• Gabriel Davila

Calorie Counting vs Hand Portions: Which is Better?




Nutrition is a fascinating and ever-changing field. For one, it's amazing how simply adjusting food quality and intake can have a big impact on our bodies. It's like our bodies are semi-conscious beings: if we eat good, our bodies will show it. If we eat not-so-good, our bodies will also show that (and we will feel it).


The second thing about nutrition that is interesting is that there are so many diets, so many ways of eating, and many of them work. Take two popular ways of eating: calorie counting and hand portioning. One is more popular than the other, for reasons that are not necessarily better.


Although, they both work for certain people with certain goals. In this post, we are going to look at both options and weigh the pros and cons of both methods, and hopefully it can help you decide if one will work better for you.


Calorie Counting


What is calorie counting? What are calories? What is counting? All jokes aside, calorie counting is exactly what is sounds like: tracking your total food intake by calories, and making sure you hit your target number. Counting calories works because through tracking the number of calories you're eating, you can accurately pinpoint how much you need to eat to lose or gain weight.


For example:


  • if you need 2,400 calories just to maintain your current weight, then to lose 0.5 lbs a week you need to be in a daily 250 calorie deficit, so you would eat only 2,150 calories per day.

  • if you wanted to gain weight, you would add 250 calories per day to gain 0.5 lbs a week.


It may seem easy, as all you do is track the numbers. And some of you may actually like this option, depending on who you are. Typically, this works if you are a numbers person. If you like tracking data and seeing the progress on paper, then more power to you.


Problems arise with human error, as sometimes it's not always possible to track your calories to a perfect degree. Going out to eat? Let's hope you know whether or not the chef cooked the food with oil, lard, or butter, as that will add another few hundred calories. You also have to measure out your food, or at least have a precise idea of measurements.


If, on the other hand, you don't like math or can't be bothered to constantly track your food (it does become a pain), then the second option might work better for you.


Hand Portioning


Hand portioning is like that fancy hipster you see at your local coffee shop; they seem like they have some new and cool hip style, and they wear those large framed glasses that you aren't even sure are actual prescribed glasses, and they listen to vinyl. Yes, only vinyl. They might also have man-buns or eat only organic foods, and are down for anything that isn't mainstream.


But anyway, forget about hipsters and let's get back to hand portioning. This method involves using your hand as a guide to figure out how much of each major food group you should be eating. I learned of this method from Precision Nutrition, of which I have my PN lvl 1 coaching cert, which has really helped me learn how to help clients with their nutrition goals.


The idea of using your hand goes like this:

  • 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.

It works because it's simple. Your hand is portable, you can take it to barbecues and parties. Your hand is proportioned to your body, so you get the right amount of food for your size. It also takes the hassle out of trying to keep track of how many calories you've eaten. According to Precision Nutrition, they recommend the eating guidelines below.


For men eating 4 times a day:

  • 2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;

  • 2 fists of vegetables with each meal;

  • 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;

  • 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.

For women eating 4 times a day:

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;

  • 1 fist of vegetables with each meal;

  • 1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;

  • 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.


The cons, of course, come from not knowing how many calories you're eating. Maybe you're a special case, and you require more or less calories because of your activity level. You don't know how your body will react until you actually try something.


Which One is Better?


Which one is better for you is entirely dependent on you. Maybe you click well with calorie counting. Maybe you like the ease of using your hand as a guide. In my experience, it's wise to try both out, and maybe even combine the two.


I would recommend using the hand portioning for the majority of your meals, but still have a rough idea of how much calories (and macros) you are taking in. If you aren't seeing results, take one portion of carbs or fats away, and know how many calories that is as well. You don't have to track every calorie you eat over the day, but knowing the general ballpark is helpful.


A really good reference that I would recommend is Precision Nutrition's (I sound like a shill, but they really are that good) food calculator that you can find by clicking here. All you have to is enter some basic info, and you will have a detailed guide on calories, portions, and macros, as well as how to make adjustments.


Hopefully this post has been helpful. If you think that it can benefit someone else, share on social media! Drop a comment if you have something to share or have a question.

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