Hand portions. So hot right now.
Are hand portions the perfect method for monitoring how much you’re eating? No, probably not. There is no single perfect method.
But having a method helps you reduce the margin for error and provides feedback that helps you adjust based on the results you’re getting.
If you’ve got a little food log fatigue, need a break from weighing food portions, and tracking macronutrients this is the article for you.
What is the hand portion diet?
It’s not so much a diet as it is a way to be more mindful about how much you’re eating. Diets in the traditional sense have rules around what you can and can not eat.
- Keto asks you to eliminate carbs and eat a shit ton of fat so you can get into ketosis
- A vegan diet asks you to eliminate animal products
- Paleo suggests you forget about grains, legumes, and dairy
- Carnivore is silly but if you like it and it works for you, cool. You do you.
Using your hands to estimate portion sizes acts as a way to reduce the margin of error for how much you’re eating.
Can you lose weight by using your hands for portion control?
You can if using your hands to estimate portions puts you in a calorie deficit over time. If it does this you will lose weight. If it doesn’t, you will not lose weight.
- To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body needs. This is a calorie deficit.
- To gain weight, you must eat more calories than your body needs. This is a calorie surplus.
- To maintain weight, you must eat the calories your body needs. This is calorie maintenance.
If you’re not losing weight you’re eating too much even if you think you’re not. Not gaining weight? You’re not eating enough even if you think you are.
Using your hands to estimate portion sizes is one of many ways to control calorie intake. I’ve written more in-depth about some of the other ways here
How do you use your hands for portion control?
A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm. This is equivalent to 3-4 ounces (85-115 grams) of cooked animal protein. If you’re someone that tracks macronutrients this is about 20-30 grams of protein. This includes but is not limited to:
- Protein powder
- Greek yogurt
🥦 Veggies (non-starchy)
A serving of veggies is around the size of a clenched fist. This is equivalent to roughly 1 cup of cooked non-starchy vegetables. This includes but is not limited to:
🍞 Carbohydrates (starchy and fruit)
One serving of carbs is about the size of one cupped handful (or 1 fist). This is roughly 1 cup cooked or 100-130 grams of carbohydrates or 1 medium fruit. If you’re someone that tracks macronutrients this is about 20-30 grams of carbohydrates. This includes but is not limited to:
A serving of fats is around the size of your thumb. This is about 1 tablespoon or half an ounce (or 14 grams). If you track macronutrients this is about 7-12 grams of fats. This includes but is not limited to:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
Why would you use your hands to calculate portion sizes?
What are 5 other methods for portion control?
Below, we’ll quickly outline 5 alternative methods for easy portion control.
- Balanced plates
- Portion control containers/plates
- Smaller plates
- Eating slowly
- Food journaling
This is one of the easiest ways to monitor your portions and one of my favorite skills to build when working with nutrition coaching clients.
- Take a standard 8 to 10-inch plate
- Non-starchy veggies take up 1/2 of the plate
- Protein makes up 1/4 of the plate
- Starchy veggies take up the final 1/4 of the plate
- A thumb or two of healthy fat or omit if eating a fattier cut of protein
- Add a favorite zero or low-calorie beverage
Portion control plates, containers, and Tupperware.
If you find estimating portions using your hands to be difficult, portion control containers and plates can be helpful. Most of them apply the concepts of the balanced plate above.
Writing down everything you eat and drink is a great way to build awareness around what and how much you’re eating. Even those bites, licks, nibbles, and tastes throughout the day. There are a number of ways you could go about this.
- Weigh portions and track your calories and macronutrients in an app
- Take pictures of your food and create a photo food journal to review
- Simply write it down in a notebook or on the notes on your phone
How accurate are hand portions?
How many hand portions should I eat?
For most using the hand portions above is a great place to start. From there, adjusting based on a number of factors.
- Activity levels
For someone that eats 3 to 4 meals a day the following may be a good place to start.
- 2 palms of protein per meal (6-8 per day)
- 2 fists of non-starchy veggies per meal (6-8 per day)
- 2 cupped handfuls of starchy carbs (6-8 per day)
- 2 thumbs of healthy fats (6-8 per day)
- 1 palm of protein per meal (3-4 per day)
- 1 fist of non-starchy veggies per meal (3-4per day)
- 1 cupped handful of starchy carbs (3-4per day)
- 1 thumb of healthy fats (3-4per day)
Based on the results you’re getting you simply adjust your portions up or down.
How do I use hand portions with keto, paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting, or other diets?
How do you use hand portions for combination foods?
Looking at the label you can see that it has 8 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein per serving. Using hand portions that come out to be about the following portions.
- 1 thumb or 1 serving of fat (7-12g per serving)
- 1/2 cupped handful of carbs or 1/2 serving (20-30g per serving)
- 1/3 palm of protein or 1/3 serving (20-30g per serving)
You could break it down like this and include the servings for each macronutrient. But that sort of defeats the simplicity and ease of use we’re looking for when using hands to estimate portions.
Instead, because it’s 1 serving of fat I suggest classifying it as that and moving on. You could also choose to include it as a half serving of carbs, or 1/3 serving of protein if you prefer. The key is that whatever you decide to use make it consistent.
How do I use hand portions for mixed food meals?
How do I use hand portions for vegetarian protein sources?
4 Big Mistakes People Make When Using Their Hands to Estimate Portion Sizes
1️⃣ – Forgetting to include bites, licks, nibbles, and tastes. Let’s be honest, most of us pick at food over the course of a day. Spoon in the peanut butter here, break off a little donut there, and snack a bit while cooking. You’ll want to factor these into your portions for the day. Or, simply be aware of them and how they may be affecting your progress.
2️⃣ – Not tracking hand portions consistently. Maybe you track for a day or two, then take a break. You get back to it for a few more days but take another break. Give yourself at least 2 to 4 weeks of consistent tracking before evaluating your results.
3️⃣ – Trying to change too much at once. It’s easy to forget that eating better more consistently involves learning new skills. When learning new stuff you’re going to suck at it. Instead of trying to apply hand portions to every single meal, try focusing on one meal at a time. When you feel like you have that down, move on to another meal.
4️⃣ – Trying to be perfect with it. Not every food is going to fit perfectly into the hand portion method and this is ok. You don’t need to be perfect to be successful. Most people will do better just by having a self-monitoring method.
How to apply hand portions today
Start with one meal a day for one week. At the end of the week, if you’re feeling confident, level up to two meals per day. Eventually, working up to however many meals you eat per day.
Keep in mind that this is another tool in your toolbox to help you do a job. There are many ways to eat healthier, lose weight, monitor portions, and improve your relationship with food.
Ultimately, what matters most is finding a method or methods that make the most sense for YOU and help you do the job you’re looking to complete.