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Precision Carb Guessing.

I keep measuring cups in my purse so that I can measure out my dinners out to be exact.  I keep a small food scale in the glove compartment of my car so I am never guessing how many ounces a certain item might be.  And I have the Calorie King booklet in my pocket at all times, so that I'm never left guessing.  I even sewed pockets into all my clothes, just to bring the booklet around.

(The previous paragraA  diabetes-friendly Happy Meal.  :: rimshot ::ph is filled with lies.  Big, fat ones.)

I wish I was a precision carb counter.  I wish I had the patience for it, always either eating pre-packaged and factory-analyzed foods or spending my time carefully measuring and weighing any home cooked adventures.  But I am not a precision carb counter.  

I'm a precision carb ... guesser.

During the nine months of baby-building, I became pretty good at guesstimating carb content based on the size of the food serving.  You know, like a "deck of cards" is the size of a meat serving, or an oatmeal serving the size of my fist.  (When I was at dLife, the food and nutrition editor did this article on serving size visualizations, which I thought was really good.)  But while pregnant, I tested a LOT and wore the Dexcom every damn day, so there wasn't much of a chance for my blood sugars to dance around due to controllable variables.  (Hormones?  That was a whole different story - they made my numbers nutty.)

But now, with baby out and my level of diabetes management slacking a good amount, I'm losing my attention to those foodie details.  I'm back to eyeballing things without a reference point ("That bathtub of pasta?  That's about 25 grams of carbs.") and doing some seriously wild guessing.

I'm okay with being a guesser.  It fits with my lifestyle (my purse isn't big enough for a scale, thank you very much) and I'm reasonably good at it.  For me, the key to keeping meals from spiking me all over the place is to do the following:

  1. Bolus well in advance for meals.  Not the 15 minutes I was told when I first started on Humalog.  I'm talking like 35 minutes before I take a bite.
  2. Asking about rogue sauces in meals.  When we're dining out, I always ask if the meat comes with a sauce or if the salad comes drenched in dressing.  I've found that "on the side" helps me keep from devouring hidden carbs.
  3. Refresh my visual memory.  I need to remind myself, at least once a month, what "one serving of pasta" looks like.  I need to measure it out at home and actually look at it before I chow on it.  Because without that reminder, portion sizes get all distorted in my head and suddenly I think one "small apple" is akin to this
Small tricks go a long way in making guessing more effective.  I'm at peace with being a precision carb guesser.  Do you guys have any tricks that you use to help count carbs?  Or to just keep track of what's happening on your plate in general?


I hate carb counting. Hate it. I have a great cheat sheet though from Gary Scheiner that I laminated and have in my bag. Favorite one? A pizza slice the size of a closed, flat hand is about 30 grams of carbs. Comes in handy for the little ones!

"bathtub of pasta" ROTFL! =D That reminds me, our anniversary is on Monday. Italiano! Might need to refresh myself on what a pasta serving is.

This might sound bad, but when I'm going out to eat and I have absolutely no idea how many carbs I'm about to engulf, I just bolus the standard 7 units I was told to do when I was first diagnosed. It's enough that can give some freedom on the appetizer dinner rolls, but not too much to send me into a bad low. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I just make sure to keep an eye on Constance and test 2 hours after to see where I'm at.

Of course, if we're planning a dinner at a specified restaurant beforehand, I try to look up the restaurant's webpage and see if they have nutritional info I can look at beforehand.

I think we all do some crazy guessing sometimes. I still measure at home (sometimes). And I do have the calorie king book in my purse. But overall, I'm a guesser too.

When I first started pumping a few years ago, my Calorie King book went everywhere with me. Eating out is the hard part, because you just never REALLY know what is in the food. I always have my phone on me, and I've found that smartphone calorie/carb counting apps help tremendously, and allow for at least a little bit more accurate guesstimates.

