The Skinny on Using a Food Scale to Lose Weight

When you're trying to lose or maintain weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. We talk a lot about portion control at SparkPeople, and for good reason: In a world filled with super-sized, well, everything, it's all too easy to bust your calorie budget in a single sitting.

Coach Nicole defines a "portion" as "the amount of food you choose to eat for meals or snacks (like a plateful of pasta or a handful of raisins)." A "serving," which is what is listed on nutrition labels, is the amount of food that experts recommend that you eat of a certain food. Ideally, your portion sizes should align as closely as possible to serving sizes, Coach Nicole says.

Even when you're sticking to healthy foods, it's still possible to overeat. But how do you know what constitutes a proper portion? Dr. Pat Salber, founder of The Doctor Weighs In, presents an example: Let's say you look up how many calories are in pepper jack cheese, your favorite mid-afternoon snack. The answer comes back as 106 calories in an ounce. The problem is, you're not sure what an ounce of cheese looks like. The other problem is that when you're hungry, you might be inclined to underestimate the size of the chunk you cut for yourself.

So what is the appropriate way to verify you’re eating the correct portion? This is where a food scale comes in handy.

Why Use a Food Scale?

Ken Immer, president of Culinary Health Solutions, notes that because of today's distorted portion sizes, most people don't really know how much food they are eating. "A food scale is a great way of learning about real portion sizes, and it can be helpful for people who are calorie counting," he says. "If you’re assuming that you’re eating a three-ounce chicken breast, but you’re actually eating a six-ounce piece, that can amount to a 160 calorie difference."

A food scale can also serve as what Immer calls a "speed bump" when it comes to overeating, because it causes a moment of personal accountability when you have to stop and weigh the food. "It's a great way to reduce calories by simply taking away a relatively small amount from every meal that you almost don’t notice, and those small amounts add up," he points out.

As you start to learn how many calories and macronutrients are in certain portions, a food scale "trains" you to apply those same principles on your own, notes Sarah Adler, a strength coach with Steiner Strength. "Using a scale will also help you learn real food portions, so you can eyeball more effectively when you're not with your scale, or when you get more flexible with your diet in the future."

How Does a Food Scale Work?

Most food scales allow you to choose the unit of measurement in which you'd like to weigh your food, such as pounds, ounces or grams, says Adler. Some scales have macronutrient calculators on them, where you can program in the food you are weighing and the scale will then display the food's macronutrient profile given its measured weight.

It may seem easy to weigh, say, a chicken breast, but what about things like powders, liquids, seeds, oils or rice? Dr. Salber says you can weigh those types of foods by first weighing the container or cup that you are going to put them in, and then re-weighing the container with the food. The difference between the two weights is the weight of the food. That said, it may be easier to use measuring cups or tablespoons for liquids, dips, spreads and oils, than to use a scale.

One thing to keep in mind, Immer says: If you're switching between measuring cups and the scale, you will see an "oz." unit of measure on the cups, and that is the same word you will see on the scale—but they don't mean the same thing. "If you were to measure eight ounces of beans on a scale, and then put those beans in a measuring cup, it will not 'match' with the 8-oz. line on the cup," he says. "However, if you were to use a measuring cup to measure one cup, which is eight fluid ounces of water, and then you were to measure that on the scale, it actually would weigh eight ounces. So liquids that have about the same consistency as water—milk, oil, eggs—can be measured by either a measuring cup or the scale. But things like molasses and honey that are much thicker than water must be weighed on a scale."

5 Tips for Properly Using a Food Scale

  1. "Zero it out" before you start. Especially if you're using an analog scale (or mechanical), it's important to set it to zero before placing food on it. Most digital scales will reset to zero automatically. "If you do not zero the scale, then you are not getting a correct measurement," Immer says.
  2. Weigh food before it's cooked. For most food products, the information on the nutrition label pertains to its raw, uncooked version. After the cooking process, meats, veggies and grains will lose some of their weight, but will still have the same amount of fat and calories. To prevent the "accidental" consumption of extra fat and calories, be sure to weigh foods in their dry, raw form.
  3. Choose a scale with a large enough capacity. When looking at scales, it's best to choose one that has a capacity of five or more pounds rather than one with a capacity of only one or two pounds.
  4. When accuracy counts, go digital. There are two general types of food scales: analog and digital. Analog versions work with a spring, and the needle moves as you add items to the scale. These scales can become less accurate over time as the springs start to wear out, Immer warns. Digital versions use an electrical load sensor to measure weight and have a liquid crystal display. If you're weighing for precise accuracy, a digital version is the best option.
  5. Keep it clean. In between uses, clean off the weighing plate to prevent the build-up of any food residue that could contribute to an incorrect weight or bacteria from older food.

