Do You Really Know How Much You’re Eating?

Broken dark chocolate on kitchen scale

Chances are you don’t. In fact, on average, most people think they’ve eaten 20% less than what they actually ate. Those who are overweight may be eating 30% to 40% more than what they actually think they’ve consumed. Why does this happen and what can you do to stop it?

Scientists call the being aware of one’s ability to watch what they eat “self-monitoring.” If you’re good at self-monitoring, you’ll be able to accurately guess the size and calorie count of what’s on your plate. Several studies have shown that we are worse at this than we think we are.

One classic study, which was published in 1982, selected 30 overweight women to participate. They were taken to a room, where they had to guess the size and calorie counts of 10 different foods from cottage cheese to potato chips. Each were placed in different-sized containers. Despite the size of the food container, most of the women thought each portion of food had fewer calories than it actually did.

Some women were off by 50%. This means one may think they’re eating 2000 calories per day but end up eating 3000 calories instead! In four days, that error would equal an extra pound of fat!

In another study, 40 people of different weights were served 15-different sized meals that ranged from 445 calories to 1,780 calories. Each person was asked to estimate the number of calories for each meal. The researchers not only found that people made inaccurate calorie measurements, they also observed that the larger the meal, the less accurate the estimate! Almost all the study participants estimated that the meal with 1,780 calories had only 1,000 calories or so.

Why are we so bad at estimating? Scientists have given several explanations for this phenomenon. One of my favorites comes from our evolutionary history. Long ago, we couldn’t readily find food at our local supermarkets; we had to hunt for our food or look for local berries and nuts. We had no idea where our next meal would come from. Hence, our stomachs and appetites were designed to accommodate as much food as possible in one sitting. Why save the antelope meat for later and let it spoil when you can stuff yourself with it now and feel full longer – before hunting for your next meal! This translates to our eating more than we perceive today.

To more accurately record your calories and keep yourself from overeating, follow these Oz-approved tips:

– Eat from smaller plates and glasses. Studies have shown that this can compel you to eat 43% fewer calories.

– Drink a full glass of water before your meal. One study showed that those who drank a half a liter of water (17 ounces) before each meal lost 5 more pounds than those who didn’t.

– Eat with bigger forks. This may sound strange, but the size of your fork affects how much food you eat. In one study, researchers measured how much customers ate at an Italian restaurant. Those who used larger forks ate less than those with smaller forks.

Are you ready for an extra exercise that may help you improve your self-monitoring skills? Learn what 100 calories really looks like with this slideshow.