Great post! When I read the first paragraph, I thought you were serious at first, I was beginning to feel terrible that I didn't do those things. I don't have any tricks I can pass along. I do measure (with cups or scale) food at home then look it up the Calorie King book. When I'm eating out, I look for the nutritional info online (which you can find for most fastfood places...chick-fil-a, subway, panera, etc) that helps a lot. They usually have "meal calculators" too, where it adds all your items together for you so you can get an accurate carb count.

"Bathtub of pasta" had me rolling over here, too. I'm a guesser, but I'm usually pretty decent about it. But sometimes people will ask "how many carbs do you think are in this?" and I'm stumped b/c outside of my own little intermal calculator, where I counting just for myself, I freeze up. (And BTW, I'm REALLY glad to know you don't carry measuring cups in your purse. REALLY glad.)

What a timely post. We were out for supper last night and totally had to guess at counts for Jenna. It’s one thing to guess at one item. But when we have two or three food items we are eyeballing there is more chance of a huge miscalculation. I mean, say we overshoot all three items by 5 carbs. That’s 15 carbs we’ve over bolused her for! Things went well last night. We must have guessed right (or right enough at any rate). But it’s still a stress and makes me stop and think just how badly I need a night off from cooking. Between that and the higher fat content of food at restaurants we don’t dine out too often, needless to say.

I'm not diabetic, but I recently lost a BUNCH of weight (50 pounds) using Livestrong.com, and they have a special section of their website for diabetics which would probably include a lot of the info you need. Livestrong.com's main site (not the special-for-diabetics portion of the site) also has an iPhone app (you want the one called "Calorie Tracker" that's $2.99), which is incredibly handy for "on the go" calorie counting, if you have an iPhone.

Yep, I just used the iPhone app to find out that a Pillsbury buttermilk biscuit has 10 g of carbs. That's the info you need, right?

The thing is, there is a LOT of user-generated content, so you still have to be smart and know that a cheeseburger at Applebee's is unlikely to contain just 300 calories - that's just someone's wishful thinking/cheating. You can report incorrect data on the website. You can also add your own info (so calculate your own recipes) if you pay for the premium membership.

It includes a lot of restaurant food. If you have to count any nutrient, I'd highly recommend it. I mean, 50 pounds, that's like half a person.

(I'm not affiliated with Livestrong.com in any way, and if you have any questions about it you're welcome to e-mail me).

Heeheee... I love the giant apple. I hear you sister, loud and clear.

I'm sorry but 35 minutes is ridiculous! Not the advice but the fact that that is actually GOOD advice. It is so frustrating! I don't know what I am going to eat a half an hour before most meals!

Considering how prevalent cell phones are, I recommend a program that provides carb counts for the stuff you're eating. If you're on the Android Platform (like the cool kids), I recommend Calorie Counter. It may not have the fancy, exclusive restaurants but the places that range from slightly common to Starbucks-like oversaturation are featured. It's a little scary to see how ridiculous a small Oreo Blizzard from Dairy Queen is, but I'd rather know and be able to bolus appropriately.

Any iPhone users with a Go To app that features carb content for food?

I am also a guesser. Breakfast and Lunch is usually easier. I also find that some foods I can take less insulin than others. i.e. bananas or watermelon i can take less insulin for the amount of carbs. I also train for marathons and triathlons which throws a whole other variable into the mix.

I found your bolus timing comment interesting. Just yesterday I experimented with bolusing 30 min prior to my meal (despite my dr. saying max of 15 min only) It wasn't perfect but it was much better than 15. I thought it was just me who had some wierd resistance to what is supposed to be "fast acting" insulin.


I suck at carb guessing, like so badly it hurts! I have to weigh everything at home and make sure i know what the exact numbers are. Meals out tend to be a disaster!

I think it would be great if people with diabetes who live in the same neighborhood could give input online in a centralized place on the food in their favorite places that don't have that info available like the Burrito at Romano's Pizza in Roslindale, MA.

