system to any other volume/cooking measurement. No more guesswork!

(And with the online food database, I've lost 20# since mid-October... thanks, SparkPeople!) Report
I measure my food regularly. Report
Somebody responded by asking who could be satisfied by eating 1/2 cup of pasta?? I was raised eating pasta at least 2-3 times a week, and I would HEAP a dinner plate (9-10 inches) with spaghetti, 3-4 meatballs or chunks of sausage, and even go back for seconds!!! By the time I was 12, I was out-eating my father!
Unfortunately, by the time I was 18, I was in size 18W pants, with no clue about portions or the damage I was doing to myself. Within a short time, I had ballooned up to a size 24W, and stayed that way for over 20 years.

Now, when I cook pasta, I limit myself to maybe about a cup of cooked pasta with my dinner. Pasta is also something I may have once or twice a month, as my husband doesn't like tomato sauces, and I don't do alfredo. The important thing is, however, we always have a huge salad with it first, along with our water. The smaller portion isn't such a bad thing when I can still have the taste and savor the flavor once in a while! Report
I've started measuring portions as well. It's amazing how many servings I was consuming. Report
I try to measure everything. The problem I have is when it say's serving size "one" for me it then becomes a judgement call and that's when I get into trouble. Report
YES!!! I measure everything I eat and have since July 22, 2008. I have lost 73#s doing so. It seems like madness at first and you also think I cannot possibly get full off of this. But in time you get past these thoughts...especially when you see results. If I happen to go out and eat I have to visualize my serving sizes, or I ask for a to go container when the waitstaff asks if there is anything else they can get. I immediately box up half, or more, to take home for another meal. I found it hard to believe when my doctor told me I probably consumed between 4-5,000 calories a day...now I can believe it!! Report