CupsWhen I get asked about nutritional advice, I think of the one tool in my possession that seems to be the most valuable piece of material I own– the measuring cup. There is no question that the best way to become successful in any nutritional path is to follow a leader. Sure, many people will begin to tell you about which calories to count, and how much fat or carbohydrates one must consume. Yet I think for the average person who has been either struggling with keeping weight off or has been trying to button up their nutrition, understanding weights and measures is going to be extremely important to you.

Let me explain.

Almond Milk 8ozWhen was the last time you actually poured out a glass of liquid into a drinking glass? I remember about a year ago, sitting down to my first portioned breakfast. I had a measuring cup of a favorite “whole grain cereal” and my carton of soy milk. (Both of which I no longer consume!) I had my trusty stainless steel 1 cup measuring device and my glass liquid measuring cup near by bowl. The cereal box suggested that one serving was 3/4C to get 110 calories of that nutrition. The carton of soy milk suggested that 8oz was their version of one serving and that amounts to another 100 calories. (80 calories if you did the fortified with DHA organic). So I scooped; and then I poured. I was completely humbled.

The bowl I normally used is a colorful bowl with stripes. I used to pour this healthy organic grain cereal to almost the top of the bowl and drench this cereal with soy milk until I saw the white liquid reach the tips of the grain squares. This was a perfect breakfast and I was happy. Until that day when I realized that my now ‘one serving’ bowl of grain squares was only up to the first blue ring; the bowl has 3 series of stripes with blue being the last of the series. The one cup of soy milk barely covered the squares and it seemed I was going to be starving. I was very disappointed, but I persevered and ate my breakfast anyway.

Next came an afternoon snack. In this case, I was led to believe that almonds were nature’s perfect snack. I still do, but in moderation. Not so much the fat I am worried about, it’s the amount of Omega 6 FA that I am concerned about. However, since nuts are nature’s jelly beans, I figure they are still good to eat in moderation. The plan I was following told me I was able to take in 2 snacks a day, 200 calories each. I pulled out my scale, and weighed a serving of almonds– 1oz. That amounts to about 15 nuts.

15 nuts?! Are you kidding? I am going to starve, I thought. I placed them in a zipper bag and took them to the office.

Then came lunch. I needed to consume 6-8oz of protein and about 200 calories of vegetables. Since I had no concept of what that meant, I once again picked up a book, read the caloric weight of my lunch and began to measure.

1 Cup of lettuce“Field greens– 2cups is 60 calories!” I measured out 2 cups and placed into a bowl. “Wow, that seems like quite a bit of lettuce.” I thought. Well it was. 2 cups of spinach is also quite a bit. Ever see what 6 oz of chicken looks like?

8oz of beef? 7oz of pork? 14oz of fish? Initially it seems like a campaign for starvation and dietary failure, but I can assure you that these portions are all in favor of eating well and keeping full.

It’s almost like this; we are programmed to stay alive. We are not programmed to starve. Since we live lives now full of stress and anxiety (think careers, family, and finances which replaced famine, trauma, and being chased by mammoths) we are in constant need of calories “just in case.” If we leave our internal computer turned off for a moment, we can actually change that signal. Most of us know that our brains are always craving glucose, and fat. This is normal and quite OK actually. If we let our eyes measure our foods and consume what we only need by using measuring cups and scales, we will get what our brains and body actually want. If we measure by our psychology being conditioned that you are always hungry therefore you need to pour on the calories, you are going to take in a bit too many calories and if you are not burning them due to lack of activity. You’ll enjoy living with extra weight on you, and possibly even be obese.

So getting back to the salad. Six ounces of chicken meat (white or dark) is a nice healthy portion of protein to enjoy. 7-8oz of pork is also a nice size of protein as well. It took some time for me to get used to it, but honestly as you begin to see how much you’ve been over eating in life, you’ll see that not much food is really needed to sustain until your next meal. That is unless you fast once and a while. But that is another topic.

Like I said, at first I was humbled. It took about 2 weeks for me to get used to using scales and measuring cups. I read labels, cartons, and books. I immersed myself into as much information as I could so that I learned a new behavior. The saying goes “Garbage in, garbage out.” Knowing how much is going in me will help the garbage come out. As for now, I can look at foods (not man made of course) and get pretty close to my serving requirements.

PeppersI think that is mostly where the problem comes from, is lack of knowledge about portion control and serving sizes. We think that a bowl of cereal, or a plate filled from edge to edge is going to give us enough energy to get to the next meal. This is incorrect. I hear most trainers say “each serving of food should be the size of a deck of cards.” This is pretty accurate, however there are some caloric dense foods and some are non-nutritive that are the same size. Think if we were to eat a pile of bacon the size of a deck of cards. I love bacon and I eat it once a week, but my portion size is 1-2 slices and it’s home made. Again, that amounts to about 140 calories almost all of which are from fat and it’s more for keeping sugar cravings down; I digress.

LabelingThe nutritional label found on almost all foods is a great tool for the health conscious. I know, most foods that I eat do not have them since we eat fresh produce, but I can tell you that a cup of vegetables (almost all) is about 120 calories and a cup of fruit is about 200 calories. Seems like very little, but again, while writing this post, I consumed a 1/2c of granny smith apple which is about 1/2 an apple. I won’t need to eat the rest until much later and I feel pretty full. Sure, I could have eaten the whole apple, but it was not necessary. If I fasted this morning, then I would have.

My advice is simply this; know your portions. Knowing what a serving looks like is one of the best ways to keep weight under control. Obviously we are talking about nutritive foods. Keeping portions smaller and taking time to enjoy the fruits of your labor of cooking can help you lose weight and feel full.

For more reading about calories and portions, I suggest reading “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. Link to the book here.

— Daniel Merk

POSTED BY Daniel Merk | 07:33pm 19th-Mar, 2010