We use some iphone apps when we go out to eat, but otherwise its guess city. When the boys are at school and call me with what they ate, I HAVE to guess. The list of what they eat is hilarious...yesterday my son asked me over the phone, "how many carbs are in 3 bites of apple?"

I don't weigh things often. I think I would be in the loony bin if I had to weigh everything.

I've seen the size of your purse . . . . you could totally fit a scale in there. :P

OMG this post is great and right on the money! I thought I was alone here, and that all other diabetics carb counted to the gram. When I read your first paragraph I thought you were serious too and I was like "damn!" I don't have the patience for it either. When I'm hungry I'm irritated enough as it is to test my sugar and bolus, let alone whip out the scale and Calorie King. It's like darts on a dartboard!

I try and use the same bowls/cups for the same items. Like cold cereal always goes into these small bowls I know hold one cup, and we have these juice glasses that I alays use if I want half a cup of any drink and a mid-sized glas that is perfect for a full cup.

I also follow your policy of occasionally measuring foods so my guesses don't slowly get larger and larger. :)

Carb counting sucks but making it into a family event as I try to implement some of the stuff we are learning at the healthy kids healthy weight program for the son's weightloss endeavor has inexplicably created a Jr diabetic cop. I love the boy to death and the fact that he is embracing this but on the flip side, I wanna wring his neck sometimes...lol

Hi Kerri! This is the first time I'm commenting---I'm so happy you posted about this. I carb-guess all the time and feel guilty about it. I feel better knowing you do it too haha. Pasta is the worst for me. I always feel like I need more insulin than I really do.

There is a program for Blackberry called Good Food Near You where you put in your zip code and it pulls up restaurants near you and gives the info on the food they serve. Useful for travel.

Kerri you were in my brain again today with your blog. I was just reminding myself that I need to focus and improve on the CARB thing vs changing carb ratios. I have noticed BS going a little crazy lately.

Also you really freaked me out with your first paragraph. The entire time I was reading it, I was thinking that you were the DIABETIC POSTER CHILD. NOT!

How do I manage carb counting? Let me flash back. Being diagnosed in the early 70's I had to rely on the food exchange process. Nutritional Charting did not start until the early 90's (according to google.)

Till this day I still utilize visualization, food exchange and carb counting and I refer to this as the SIMULTANOUS COMPARISON METHOD..... Man-on-Man does that Math suck with this. But it works for me.

I am a newby on the pump and counting carbs has taken on a all new respective.

I plan consistant every day meals. (lunch bag meals) Carbs already counted and well known.

I do use the WAG (wild a.. guess)method for eating out.

I do check out online nutritional charts.

When food is served in a resturant. I try to size it up to my plates at home. (8inches)

When eating out I bump it Up!

I wish that all resturants be required to post carb counts on their menus.

As for the 15-35 minute prior thing. IMPOSSIBLE! My life at work is a little crazy and I never know if lunch is in 15 or an hour. Not possible.

When I bring a bowl of rice, pasta or fruit salad to the table I use a 1/2 cup scoop to serve it with. It really helps keeps portions under control for the whole family. I probably measure 30% of the time and guess the rest. Pizza is the hardest - the sizes/crust thickness is all over the place.

LOL - you had me going there with the 1st paragraph - I thought - this doesn't sound like Kerry - then you cleared it up (phew). I guess with some of us being D for most of our lifes - it's kind of automatic to start "analyzing" what we shove into our face. I'm sure it ticks off my friends sometimes when they have this HUGE amount of fries on their plate - and I'm going 80grams of carbs if I ate those - 5 units of insulin - no way jose!
When I first started on the pump, I did carry a carb counting book. Now I'm back to my "old ways" - and just eyeballing it - usually I'm pretty good.
Have to admit tho' - like others here - I love my 1/2 cup measurer here at home (even have hubby trained to eat the same amount - except I sneak in abit more - 'cause he's a guy ).

