Estimating your food intake has a time and place. Maybe you’re just getting started tracking your macros and need to simplify things. Or, maybe you’re on a fun family vacation and want to log your meals without putting everything you eat on a food scale. No matter what, improving your food estimation skills is vital to long-term macro tracking (and general nutrition) success. Today, we’ll teach you how to estimate your food better.

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I distinctly remember the week I decided to track food by weighing individual items instead of eyeballing and making my best guess. I love avocado and often include a few scrumptious slices with my meals. One day, I thought, “Let me just check how much this weighs…” You can probably see where this is going…

I was blown away to find out I had been doubling the grams of my avocado portion in my guesstimates! I couldn’t believe how off I was! Partially because I was sure, I was better at estimating than that (cue bruised ego). But mainly, I was upset because I could’ve been eating twice as much avocado! I was miscalculating my fat intake by almost 15 grams. That’s over 130 calories!

If you’ve ever wondered how much food you put on your plate, I can assure you that you’re not alone. Incorrect estimates can lead to overeating or undereating. Whether you're trying to lose weight, maintain a healthy lifestyle, or be more mindful of your eating habits, getting better at estimating your food can make a big difference.

Here are the seven tips we’re tackling today to help you become more accurate and confident in your portion estimates.

  1. Use measuring tools for a short period of time.
  2. Use your hand as a guide.
  3. Take food out of its original container.
  4. Familiarize yourself with common serving sizes.
  5. Shop foods packaged in individual portions.
  6. Use plates as a portion guide.
  7. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues.

We will break them all down, but before we do, it’s important to understand the benefits of tracking your food.


The Benefits of Tracking Your Food

Tracking your food can have a variety of wonderful benefits.

Improved awareness: Food tracking can be key to understanding how food impacts energy and mood. You may connect things like fatigue or headaches to days when you seem to eat less. Or you may be able to pinpoint foods that trigger digestive discomfort or other symptoms. On a day when you crush your workout, you may see the energy (food) intake that led up to it.

Increased accountability: Writing down or inputting your food can help hold you accountable to your daily intake goals and longer-term health and body composition desires. It’s much easier to see what adjustments you need to make when looking at your day. This could bring about realizations like needing more protein, adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to your meals, or keeping snacks at bay.

Build mental resilience – Hitting the targets you set for yourself can boost confidence and motivation to keep you going. Tracking your food can also be a great way to show that you can include all the foods you love in a well-balanced meal plan, eliminating the need to restrict. This means you can eat all the delicious foods that fuel you and have your favorite treats!


7 Tips To Get Better At Estimating Your Food

Estimating food weights is a skill. Like any skill, it takes time to master. Here are a few tips to gain confidence and improve your estimation skills.

1. Use measuring tools to increase confidence.

Start by using measuring tools like cups, spoons, and a kitchen scale for a limited time. Accurately measuring your food for a few weeks can help you better understand portion sizes. It helps train your eyes and brain to recognize the amounts you’re used to. This can be helpful when you don’t have the tools, like at a restaurant or when traveling.

2. Use your hand as a guide.

Using different parts of your hand to measure portions is simple and can be just as effective as a scale. Plus, your hand goes everywhere and is roughly proportionate to your body size, making it a handy tool for portion control.

  • Palm – about 3 ounces, good for measuring protein portions (meat, fish, etc.).
  • Closed Fist – about 1 cup, good for measuring vegetables and fruits.
  • Tip of Thumb – about 1 tablespoon, useful for fat portions (cheese, oils, etc.).
  • Palm of Cupped Hand – about 1 ounce, perfect for carbohydrates (rice, pasta, etc.).

estimating portion sizes

3. Take food out of its original container.

Ever thought you just wanted a few chips, and suddenly, you’re reaching into an empty bag? It’s easy to lose track of portions when you eat directly from the bag or box. Instead, transfer food from its packaging to a plate or bowl. This lets you see exactly how much you’re about to eat, making estimating and controlling portion sizes easier.

4. Familiarize yourself with common serving sizes.

Check your packages and learn to recognize the standard serving sizes for different types of food. For example, one serving of pasta is typically about one cup cooked, and one serving of cheese is about the size of four dice. Knowing the typical standards of food manufacturers can help you better gauge how much you're eating and keep your portions aligned with your goals.

5. Shop foods packaged in individual portions.

If it’s accessible, individual portion sizes of foods can simplify estimating and managing your food intake. Prepackaged foods have clear portion sizes and nutritional information built-in, making it easier to track without measuring tools. Opting for single-serving packages of snacks, yogurts, or beverages can also help prevent overeating. You can also portion out larger quantities of food into smaller, individual servings at home.

6. Use plates as a portion guide.

The size of your plate may influence how much you eat. Using smaller plates can help you serve and eat smaller portions. Dividing your plate into sections can also help you keep your macros proportions in check. Here’s a good example of filling your plate:

  • Half with vegetables
  • Quarter with lean protein
  • Quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables

7. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues.

Listening to your body's appetite signals is crucial for understanding and controlling portion sizes. Eat slowly and mindfully, allowing your brain time to register when full. Notice how different foods make you feel and learn to distinguish between true hunger and other triggers, like boredom or stress. Especially if you’re used to measuring and feeling satiated, being in tune with your body's signals will give you a better idea of how well you are estimating those same portions.


Final Thoughts About Estimating Your Food Intake

Estimating food portions accurately is a valuable skill leading to better eating habits and overall health. It's easy to overestimate or underestimate how much food you consume, impacting your nutritional balance and intake. Incorporating some of these practical tips can make you more accurate and gain confidence in your portion estimates. These strategies will not only help you maintain a balanced diet, but they will also help you eat more intuitively.

The right daily intake is key to good energy balance and confidence in food choices. If you need help setting your macro goals, sign up for WAG nutrition coaching for guidance and support.