Guide to Basic Hand Portioning for Weight Management

When it comes to managing our weight, being mindful of portion sizes plays a crucial role in achieving our goals. While weighing food, measuring cups and measuring spoons offer precision, they might not always be within reach or desired to use during meal preparation. An effective alternative is hand portioning, where we use our own hands as a portable measuring device.

Our hand size is closely related to our body size, making it a convenient and practical tool for estimating portion sizes. When coupled with the practices of eating slowly and eating “just enough” or practicing Hara Hachi Bu, hand portioning offers a simple and mindful approach to portion control and maintaining a balanced diet. Side note, for muscle building and eating at a surplus, you will want to eat to 100-120% fullness level.

Note: Hand portions are a method for serving and plating food, rather than a means to measure during the cooking process (raw meats).

  • Cooked foods like meat, pasta, and rice are gauged after cooking, while raw foods are measured in their raw state.
  • In cases where food can be consumed both cooked or raw, such as spinach, the hand portion serves as a reliable guide for the amount to place on the plate, regardless of its preparation.

Basic Hand Food Portioning by Macros & Food Groups 

PROTEIN: Your palm size represents the recommended portion of protein for each meal. This includes animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, and fish, as well as plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu.

  • 1 palm of protein is approximately 20-30 grams
  • A deck of cards
  • Equivalent: 3-4 oz cooked meat or tofu

CARBOHYDRATES: Your cupped hand represents the recommended portion of carbohydrates for each meal. This includes starchy carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, and bread, as well as non-starchy carbohydrates like fruits.

  • 1 cupped hand of starchy carbohydrates is approximately 20-30 grams
  • A tennis ball or small, scooped handful equals about ½ cup
  • Equivalent: ½-⅔ cup of cooked grains or a medium piece of fruit

FATS: Your fingertip of your pointer finger is approximately 1 teaspoon and fitting portion size for oils or other fats. This is about the size of a postage stamp.

FAT-RICH FOODS: Your thumb size represents the recommended portion of fat-rich foods.

  • 1 thumb of fat-rich food is approximately 7-12 grams
  • Equivalent: 1 tbsp nut butter or cheese

VEGETABLES: Your fist or 2-cupped hands represent the recommended portion of vegetables for each meal. This includes all types of vegetables, from leafy greens to cruciferous vegetables.

  • A baseball or average-sized fist is approximately 1 cup
  • Ideal for raw or cooked vegetables, and whole fruit

Advantages of Using Hand Portions

  1. Heightened Awareness: Using hand size as a measuring tool helps increase your consciousness of the amount of food you consume.
  2. Balanced Meals: Portioning with your hand size includes the mindful eating guideline regarding the awareness of the energy equation and the body’s needs for macronutrients. It ensures you include appropriate proportions of protein, carbs (particularly vegetables), and fats in each meal.
  3. Convenience: Hand-size portions are convenient whether you are at home or on the go.
  4. Personalized Portions: Your hand size naturally corresponds to the ideal amount of food you should be eating, making it easier to regulate your intake.
  5. Prevents Overeating: Knowing your portion sizes can prevent overeating and help manage weight effectively.
  6. Decreased Consumption: Even if the hand portion sizes are not perfectly accurate, paying attention to the quantity of food can still lead to reduced consumption.

Downsides of Using Hand Portions

  1. Inaccurate Readings: Hand portions may not provide accurate readings, particularly when eating out, as you won’t know the quantity of ingredients used like fats (e.g., butter or oil), which can significantly impact calorie intake.
  2. Questionable Accuracy: Foods like protein may contain other macronutrients at different quantities, such as various meat cuts or fat content (93/7, 90/10, or 80/20), which can affect portion accuracy.
  3. Limited Nutritional Differentiation: Hand portions might not account for the nutritional differences between various foods.

Starting with Basic Hand Portioning

Try these out along with other mindful eating practices like eating slowly and only eating to 70-80% full. Adjust as needed for nutritional goals and hunger & fullness signaling.

For most meals (for most women):

  • 1-2 palm-sized proteins
  • 1 fist of non-starchy vegetables
  • 1 1-cupped hand of starchy carbohydrates
  • 1 thumb of healthy fat

For most meals (for most men):

  • 2 palm-sized proteins
  • 2 fist of non-starchy vegetables
  • 2 1-cupped hand of starchy carbohydrates
  • 2 thumb of healthy fat

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