If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: The optimal way to lose weight is to count calories
After all, it’s a pretty simple equation:
Calories in vs. calories out. Eat more calories than you burn, and you gain weight. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight.
Except counting calories isn’t that simple.
First of all — on the “calories in” side — you need to calculate how many many calories are in the foods that your taste buds desire. Hopefully you brought a bag with handbooks, websites, & databases. Just to plan your lunch with your mom. Now let’s assume that the handbooks, websites, and databases’ calorie estimates are correct. Research has shown they can be off by about 25% because of incorrect labeling, laboratory measurement error, and food quality.
Then, of course, there’s the “calories out” side. Estimating your TDEE each day comes with another 25% measurement error because of each persons individual differences. I highly doubt you are talking the same amount, walking the same number of steps, exercising the exact same….you get my point.
A possible 25% error on the “calories in” side, and another 25% error on the “calories out” side. (For more on it here)
Is it even worth the math migraines:
- pulling out measuring cups only to be greeted by moans from your friends/family;
- using food scale while pretending not to notice your servers rolling eyes;
- wasting 5 minutes inputting the food into an app to make sure its logged;
- Only to realize that the ingredients might not be the same and what if they interact with your body differently?
Don’t get me wrong we should have an idea of how much food we’re eating each day. This allows us to make adjustments so we can work on our goals.
But counting calories is enough to drive ANYONE crazy! No wonder people are buying up any and all diet books, dvds and supplements they can find just to avoid this mess.
If you are working with a Nutrition Coach than it is a safe bet that most of the work has been cut out for you. You can breathe a sigh of relief since you do not have to worry about all that. BUT what happens when you are vacation, at a restaurant with friends or you get a call that your kids car broke down on the side of the highway and now your scrambling to find food because you no longer have access to your prepped meals.
All that is required is that you have one hand and you can solve the equation 1+1=2
MORE Math!!! Seriously?!? I can hear you now, “Sometimes this guy”
Look down at your hand. We are going to your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb. I bet you didn’t know that you had built in measuring cups and spoons. We are going to use these to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of counting calories.
- Your palm determines your protein portions.
- Your fist determines your veggie portions.
- Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
- Your thumb determines your fat portions.
To determine your protein intake
For protein-dense foods like meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or beans, use a palm sized serving.
Men – two palm-sized portions with each meal.
Women – one palm-sized portion with each meal.
Note: a palm-sized portion is the same thickness and diameter as your palm.
To determine your vegetable intake
For veggies like broccoli, spinach, salad, carrots, etc. use a fist-sized serving.
Men – 2 fist-sized portions of vegetables with each meal.
Women – 1 fist-sized portion of vegetables with each meal.
Again, a fist-sized portion is the same thickness and diameter as your fist.
To determine your carbohydrate intake
For carbohydrate-dense foods – like grains, starches, or fruits – use a cupped hand to determine your serving size.
Men – 2 cupped-hand sized portions of carbohydrates with most meals.
Women – 1 cupped-hand sized portion of carbohydrates with most meals.
To determine your fat intake
For fat-dense foods – like oils, butters, nut butters, nuts/seeds – use your entire thumb to determine your serving size.
Men – 2 thumb-sized portions of fats with most meals
Women – 1 thumb-sized portion of fats with most meals.
A note on body size
If you’re a bigger person, you probably have a bigger hand. Vice-versa if you’re a smaller person… well, you get the idea. Your own hand is a personalized (and portable) measuring device for your food intake.
True, some people do have larger or smaller hands for their body size. Still, our hand size correlates pretty closely with general body size, including muscle, bone – the whole package.
Planning your meals flexibly
Based on the guidelines above, which assume you’ll be eating about 4 times a day, you now have a simple and flexible guide for meal planning.
- 2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
- 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
- 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
- 1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
Every person is unique and their body will respond differently so you want to make sure to stay flexible, track your meals and adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness, and other important goals.
For example: if you’re trying to gain weight, and you’re having trouble gaining, you might add another cupped palm of carbohydrates or another thumb of fats. Likewise, if you’re trying to lose weight but seem to have stalled out, you might eliminate a cupped palm of carbohydrates or a thumb of fats at particular meals.
Remember: This is a starting point. Adjust your portions at any time using outcome-based decision making.