I use the Diabetes Pilot on my iPhone for logging and over the last year I have compiled a ridiculous customized food database that helps a lot. I have a spreadsheet where I've calculated my home-made recipes via Calorie King and then I enter that into the database on the iPhone. But when I go to a restaurant that doesn't have nutrition information posted anywhere, I usually WAG a bolus of 12-15 units.

I'm a guesser, too! It's too anxiety-inducing to try to get it "perfect" but I'm usually pretty close. One reason is I tend to eat a lot of the same types of foods, and try to avoid potatoes which spike the sugars. When I eat out I tend to almost double what I would usually do...sometimes it works! Glad to know there are other guessers out there!

Good thing you fessed up on that first paragraph b/c I was about to call you out on it! Or give you a medal for being such a good hider of using those things while out to eat. Hard to focus on diabetes once the baby's around huh? I consider a day a diabetes success if I haven't forgotten to bolus!

and ps- 35 minutes ahead is impressively. I'd honestly forgotten that it's even supposed to be 15!

I do a lot of carb guessing too. Your tips are really helpful. It's hard to bolus in advance though if you don't know what you are going to eat. So even 15 minutes helps.

And...about Symlin. It's been really good to me lately and I have lost 3lbs so far. I have never been able to lose any weight with it before. Sometimes my BG crashes with just symlin and I don't need any insulin at all. Endo says I'm the first to report that.

this was great to read!! when C was first diagnosed, i nearly drove myself crazy trying to be that precision carb counter person!...that was more than 6 years ago. for many different reasons, i have lightened up a bit and have slipped over to the not-s0-precise carb guesser...and everything is OKAY...C is a happy healthy kid...and i'm a lot easier to live with too! don't get me wrong...when we're home and i've got all the resources needed, i DO get out the measuring cups, scale, book, whatever...but when it's not convenient we resort to pretty good guessing...thx Kerri!

There are purse size scales; I have one in my "medium" size purse and try to remember to take that one when I go out to eat. But yeah, often times guessing is the only thing to do.

Changing to a plant based diet helps too; I learned from www.naturalhealingojai.com how to change my lifestyle. I've lost 45 pounds and feel much healthier. Lifestyle changes make a big difference!

Good luck; I really like your commonsense take on how to live with diabetes.

When at home we nearly always measure with the scale or measuring cups, but then we're only one year in. My son is very "programmable" and I'm hoping that by doing this with a "that's just the way it is" attitude, he'll keep it up as an adult. When we're out, I use either the Calorie King book or Diabetes Pilot on the iPod Touch to guesstimate the carbs. I suck at portion sizes, but I keep repeating what the nurses told us - you can always fix a bad number. We just test more when we're out to keep things from being too bad for too long.

Great post! I am also a guesser and I tend to do pretty well... but, like you, I have to refresh my memory pretty frequently at home by measuring/weighing my food. Actually, I always weigh out my breakfast cereal since I have a food scale at home. I love some of the other readers' suggestions such as using a measuring cup for serving and so on.

Just found this blog today and love, love, love it! I am Type 1 and all alone in my little world... so it's great to read another person's journey... I'm getting my master's in counseling and we call this "normalizing." It's great! Anyhow, I am a fellow carb guesstimator. What usually screws me is trying to gage "new" foods. For the most part, I have my normal foods and a routine... so that helps. But bolusing half an hour in advance..? That's interesting. I once asked my doctors if maybe my post-meal check numbers were so spikey because I waited too long to do my humalog and he assured me that was not the reason... but I might just give this a shot and see if it makes a big difference.
Oh, and I also have Calorieking on my bookmark tab on my laptop (which I am always on...)

I guesstimate and I'm generally pretty good at it as I am a very visual person.

When I was pregnant and being especially careful, of course, this was what I would do: at our favorite Italian restaurant I would order my pasta dish and tell the waiter up front to have the kitchen measure out one cup and put the rest in a doggie bag. It worked great!

P. S. While reading your first paragraph, all I could think was: how does she clean off all that equipment after measuring and before sticking them back in her purse?!

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