Visual Comparisons Help

As as semi-follow up to yesterday’s post about portion control, I wanted to share with you one more thought. Over the years I’ve learned that it’s not just about the calories and eating just the perfect portions, but it’s also about calorie density.

I get hungry sometimes. We all do. When I’m hungry or it’s time for a bite to eat I sometimes reach for a food that’s okay to eat but doesn’t fill me up. And then even though I’ve eaten something acceptable, I’m hungry for more. Then the cycle of eating begins and it can be difficult to stop.

I thought it would be fun to take some pictures of foods that are similar in calories but different in terms of their “filling ability.”

First picture is 70 calories of carrots versus one 70 calorie slice of sandwich bread. I don’t know about you, but if I ate that many carrots I’d be full for awhile. (I know the carrots are dry – they got lost in the back of my refrigerator.)


 Here’s a picture of 12 mini-wheats for 65 calories or two squares of graham crackers for the same calories. Difference in filling ability here for me.

Next example is one medium sized apple for about 70 – 80 calories versus one tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips. This has gotten me in trouble before because it’s really easy to grab a handful and not think about how many calories are in a big handful.

Finally, here’s two whole squash, which if chopped would be about 90 calories. On the spoon? One tablespoon of peanut butter for the same calories. Now, I’d rather eat peanut butter than squash, but the comparison is startling.

This weight loss journey requires that you make a lot of decisions every day. We will never make perfect decisions all the time. I’ve found that visual cues can help me make wise choices most of the time.

How do you feel when you see these pictures? Do you ever think about comparable calorie choices?  Diane

44 thoughts on “Visual Comparisons Help

  1. John says:

    Honestly I still feel the choices suck when I see picss like these. I mean I know what I should have but I want the other still. Luckily 7 months in I’m still winning the battle and making the right choice gets easier each day.

    Previous 4 posts were very good as well! Finally caught up with you. Now only 30 more bloggers to go 🙂

  2. vickie says:

    Either in ‘Thin for Life’ or ‘Eating Thin for Life: Food Secrets & Recipes from People Who Have Lost Weight & Kept It Off’ (Anne M. Fletcher M.S. R.D.) there is a two page comparison of a standard ‘meal’ and a smarter calorie meal. (I think it is in Eating Thin for Life.) Reading that was a BIG turning point for me – an eye opener. It stuck in my head for a very long time. And it must still be stuck in there somewhere, because when I read your post it was the first thing that came to me. If you have not read these books, check them out at your library. If for no other reason than to find the comparison I mentioned.

  3. Julie Lost and found says:

    I think I have to agree with John.

    I remember a town pastor giving a commencement speech to a highschool graduation and talking to the students about “what you want and what you ought”. Same holds true for food I think too!

    Common sense dictates: I am hungry. I want to feel full and satisfy that hunger. I have this many calories. So duh, I eat what will fill me up.

    Then the boogie monster tells you to eat the stupid peanut butter. LOL

    Just gotta change my MIND and train it to the summer squash and carrots! (which thankfully I DO like!)

  4. Moria says:

    Thank you for taking the time to do this. It really does help me when I think about the calorie density and how much I’m going to be filled up. I know that you say its okay to eat the chocolate too, but that shouldn’t be a snack for me because I’m still really hungry and then sometimes the chocolate sets off a craving for more sugar.

    Seeing the differences in the amount of foods you can eat for the same calories is very helpful!!

  5. Diane says:

    For fun, compare the portion size between 200 calories of sirloin and 200 calories of lettuce. THEN, compare the nutritional content of both – that is the real eye opener.

  6. Sara N. says:

    I often think about this! I know the calorie content in foods and I feel like I waste calories sometimes. It’s so easy to eat the chocolate chips but the carrots or popcorn or toast would be so much better for me. I want to learn to make better choices more regularly.

  7. cindy says:

    Thanks for the wake up call. I realize I have to be more aware of what and how much I am eating. It’s so easy when you’re stressed to just grab something and gulp it down without thinking about how much you’ve just consummed.
    I don’t want to put the weight back on that I’ve worked so hard to get off.

