how to track macros without using a food scale

food scale, track macros, how to track macros without a food scale

Are you wondering if you can track macros without using the food scale? The thought of tracking macros might conjure up images of weighing and measuring everything you eat which might deter you from logging anything. 

Read on for ways you might ditch the food scale and still be successful at tracking macros, so you can reach your goals for health, body composition or athletic performance. 

use measuring cups or spoons

It’s likely that you have measuring utensils in your kitchen, so let’s bust those out and use them to get a more accurate understanding of your right-for-you-portions. 

While weighing food using a food scale might be the most accurate way to track macros, using measuring cups and spoons can certainly get you close enough to see changes in your body (as long as you’re hitting your targets most days of the week!). Instead of logging 3 oz of chicken, you would log a ¾ cup portion. Instead of logging a 1 oz of cheese, you would log a ¼ cup portion, for example. 

Arguably, tracking macros with measuring cups or spoons is more beneficial than using a food scale because most people are already familiar with what these portions look like. I mean, think about it: I bet you could tell me what 1 cup of blueberries looks like vs 100 g of blueberries, right? Measuring in this way might better equip you to track when you are in situations where you cannot measure your portions using a food scale: think eating at restaurants, food prepared by family members, or food on-the-go.

use your fingers and hands

It’s likely that you’ve heard about portion control using your hands and fingers before. A 3 oz portion of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand, or 1 tablespoon is about the size of your thumb. 

Turns out, using your fingers and hands to estimate portion sizes, track the macro content of your food and eat to your personal needs is a great way to stay mindful of your eating habits. 

Check out some of the examples below for using your hands or fingers to estimate protein-, fat- and carbohydrate-rich foods. 

no food scale? get great at eyeballing

Best for people who have access to, or have previously had access to a food scale to weigh and measure food, eyeballing portions can be a great way to transition from using it all the time. 

It’s kind of like learning how to drive a car: at first you are hyperaware of everything around you. Your head is on a swivel looking at mirrors and over your shoulders. You’re paying attention to the way the pedals feel beneath your feet and the position of your hands on the wheel. 

There is big benefit to using a food scale, at least temporarily, to weigh and measure everything you eat. This practice ultimately sets you up to recalibrate your understanding of proper portion sizes for you because chances are high that you don’t have an accurate understanding of what is appropriate given the exaggerated portion sizes of our time. 

After you spend some time using the food scale, you’ll start to familiarize yourself with what portions of protein, grain products, or fruits and vegetables look like on your plate. In other words, you’ll start to get great at estimating what 4 oz of salmon looks like on your plate, or what 1 Tbsp of olive oil looks like in the pan, or even what 200 g diced sweet potato looks like. 

Once you can identify what these portions look like without measuring or weighing, you can ditch the scale and measuring cups and use just your eyeballs to estimate portions and track macros to your needs. 

It can be helpful to bring back the food scale or measuring utensils from time to time to check in with yourself to make sure you’re still eyeballing accurately. Skills take time to develop, and they also deserve to be tuned up every so often. 

barcode scan what you can

Consider scanning barcodes for the foods you eat to log it directly into your tracking app as a pretty easy and accurate tracking approach. 

Sure, scanning barcodes for foods implies that you eat a fair amount of products throughout the day, but if you’re anything like us, there’s a good mix of packaged items as well as whole, real foods that do not have packaging or barcodes to scan. If you were to cut corners on at least some of the foods that you log each day, my bet is that you’ll save a lot of time and energy across the whole week. 

Examples of foods that might not have an easy-to-scan barcode are fresh fruits and vegetables, meat cuts, bulk portion nuts or seeds – and these might make up the majority of what you eat. I would never discourage someone from eating these foods, and in fact these same types of foods promote fullness and satiety so much more than processed, packaged and refined foods that might have a barcode to scan. Even if you don’t weigh or measure them accurately, you’re gaining so much more by eating (even overeating!) them in your diet. 

use restaurant nutrition facts for mixed dishes/meals

Many restaurants list nutrition information online and you can use this to track macros without a food scale. And, even if the restaurant you’re eating at does not have nutrition information available online, it’s quite possible that another chain restaurant does, and you cab log something close to hold space for the calories and macros you’re consuming. Remember, there are inherent flaws to a macros approach (estimating food portions being one of them!) but that doesn’t mean you can’t see incredible progress in health, body composition and athletic performance goals by tracking loosely. 

Think about eating a mixed dish at home. It can be tough to estimate the portion for each ingredient in a pasta meal, soup or chili, casseroles, etc. For these meals, consider browsing the app database for something that’s close to what you’re eating by searching for similar meals from vetted, standardized nutrition information (like restaurants or products you’re familiar with).

One quick reminder though: restaurant eats tend to be higher in carbohydrate and fat macros because chefs tend to cook with more butter, oil, marinades and sauces than you do at home. The standardized mixed dish entry that you find in an online database from a restaurant might be higher in those macros that you would have expected to see. However, sometimes when tracking macros, it’s better to err on the side of “overestimating” the calories for a mixed dish in food diary, rather than “underestimating” in your food diary. 

More tips for estimating macros when eating out found here.

There are several ways to track macros without a food scale. While you can see that some methods are better and more accurate than others, the most important thing is that you track consistently – you keep up the habit even when you can not use a food scale for the ultimate accuracy in portion size. 

If using a food scale causes you to be resentful of the approach, even while knowing how great you feel when you eat to your macro needs – don’t do it! It’s likely you will not stick with tracking long enough to see any real results. As mentioned here, using measuring cups or estimating portions with your hands will serve you better if you enjoy the process and are consistent with it. 

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