Food Weighing 101: How and Why You Should Use a Food Scale! (at least for a while)
Just about everyone is familiar with the dreaded body-weight scale, but do you use a food scale? When used properly, a food scale can be a great tool, no matter what your physique or health goals are!
Ok...and maybe it can be a pain in the ass, but if your goals aren't worth the effort, then why are they your goals??
So, why should I weigh my food?
1. Accurate Food Tracking
Eyeballing food is pretty unreliable and we'll usually tend to overshoot or undershoot portion sizes, making it difficult to produce consistent results
Using measuring cups is convenient, but not the most accurate. All measuring cups vary slightly in volume and they’re always subject to user error. This is why many professional bakers weigh ingredients instead of using cups!
I LOVE the visual below from Cheat Day Design.
2. More Accurate Visual Portion Estimates
Do you know what 4oz of raw chicken looks like after cooking? Weighing my own food at home on a regular basis helps me remember what portions sizes look like, so I can also be more accurate when I'm out without a scale available.
Little disparities can add up! This can lead to inaccurate food tracking, and ultimately, frustration...let's avoid that!
3. Habit-change and Education for Long-term Success
We all know crash diets don't work for the long-term. One reason why is that they do nothing to modify our day-to-day eating habits that got us unhealthy in the first place!
Using a tool like a food scale forces us to re-learn appropriate portion sizes, education that will last long after your "diet" is complete
What kind of scale to use?
-I prefer a digital scale over a mechanical scale for both accuracy and the tare function.
The scale I use is by OXO from Amazon
I find the pull-out display very useful when measuring something in a wide bowl. Fairly easy to keep clean. I’ve used it daily for past year and I’ve only had to replace the batteries once.
How to weigh your food like a pro:
<The Short Version>
Learn to use the tare function so you can weigh your food on a plate or in a container
Refer to nutrition label of your food to determine which units to measure in (oz vs g)
Weigh meat before cooking when possible, but remember that meat usually loses ~25% of water weight after cooking
When cooking multiple portions, weigh out ingredients for the whole meal, cook, weigh whole meal, then divide into desired portions
Only weigh the parts of the food you intend to eat- ie: if weighing a banana, remove the skin first
Use tare function
I rarely ever weigh anything directly on the scale. Typically, I set a dish or tupperware container on the scale and place my food in it to weigh. The tare function allows you to reset the weight to ‘zero’ after setting your dish on the scale. On my scale, the tare function is actually labeled “zero.” To complete function, simply set dish on scale and press applicable button. Super simple!
This function is super handy for dividing food into meal-prep containers.
Choosing between imperial (oz) and metric (g) measurements
Generally speaking, I refer to the nutrition fact label for the specific food I’m measuring and choose the given unit. For example, when measuring my oatmeal in the morning, I can see that 1 serving of Quick Oats is listed as 40g dry oats, so I use grams for easy measuring. Metric (grams) units are used most often it seems, but raw meat is frequently listed in ounces.
Liquids are typically listed in oz serving sizes as well- I'm looking at you, winos! And don’t give me that “I just always fill the glass up halfway and that’s a serving” think again! As with measuring cups, every wine glass is a little different and you just might be drinking more than you think.
Measuring Raw vs. Cooked
This is one of the most important distinctions to make when measuring and tracking food.
Whether measuring cooked or uncooked, ensure that you match your method with the appropriate nutrition data when tracking.
For example: Pasta nutrition facts are typically listed uncooked. If for some reason you choose to weigh your pasta after cooking you would want to find alternate nutrition data for cooked pasta (accounting for water absorbed).
Whenever possible, you should be measuring your food uncooked. When you cook, you’re typically adding or taking away water, and the amount is likely to vary slightly each time you do it. When I make chicken for my meal prep, I determine how many raw ounces I need, measure out that amount, cook it, and then divide it evenly across my desired amount of meals.
**Similar to picking between ounces or grams, you can also defer to the nutrition label for your food when you're not sure if you should measure cooked or uncooked.
It gets a little trickier when you’re talking about something like a sweet potato.
The quick and not-as accurate way is to bake your sweet potato, weigh it, and track it according to nutrition data for a cooked sweet potato. This method isn’t as accurate because depending on how well-done you like your potato, the water content, and therefore weight, will vary.
Being completely accurate requires a bit of math...not my strong suit, but if I can do it, you can do it!
First you’d determine how many raw ounces or grams you want to consume (which you’re basing off target caloric intake/macros/hunger level).
Weigh the raw potato you’re about to cook.
Next, use the following formula: desired amount of potato(g)/total raw potato weight(g) , save or jot down result
Cook potato, and then weigh once done
Take the result of the first formula and multiply that by the post-cooked weight. This result is the amount of baked potato you should consume
I cut off slices of potato, weigh, and repeat until potato portion reaches desired weight
**The above method is friggin' meticulous and slightly-obsessive, but accurate. For the sake of being thorough, I’ve provided it, though I’m NOT suggesting that everyone start out using this technique.
You’ll find that you run into the same conundrum when cooking multiple servings at once- such as when cooking pasta for a family, or a whole pound of ground beef for tacos. You can weigh-out your portion of food after cooking, but just be aware that there will be inconsistencies due varied cooking methods as mentioned above. Generally speaking, meats lose about 25% of weight after cooking. Though not exact, this is a good rule of thumb to use when weighing meat after it’s been cooked.
What about skin?
Many vegetables and fruits have skin, some removed before eating, some not. The skin of a banana is disgusting and always discarded (right?), so I’ll use that as an example. In the case of a banana, you’ll want to remove the skin before weighing, so that you’re only weighing the edible portion. Same when eating a baked potato or a piece of chicken with or without skin!
Is weighing food kinda meticulous? Yes. HOWEVER, if you're seriously committed to a weight loss or gain goal, the effort is well worth it.
If you feel like the extra step of weighing food is impossible to accomplish due to lack of time, I'd respond by asking how high of a priority your body/health goals are. Really, once you get comfortable with your scale, weighing shouldn't take more than a minute or two per meal, and the time invested can absolutely contribute to your long-term success.
...Speaking of Long Term
I should note that food weighing does not need to be a permanent way of life! Some people weigh food temporarily as an educational experience or use it only when actively working towards a goal. As always, make it work for YOU. It's supposed to be a tool, not an obstacle :)