Food & Fitness

Portion Distortion

One of the fun new toys that I received as a house-warming gift was a digital kitchen scale. Squee! I’ve always wanted one of them. I like being able to measure out food gram for gram. This will also make life much easier when trying to cook from a Nigella Lawson book (trying to convert weight measurements to measurements in cups or teaspoons is a sure way to get a headache).

As I was making my morning oatmeal last week, I decided to see how accurate my cup measurements were when compared to the digital scale. I scooped out my 1/3 cup oats and carefully weighed them. I am aware that food measurements can be highly inaccurate, so I was expecting to find that I had been eating far more than the cup measurement was telling me.

Such a pleasant surprise to find that I was dead wrong! I had been serving myself about 10 grams fewer than the 140-calorie serving size the container of oatmeal suggests.

Next I measured out my vegan chocolate rice protein powder. Although the container calls the 60-calorie serving “one heaping tablespoon”, I usually level off my tablespoon (because I have always assumed that, again, the container measurement is wrong). The digital scale proved me wrong yet again: it turns out that “one heaping tablespoon” is actually equal to about two levelled tablespoons!

Unfortunately, the same discovery did not hold through when I measured out peanut butter and popcorn (the popcorn wasn’t going into my bowl of oatmeal, don’t worry. That was on a separate occasion). My usual “serving size” of nut butter is a couple grams more than the serving size on the container – I had guessed as much. As far as popcorn goes, however, the serving size was bang on what I thought it would be when comparing the cup measurement to the digital scale measurement.

Having several different perspectives is really important so that we can get a well-rounded view of things. Making guesses is great, but if we have the tools to verify our assumptions, so much the better!

Which do you use: cup and teaspoon measurements or weight measurements? Why?


  1. Andrea@WellnessNotes

    I don’t have a food scale (but I have always wanted one). I use measuring cups and sometimes I simply “eyeball” it. But I always try to keep portions in mind (as not paying attention to portions once got me into lots of trouble…). So a scale would definitely be a good thing to “double check” things…

  2. Sagan Morrow

    Steve- Granted, I certainly do not measure ALL my food. Or sometimes I’ll measure it and still eat double or triple the portion I ought to be eating. Sighs!

    Andrea- I like being able to double-check things! It’s nice and a great reminder that even if we eat the same thing day after day, we won’t necessarily be able to eyeball it… studies have shown that even bartenders who have worked every day for ten years will misjudge how much is in a shot if they have to eyeball it rather than use a measuring device. If even the professionals can’t measure accurately, then I definitely don’t trust myself to be able to do it!

    Dr. J- Hehehe, I just need to make sure that I FOLLOW portion control 😉 Also your site keeps not letting me read your columns, boo.

  3. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    Lacking a fancy, schmancy digital food scale (not that I’m jealous or anything), I have to rely on old-fashioned cups and spoons, or my old dial scale. This gives me the idea that I should put a digital food scale on my Christmas list!

    You’ve also made me wonder how crushed popcorn would taste in oatmeal. There’s a new flavor of ice cream I’ve been hearing about that has crushed popcorn in it, and people have been raving about it. If they can do it to ice cream, it should be good for oatmeal, too. I’ll let you know if I try it. 🙂

  4. Pubsgal

    Both! Portion creep has bitten me in the posterior too often over time, so I regularly go back and either weigh or measure stuff as a “refresher course.” I typically use the scale for things like meats, cheeses, yogurt, and fruit. I use measuring cups or measuring spoons for the dry stuff (oat bran, flax). I haven’t been measuring out my peanut butter or nuts lately (*looking innocent and whislting*). So I guess I need to do that.

    That’s great that you’re pretty well on track with eyeballing things! It’s not the easiest skill to develop, especially with the super-size plate ware out there now. Which is why you might see me eating off Snoopy plates on my food blog. 😉

  5. Emergefit

    I once saw legendary bodybuilder Frank Zane measuring grains of salt at the dinner table. I vowed right then and right there to live a life without food measuring 🙂

    Although I love what you wrote, and see the value, I’m just not a numbers guy — for me, I think the truth is in the actions and the results of those actions cultivate better instincts. Again, not disagreeing with you, just not my path.

  6. FatFighterTV

    I use measuring cups, spoons, and/or a scale depending on my mood. 🙂 And sometimes I don’t use anything at all. I love my kitchen scale – it really helps in recipes! I have had one for such a long time and can’t imagine not having one!

  7. Sagan Morrow

    Cammy- Popcorn in ICE CREAM? Hm. Much as I enjoy them each on their own, I’m not sure I’d want to combine the two… 🙂

    Dr. J- Wouldn’t dream of it!

    Pubsgal- I think it’s important to re-check as a “refresher”, like you say. I’ve got my eye on some small plates and bowls at one store… as soon as I have some disposable income, I’ll be buying myself a nice little present 🙂

    Reeni- Cups and spoons still work pretty well!

    Emergefit- To each his own! I’m generally not a numbers person, either, but when it comes to nutrition, I’m all over it.

    FatFighterTV- I find that taking a break from it is equally important. And definitely dependant on the mood.

    Diane- Break the bread dough into pieces, perhaps? Hehe.

  8. Kelly

    Hi, I ran across your blog and see that your beliefs are very much in line with my own. Do you happen to accept guest posts? If so, would you be interested in an article about how we make ourselves sick by succumbing to the normal world factors that we experience every day? Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you

    1. Sagan Morrow

      I’m certainly open to accepting guest posts, provided that they fit with the content and beliefs of this website. Please feel free to e-mail the article to me (sagan.morrow[at]gmail[dot]com), and I will read it over and let you know if I think it would be suitable!

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