Forget calorie counting, it’s no way to live and it’s a very ‘shonky’ science. Correct food portion sizes can be worked out by using something we have with us all the time. Our hands.
Our clients never count calories or points, and nor do we for that matter. Instead they learn to eat naturally, tap into their instincts and use very simple tools to gauge food needs.
How big are your paws?
Nature is a clever thing. It gives us hands to suit our size. So if you’re five feet tall your hands will not be the same size as a six-foot-four’er – they’ll be considerably smaller. However, when we eat at restaurants or fast food joints they don’t say “Ooh I can see you’re about five feet tall with hands to match, so I’ll serve you a smaller meal that is in fact your correct food portion size.” No, they just serve you the same meal as the six-foot-four’er, and you eat it. The taller person stays slim and you keep getting fatter.
In these days of convenience food, takeaways and eating out people are regularly eating wrong portion sizes, and when I say regularly I mean on a daily basis. To make it worse, cheaper food places increase portions of poor-quality food, because it attracts more custom, ‘Eat as much as you want’ gets universal squeals of delight.
The tall person above doesn’t even need this much food, let alone the five-footer* but everyone eats all the food regardless. Then when they’re at home they dish up the same portions as they get when we they’re out, because now those massive meals are deemed normal, and anything less looks like deprivation.
*This goes for children too, who are frequently given six-foot-suitable portion sizes and expected to finish them.
Walking waste disposal units
There’s another issue. We have so much disposable income these days, and food is so abundant, processed and available, that we just buy and cook too much. We go around the supermarket sticking stuff in the trolley at random, and we can hardly push the trolley by the end because it weighs as much as a family car. Then in the car it all goes, using extra fuel to get home, then into the cupboards and fridge where you can’t see the wood for the trees, nor the bogof cheddar for the ready meals, and the cry comes up:
“HELL babes, we need a BIGGER FRIDGE!!!”
The kitchen is bursting with food, a lot of which will be wasted either via the bin or our bodies. Come to cook a meal and “Whoa!” forget the size of your paws, just pile in all those ingredients you have to hand. *Burrrp* *Explode*.
Being in the nutrition sector I spend a lot of time watching eating behaviour, both on social media and when out and about, not in any weird way but simply because it’s my job to observe and learn about eating behaviours. Well all I can say is a lot of people must have those massive foam party hands. Plates overflow with so much stuff it’s hard to tell if there’s actually a plate under there. Food types are completely out of proportion. Starchy carbohydrates, that’s rice, pasta, potatoes, noodles and so on take up a vast area and meat or poultry takes up another huge swathe of the (incidentally, oversized) plate. Vegetables or salad are a token gesture on the side. It just can’t be comfy eating that much. But this is the way of the world now, we’re overfed but we fear starvation if we don’t eat a snack between lunch and dinner or have a plate of food the size of a washing up bowl – actually, bowls have become more common, because they let us pile the food up higher, offering support around the sides.
Surely it’s easier to count calories?
Well maybe, if you’re the minutiae type, love whipping out your calculator or calorie app every time you eat, or you particularly enjoy using flawed science. Can you think of a better way to remove the joy from eating than to assign numbers to everything? And how do you know what the numbers are if it’s a natural food without a box? Oh you have an app!
“Hang on darlin’, I know it’s a romantic meal for our first date but I just need to whip my app out to work out how many calories are in these brie parcels. Oh bugger it doesn’t list brie parcels, I’ll have to enter the breadcrumbs, cheese and cooking oil separately. Oh actually I’ll just get my scales out cos I don’t know how much each one weighs.”
I dunno about you dear reader but I wouldn’t be too hopeful about the bedroom situation and level of innate human skill. Dear oh dear. Oh yes I forgot, we know nothing about how this person metabolises food, the state of the food itself nor how exactly it was cooked, which may cause it to be dealt with non-standardly; nor the health status of this person, how long they slept for in the last month, how much energy they actually expend (subject to a whole other list of variables), whether their muscles work efficiently at burning fuel, nor whether we can actually trust the calorie information in that app (we can’t, actually).
Forget it. Bring on the simple joy of looking at your mitts instead.
So how do we use our hands to work out the correct food portion sizes for a meal?
This is easy.
- Meat and poultry: The size of your palm and the depth of a deck of cards.
- Fish: The size and thickness of your hand with closed fingers.
- Starchy carbs, fruit, beans and pulses: The size of your clenched fist.
- Vegetables and salad: Veg enough to fill your cupped hands, salad to heap-fill cupped hands.
- Butter, dressings, peanut butter: The length, width and depth of your thumb.
- Nuts and cheese: The combined width and depth of your forefinger and middle finger.
- Starchy carbs: THE SIZE OF YOUR CLENCHED FIST. Not the size of King Kong’s clenched fist.
Of course there will be exceptions; you might get the odd person with disproportionate hands, or athletes, or people on special diets who need a little more or less of some foods, sometimes (our bespoke nutrition plans are for you). But in general the above is a fantastic guide.
Is there anything else I need to know about correct portion sizes?
Yes. Some generally helpful pointers, not just portion sizes but general sensible eating:
- Use smaller plates, side plates are now the size dinner plates should be.
- Leave some plate showing around your food.
- Buy and cook only as much as you need – this comes naturally if you’re on our eatnaturally plans.
- If you happen to cook too much, clear it away before you eat, out of sight, out of mind.
- Eat more slowly, put less on your fork or spoon, chew, taste, take a few breaks between mouthfuls.
- Eat until you’re just comfortably full. If there’s anything left after that throw it away (eating unnecessary food is just another form of throwing it away) or eat it tomorrow if safe to do so. Or get some chickens who like leftovers. Best just not to cook too much for a start.
- Move away from the food once you’re done. Go for a walk, phone a friend, read a book. Do not return.
- Just because you’ve been for a run or to yoga it does’t mean you can eat ALL THE FOOD or that you *deserve* more food.
- Enjoy the hell out of what you’re eating, eat less but better.
I need help to make this change
Want all this on a plate with fantastic support and guidance? Join our eatnaturally for everyone plans and learn by doing, as well as getting delicious food, obvs.
Need more individualisation? We’ll support you with our eatnaturally bespoke nutrition plans.
Just have a question? No problem, email firstname.lastname@example.org, we answer really fast.
Never eat anything bigger than your head.