Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

A handy guide for portion control and more tips on eating right for your shape

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using your hands for portion sizes

using your hands for portion sizes

Men's portion sizes

Men’s portion sizes

Last week’s blog looked at tips to control your diet and meals. As promised, this week I feature some simple ways to keep your portion sizes right for your body. Use your hands (palms, fist, and thumb) to determine portion size- see this article for explanation –

  • 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.

Let’s take the protein portion- think of foods like meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or beans.                                                                       For men, use 2 palm size portions, for women, use one palm sized portion- so 2 eggs for females, and 2 or 3 for males would be the correct sizes. For vegetable portions, you can be a lot more liberal; the recommendation is one fist-sized portion, but many veggies are very low in calories, so filling up half of your plate with vegetables is a good idea. When you’re using the fist sized portion, think of the thickness and diameter of your fist to measure your vegetables. The space in your cupped hand  is what determines the amount of your carbohydrate portion, like grains, starches, or fruits.  As you’ve heard many times, we need many fewer carbohydrates than the typical American diet includes. For fat portions, use just your thumb to determine the amount of oils, butters, nut butters, nuts/seeds needed.   

One of the reasons this works well is because we’re all made in different sizes and body types, and our hand size generally corresponds to our body size. It also is a quick, easy way to always keep track of how much you ingest. While we’re on the topic of body type, it’s instructive to balance our macronutrient levels (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to our body type. The 3 different types- an ectomorph ( slim, smaller bone structure, high metabolism), a mesomorph (medium bone structure, athletic build, average metabolism) or an endomorph (stocky, higher body and fat mass, slower metabolism) determine the breakdown of your nutrient composition. If you’re an ectomorph a higher carbohydrate percentage makes sense.  A mesomorph should consume a diet that’s balanced with about 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30 % fat, and an endomorph should eat fewer carbohydrates overall. For specific percentages, check out this article-

Beyond body type consider the myth that you should eat many small meals throughout the day. This is true if it’s working well and you don’t consume too many calories at a time. Some people prefer 3 square meals a day and don’t get hungry in between. Others like to “graze”. I find that hunger breaks through for most people if they go more than 4 hours between snacks and meals, increasing the chances for poor food choices.  Most people with whom I work find that between 4-7 PM are the bewitching hours; a time way after lunch and usually before dinner. Often, we’re the most ravenous at this time from the day’s activities and still need to take care of others before thinking of our own needs. This is an essential time to have healthy snacks at the ready, like vegetables with hummus or yogurt.  Another good snack is low calorie fruit like melon or pears with cottage cheese. Any snack which contains a combination of a protein and carbohydrate will keep you feeling satiated longer, pre-empting the reach for salty or sweet snacks.

Another strategy is carbohydrate cycling, which is eating more carbs on days of weight training or days of high activity.  Then consume lower amounts of carbs on more sedentary days. This will keep your metabolism humming, and fits into the “fuel as food” paradigm.

Using these hand(y) tools and strategies you can now keep your portion size right for your body type and activity level. This will take the guesswork out of “How much is too much?”

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