  8. Marisa (Loser for Life) says:

    Great comparison! It does make you think! I am a volume eater, so choosing the healthier items for the same amount of calories is the way to go for me. I like to see a lot of food on my plate! However… there are those times…when chocolate chips are WAY BETTER than an apple 😉

  9. Tara says:

    That last one is REALLY crazy

    There are days when the peanut butter is a better choice, not because it’s going to fill me up better, but because it’s what I WANT. I am trying to get out of the mindset of “wasting” calories on small things because some of those small things (olive oil, nuts, avocado etc) are so good for you that a small portion is worth the trade off.

    Still, when I’m hungry, the giant bowl of garden salad is usually going to be my go-to way to fill up.

  10. Rachel Palmieri says:

    You make great points but I think it’s also important to know that the right food choice might be different depending on your situation. When I come home from the gym, I’m quite hungry. Would I ever choose two huge squash over a small handful of almonds or a spoonful of peanut butter? Nope. I need the protein and fat that the almonds or PB offer. But for the most part, I think you nailed the hammer on the head!

  11. Roxie says:

    I tend to be a volume eater as well, so I make these kinds of choices quite a bit. Or if the real truth was known, I have a very difficult time limiting myself to just a tblspoon of peanut butter or just those chocolate chips, so I try not to go there at all.

  12. Sharon says:

    Pictures are worth a thousand words! Yesterday and today’s posts have been such good reminders to all of us. My smartest purchase was a good (expensive for me) Salton food scale a few years ago. Shows exact portions plus calculates calories, protein and other nutrients.

  13. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman says:

    I generally eat high-volume foods. A giant salad fills me up so much more than a grilled cheese on fewer calories. The book Volumetrics by Barbara Rolls is all about this (she came up with the whole energy density idea) and it’s spot-on.

  14. South Beach Steve says:

    What a stunning comparison! I try to pick those low impact foods when I want to snack. For example – celery. You can eat a lot of celery and your body really doesn’t care. 🙂 Cucumbers is another. Great post, as always!

  15. emergefit says:

    This is why I mentioned pickles in your Facebook question last week. Pickles are volumous (my word). There are less than 80 calories in an entire jar of dill slices, yet just three of them fill me up at about 30 calories.

    This was an excellent comparison that I will pass on the more than a few people!

  16. Desert Agave says:

    Those comparisons really are striking. I’m especially struck by the apple versus the chocolate chips. I know which one of those would help actual hunger, that’s for sure.

  17. Marcelle says:

    Oh dear seeing it like that makes one sit up and take note. I am inclined to eat non filling calories when I have not planned my meals ~ when I jump up for the computer for something to eat and then can eat and eat all day…know exactly what you talking about.

    BTW your photo’s always look very clear to me….

  18. Jill says:

    Wow this is really good Diane!! I have been so bad at my food choices lately – living in lala land about what I’m eating. I’m a very visual person too, so this helps A LOT! Thanks for taking the time to do this. 🙂

  19. Chris says:

    Yup, I definitely think about it. When I’m cutting calories I get HUNGRY, so I have to eat filling foods that are lowish in calories.

  20. Marsial2010 says:

    What I read into many of the comments above is that people still want to eat what they want, not what they know is healthier and more filling. I did that for years, and never was able to successfully keep my weight down. I hope that I’ve now permanently learned my lesson and will always keep sugar and other empty calories out of my life.

  21. Lori (Finding Radiance) says:

    I think about this a lot because I am a bulk eater. However, I do choose the more nutrient dense items sometimes because often times the fat content in them will keep me fuller longer. Depends on what I eat it with.

  22. RNegade says:

    Filling up on low calorie foods does not work for me. My hunger is not about creating a full stomach. My brain is not fooled by a big bowl of lettuce! What does work for me is eating to satiety, and sometimes that can only be achieved by eating healthy foods that are high in fat. Cashews. Bacon. Good quality chocolate. Cheese.

    I got fat by eating low fat foods. Now I’m getting thin by eating more fat. Fat satisfies.

  23. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Hi, Diane. I like how you are providing these visuals. I found a great little pdf reference about eyeballing portion sizes (comparing things to golf balls, tennis balls, cards, etc.) on’s website and I have a wallet sized copy in my purse.

