There’s no disputing that to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.

The most common method for controlling the amount of food you eat is portion sizes. A portion is a set amount of food that contains a known number of calories as well as calories from protein, fats and carbohydrates.  Portions are determined by servings sizes which are the amounts listed on labels by food manufacturers.

Most popular weight lost programs use portion control to determine how much food to eat. Dieters typically measure their food in measuring cups or on a scale.  Different foods have different serving sizes like grams, ounces, pieces, slices and numbers. A serving might be 10 potato chips or 3 crackers.

Portion control isn’t easy. For one thing, eating a variety of foods naturally leads to problems. The more variety you have in your diet the more serving sizes you need to know to properly portion your foods. Are you eating a 3-inch bagel or a 6-inch bagel? Are you eating a 2.5 ounce serving of fries or a 6 ounce serving of fries?

Every time you add a new food to your regimen you need to measure it for serving size. The average person may eat 75 to 100 different food items on a regular basis. Are we supposed to measure 100 different foods for serving sizes and convert them to portions and then measure everything we eat?

Yes! You are. That’s how portion control works.  But most people won’t go to that length for accuracy.  So, they guess the portion size. But this can lead to problems as well.

Portion control leads to familiarity with the amount of food contained in a portion. You don’t have to go very many mornings eating the exact same portioned cereal to know how much you should have in a bowl.  Over time you learn the approximate amounts you should be eating. Try measuring a favorite food every day for a week.  On the 8th day don’t measure the food but estimate the correct portion size.  Most of the time the portion will be highly accurate. For a day or two. Over time the portion size becomes less and less accurate. Your perceptions become influenced by things like your attitude, emotions and logic. What you think is a correct serving size changes.

Perception is reality. If you think you’ve guessed the right serving size than that’s how much food, you’ll eat. You could be far off. With some foods, being off on portion size can have a dramatic impact on your caloric intake.

A serving of peanut butter, for example, is 32 grams, about 2 tablespoons. It contains 190 calories of which about 75% are fat calories. Think about how much peanut butter is on a tablespoon. Are we talking about flat tablespoon, rounded tablespoon or heaping tablespoon? The difference between a flat tablespoon and a heaping tablespoon can be double the amount?

Do your best to pay attention to portion sizes and you will continue to educate yourself along the way.