Are your serving sizes stopping your progress?

Sophie Edgington - Nutritionist | 14 Mar, 2021

If a member asks me why their weight loss has slowed down when they swear they are eating healthily, the first thing I ask them to check is their portion sizes. If you've been using Nutracheck for a while, it's easy to feel you know the ropes, so you stop weighing food, but what can happen is size creep! And a little underestimation of calories here and there soon starts to add up. If you think your diary is looking good but your weight isn't reflecting, it's time to get back to basics.

The most straightforward way to cut calories is to reduce your portion sizes. A third less food on your plate is a third fewer calories consumed. Some foods are easy to control as they are naturally 'portioned,' e.g. a slice of bread – others are less so such as dried pasta or rice – or the ultimate danger, 'sharer' bags of crisps and snacks!

When it comes to guessing, even the nutrition experts get it wrong! Research with dietetic students found that they struggled to estimate portion size accurately and therefore calorie counts from photos – with only 38% correctly guessing the weight of the food pictured to within 10% of the right figure. The best guessers were those who regularly cooked and weighed ingredients.

This goes to prove that if you estimate portion sizes, you will probably be consuming more calories than you think. The only way to get an accurate calorie count is to weigh food until you have an excellent picture in your head of what a 'serving' looks like.

Cereal shockers

Let's start at the beginning of the day. For many of us, problematic portions occur first thing in the morning when we open the cereal box and start to pour. The serving sizes given on cereal packets are often more fantasy than reality. On average, the recommended portion is 40g – yet when you tip this amount into a bowl, it can look a bit inadequate.

We tried a little experiment and asked people to pour out what they estimated to be a 40g portion of 3 popular breakfast cereals. The results were fascinating – pretty much everyone served themselves way too much (91% of people overestimated muesli!)

This demonstrates the importance of weighing your breakfast cereal.

10 foods you should always weigh

There are other foods – that must be measured if your goal is weight loss. The ones listed below are super easy to overconsume. Learning about portion sizes is key – you need to be able to visual what a serving looks like. Make your kitchen scales your best friend, or find a scoop or small bowl to help you to portion control the food. But the important message is to ALWAYS weigh or measure, don't guess – or you may unwittingly be eating hundreds more calories than you thought.

  • Oil
  • Nuts
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Nut butters (peanut butter etc)
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Pasta

Record exact brands

Once you've nailed the weighing side of things, it's also important to record the exact brand you're eating. It may sound like a small point but the calorie content of the same food or drink can vary considerably depending on the brand.

The Nutracheck food database contains over 300,000 products. The best way to find and add a food to your diary is to scan the barcode on the pack using the app. If you are only using the website, you can still use the barcode search in the 'Add Food/Drink' panel to ensure you select the exact product.

Here is an example of why it's important...

A medium slice of non branded wholemeal bread in the database has 78 kcals.

A slice of Warburtons wholemeal bread contains 104 kcals per slice – that's 26 calories more.

If you ate 2 slices of toast for breakfast and had a sandwich at lunchtime (2 slices), that is 104 kcals more in total, or 33% more.

This is just one item of many you will eat over the course of the day - which is why we say be brand specific with your food tracking.

Make your food (and calories) go further

With some simple switches, you can make your food go further, or at least trick your mind into thinking you're eating more than you are. Here are some of our favourite hacks:

  • Making homemade chips? Dice your potato instead! The smaller chunks will cover more of your plate and create the illusion you're eating more.
  • Mix cauliflower rice with normal rice. You'll still be enjoying regular rice but eating less of it to cut the calories (and get some 5-a-day in!)
  • Freeze chocolate. It will take a while to eat, so you get to enjoy it for longer (but mind your teeth!)
  • Use a smaller plate. This is a classic one – the idea is to ensure your eyes see a full plate, which your brain interprets as acceptable – even though you're eating less food. Give it a try tonight and see if it works for you!
  • Grate cheese finer to use less. Sounds crazy but it's true!
  • Fill your plate with veggies/salad first (at least half of the plate). This means you'll have less room to pile on the more calorific foods.

Tip to remember!

If your weight loss ever starts to slow, the first thing to check are your portion sizes. Over time, it's easy for these to creep up, especially if you've got relaxed about measuring food. So our advice is always to get back to basics – leave the kitchen scales out, weigh your food and check that the portion size you're adding to your diary is actually the quantity you're eating.

Nutritionist Sophie Edgington (ANutr), BSc Nutrition is passionate about practising evidence-based nutrition and debunking the multitude of inaccurate myths that so readily surround food and health information. Her goal is to ensure we are all able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding our health.