    It’s not just size/volume that provides satiety. It’s also personal biochemistry. For example, I’d probably stay fuller on the small spoon of peanut butter than if I ate that huge serving of squash. Protein and fat are what stick with me more longterm. For those of us who have diabetic folks in the family tree, even if we’re not diabetic ourselves, we tend to be carbohydrate sensitive. People like me are the ones who can be wandering around doing stuff, not necessarily feeling physically hungry in the usual way due to focusing on other things, and our spouses suddenly say “you need to eat.” “But I’m not hungry.” “You NEED to eat.” So I know I’m being something that rhymes with a stitch, and usually after I start eating, I realize my blood sugar was low.

    So eating the miniwheats would be preferable to graham crackers because the fiber would slow down absorption of carbs, not just be more volume. But the squash wouldn’t stick with me and I’d probably rather have the little spoon of peanut butter–it would actually be more filling.

    This was my breakfast and I’m still full: 1/2 cup blueberries, a peach, 1/2 cup nonfat cottage cheese, 1/2 cup “Fiber One” cereal, 6 almonds, and a small cup of coffee (black.) Protein, fiber and a little fat are very satisfying. My snacks tend to contain protein and/or fiber if I don’t want to still be hungry afterwards.


  24. fittingbackin says:

    WONDERFUL pictures that really help illustrate how CRAZY it is. I mean the pb picture?! Wow – no bang for the caloric buck. Same with the chocolate morsels. We do have to make choices every day, and they’re hard, but seeing this it’s like whoa… clearly the right choice is so obvious. Thanks for this!

  25. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    GREAT POST Diane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I may have to share this! 🙂

    I do think about this & sometimes I just go the other way.. like the carrots, love them BUT I may choose not that bread but a piece of my healthy, high fiber, some protein whole grain bread just cause that may satisfy me more at that time… & then I may put some PB on it too and be one happy camper!! 🙂

    Seriously, if people did more of this….. 🙂 Thx Diane!

  26. Cynthia (It All Changes) says:

    Those comparisons used to shock me. And I like to shock others with them now. But my mostly veggie diet makes it a no brainer. I’d rather have broccoli as a base for sauce and stuff than a big huge bowl of pasta. It just changed my mindset.

  27. Alissa says:

    Wow- that comparison between the squash and the peanut butter is just crazy! It is more real to see pictures of the differences!

  28. Lara (Thinspired) says:

    Wow! Even though so many of us know that certain foods are a bad “investment,” these visuals are such a powerful reminder! Thank you for posting these, Diane. Some food “food for thought,” heading into the weekend!

  29. Pam says:

    Great pictures! I am trying so hard to move to the more nutrient dense foods for our health, and this kind of thing is just more fuel for that fire.
    To me, it just shows that something with much less calories and more nutrients can satiate you longer. I don’t think I could eat all of those carrots at once, but would be able to snarf the bread down in a few bites. Its an eye opener, for sure!

  30. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    I try to listen to my body cues and choose from that, keeping in mind that I need to consider calories AND nutrients when making the decision. That mindfulness moment usually helps me make the best choice. And then there are the other times. 🙂

  31. Tish says:

    Yes! I like the comparison of grapes with raisins, also. Fifteen raisins seems like a paltry offering, but 15 luscious grapes is satisfying.

  32. Alan says:

    In my business, we call that a great data display. Wow, so effective. And, of course, there’s research backing the energy density foods.

    I wonder what it would look like to compare foods by sodium content – restaurant food and a reasonable entree at home. Whoa, just to think of the visual.

  33. Lisa says:

    Great post – something I’m finding interesting from the comments – how many people would really eat 2 squash? And yet how many people would actually stop at just one tablespoon of PB?

    I’ve changed my evening routine a few weeks ago – I’m now eating about 200gm of frozen vegetables (it’s a huge bowl!). With a few spoonfuls of rice, and some pieces of chicken for protein, it’s more filling than anything I’ve ever eaten before. Visually it looks like lots of food, but it’s probably not more than 200 cals when all is said and done.

  34. Mary (A Merry Life) says:

    Calorie comparisons are always fascinating. But in the thick of things often you really don’t think about eating two squash – you just think about how much you want peanut butter! Hehe. Vegetables will ALWAYS win – you get to eat more and they are more filling.

  35. Leah says:

    I’m a very visual person, so that was very good for me. The apple vs. chocolate chips had me thinking… hmm…

    Great post idea!

  36. Hanlie says:

    Startling indeed! This is why I try to stick to include lots of fresh and whole foods in my diet… I don’t go hungry, but I’m keeping the calories down.

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