7 Quality Food Scales You Can Get on Amazon

Food scales range in price from below $11 to $40 or more. Before making a big investment, Dr. Salber suggests either borrowing one or buying one that is inexpensive but still has good reliability reviews.
  1. Etekcity Digital Food Scale ($12.99)
  2. Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale ($10.97)
  3. Accuweight 207 Digital Kitchen Multifunction Food Scale ($17.99)
  4. OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display ($49.99)
  5. Nutri Fit Food Scale with Removable Cutting Board & Tray ($27.99)
  6. Greater Goods Ultra-Slim Glass Kitchen Scale/Food Scale ($10.99)
  7. Nutra Track Mini Digital Scale ($39.99)
Do you use a food scale? What do you like (and not like) about it?
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Member Comments

Need to purchase a new scale. Report
We weigh everything we eat now. We were surprised how innacurate our measuring cups were when it came to portioning out servings sizes of, for example microwaved steamed veggies. When we'd use measuring cups, we never got the full # of servings they claimed. When we started to weigh it though, wow the difference. Now I know exactly how many calories I'm eating - especially with calorie-dense food like peanut butter. And someone mentioned they don't weigh meat raw - but you absolutely should if you can!!! The cooked weight will be different, up to 15% depending on how much water was cooked out of the meat!!! So the cooked meat will likely weigh different. (It's always different for us.) That can hurt your efforts if you consistently eat more calories than you think! Even the best intentioned Sparkpeople entry for cooked meat is only a general guide- it's based on either a general guideline or someone's specific meal which depends on how long & how "well" the meat was cooked. Trust me, weigh it before. Report
thanks Report
Scales are definitely worthwhile. I had been using a measuring cup for oatmeal, but comparing that against the weight value of the oatmeal made me realize that I was at least 1/4 over the serving size! Report
I don't agree with weighing foods raw, especially meats. Most of the calorie counts I use list foods as cooked in some way: broiled, baked, roasted, fried and by fat content: dark, light, 85%/15% ground beef etc. Cooking renders a great deal of fat out of meat. I prefer meat broiled on the grill or in the oven which takes out a huge amount of fat. If I eat it raw, I measure it raw. If I eat it cooked, I look for calorie/nutrition content that gives the cooked information. Report
I found the best food portion control for me. It is a small 3.5" x5" portable digital scale on Amazon. The scale can be folded into a hard plastic case.and taken with me everqyq. It measures fare or full weight, also can switch from oz. to grams. It has a flat stainless steel weighing plate on which I can measure items from 0.01 grams/oz up to 1 Kilogram. I try to do sight portion control always, but now I can weigh what I am going to eat Before eating then measure the bowl/ plate afterwards. It's like using gate weight after.
This little scale has me correcting my portion sizes accurately now. By costing me about $12 including shipping, it has become a great asset for me to properly track my food each dayy, and prevents me from over cooking and wasting foods.
May GOD bless you and yours, and keep all safe. Report
I weigh a lot of my food and the ones that I don't weigh, I guess pretty close because of reading articles from SP on portion control and what it looks like. Report
I weigh just about everything I eat. :-) Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
I just bought a nutrition scale learning how to use it you can type a fruit veggie on these are the ones i have tried so far it tells you calories fat carbs sodium fiber sugar need to work it more yes its a regular scales too just need to learn how to use it just it. was not sure i like it until several sparkers told its great once you get going . Report
Thanks for this very helpful article. Report
I have one at home but I bought one to use at work also! Report
I will take my scale out and begin to use it. Thanks Report
Get a digital scale and one with a "tare" function. That's the function that lets you reset what is already on the scale to zero. For instance: Put your salad bowl on the scale and then turn it on, to start at zero. Add your first ingredient, record that number. Hit the tare button to reset the count to zero so that you can now add your second ingredient without removing the salad bowl or doing the arithmetic to figure out the difference between your first number and the next. And so on. Makes it MUCH easier to figure out the calorie count for a multi-ingredient item. And forget that ounce thing. Counting in grams is much more accurate, plus a lot of calorie counts on purchased items are expressed in grams, not ounces. Report
Using a digital scale has been awesome. I highly recommend it for accuracy in calorie and nutrition calculations. Well worth the small expense. Mine only cost $11 and worth every penny. Report


About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.