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A Quick and Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size

by 
author image John Berardi, Ph.D.
John Berardi is a nutrition coach and exercise physiologist. He also serves as a performance consultant for Nike and as an adjunct instructor at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Texas. Berardi received his Ph.D. in exercise physiology and nutrient biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.
A Quick and Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size
Portion control made easy! Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/vkuslandia

Portion sizes can be tricky. But understanding how to measure them is essential to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Apps like LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate Calorie Tracker use technology to help make the process easier.

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But how can you be sure you’re eating the right amount without having to weigh and measure your food all the time? Measure food portions with your hand!

Use your hand to measure out portions.
Use your hand to measure out portions. Photo Credit: John Berardi/Precision Nutrition

If you've been frustrated with calorie counting, you're not alone. Instead of counting grams and weighing your intake, give this portion control guide a try. All you need is the ability to count to two and your own hand. Here’s how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your vegetable portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carbohydrate portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

Calorie Control Guide for Men

To see what this looks like in action, check out this calorie control guide for men:

Guys, here's what you need to measure portions.
Guys, here's what you need to measure portions. Photo Credit: John Berardi/Precision Nutrition

Calorie Control Guide for Women

Here's what the calorie control guide for women looks like:

Ladies, here's what you need to measure portions.
Ladies, here's what you need to measure portions. Photo Credit: John Berardi/Precision Nutrition

Measuring Protein: For protein-dense foods like meat, fish, eggs, dairy or beans, use a palm-sized serving.

  • For men: two palm-sized portions with each meal
  • For women: one palm-sized portion with each meal

Note: A palm-sized portion should be the same thickness and diameter as your palm.

Measuring Vegetables: For veggies like broccoli, spinach and carrots, use a fist-sized serving.

  • For men: two fist-sized portions of vegetables with each meal
  • For women: one fist-sized portion of vegetables with each meal

Measuring Carbohydrates: If you're including extra carbohydrates in a meal — like grains, starches or fruits — use a cupped hand to determine your serving size.

  • For men: two cupped-hand sized portions of other carbohydrates
  • For women: one cupped-hand sized portion of other carbohydrates

Measuring Fat: If you're including extra fats in a meal — like oils, butters, nut butters, nuts/seeds — use your thumb to determine your serving size.

  • For men: two thumb-sized portions of extra fats
  • For women: one thumb-sized portion of extra fats

Read more: Super Simple Ways to Master Your Macronutrients

Your Personalized Measuring Device

Of course, if you're a bigger person, you probably have a bigger hand and if you're smaller, you probably have a smaller hand. This means your own hand can be 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.

Build a Flexible Meal Plan

Based on the guidelines above, which assume you'll be eating about three or four times a day, you now have a simple and flexible guide for meal planning.

For men:

  • 2 palms of protein-dense foods with each meal
  • 2 fists of vegetables with each meal
  • 2 cupped hands of carb-dense foods (optional)
  • 2 thumb-sized portions of fat-dense foods (optional)

For women:

  • 1 palm of protein-dense foods with each meal
  • 1 fist of vegetables with each meal
  • 1 cupped hand of carb-dense foods (optional)
  • 1 thumb-sized portion of fat-dense foods (optional)

Just like any other form of nutrition planning — including calorie counting — this serves as a starting point. So stay flexible and adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness and other important goals.

For example: If you're having trouble gaining weight, 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.

Read more: How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss Like a Pro

Want help finding the best exercise, eating and lifestyle advice for you? Download these free starter kits for men and women:

What Do YOU Think?

Are you trying to lose weight? Have you ever wondered about portion control? Do you have a trick for helping you measure portions? Or any other healthy eating tips? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!

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