There are a lot of ways to decide how much to eat at a given time; there’s the serving size suggestion on food packages, you could be following a point or calorie recommendation, or you could be using hand portion sizes as a simple guide.
Is this helpful… or even “allowed” when you’re an Intuitive Eater? Or are these things only used when you’re on a restrictive diet?
Hey there, I’m Colleen, a non diet, intuitive eating Registered Dietitian. I help women just like you break up with diets so that they can live full, healthy lives.
In today’s blog post, I’ll be walking you through what hand portion sizes are, if they’re helpful for anyone on the road to Intuitive Eating, and how they might be a tool for gentle nutrition. I’ll also tell you about my membership community, in case the way I explain things is helpful and you’re ready for some support.
Let’s dive in with what hand portion sizes are.
What are Hand Portion Sizes?
Hand portion sizes are typically a way of gauging how much food to eat at meals and snacks.
This method uses the size of your hand to measure out “appropriate” portions for different types of food. Since your hand is always with you, it is a simple way to think about portions.
With the hand portion size method, you use the palm as the reference point for a serving of proteins, while the thumb and fingers are used for fats, and a closed fist is a great estimate for a serving of carbohydrates – roughly one cup.
Hand portion sizes are probably most often thought of in terms of restricting eating and trying to lose weight. I am not a fan of that (I don’t recommend focusing on weight, but rather how you FEEL and working towards your set point weight) , but there are other ways to use the tool if you’re able to do so without feeling triggered into a restriction and binge cycle.
I’m never a fan of something feeling diet-y or hard-and-fast rules. You’re the boss of your body; you get to work together to build trust that you can figure things out.
But, if you’ve been following a restrictive diet for a while, you might not have hunger cues, and “just eat when you’re hungry” ain’t gonna work. When you’ve been restricting, you need to refuel your body and build trust that you’re not going to make your body feel like it is starving again.
Is this different from a serving size?
Not so much. By law, serving sizes have to be on packaged foods. This information can help anyone to know what nutrition a food has to offer per serving, such as grams of sugar or fat or mg of iron.
If you’re managing a chronic disease, such as diabetes, knowing how many carbohydrates are in a serving is really helpful information for being able to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.
Recently, the nutrition label was updated to make portion sizes a tad more realistic based on what folks like to eat at once, such as how much ice cream from a pint.
But – and this is important – you don’t have to follow those portion sizes. You’re the boss of your body, not the food label. I mean, the FDA literally states: based on the amount of food people typically consume, rather than how much they should consume.”
You don’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed if what amount of food you’re interested in is more or less than what the label (or hand size) suggests.
Can hand portion sizes be helpful?
If you’re putting your toe in the water with Intuitive Eating, following hand portion sizes might feel like a “rule” you don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. I hear ya.
So this might surprise you but hand portion sizes might just have a place. Let me explain.
Having a starting point for servings, such as with hand portion sizes, might give you some helpful information, especially if you’re recovering from a restrictive diet. If you haven’t touched a carb in years and you’re scared to because you don’t even know how much to consume this could be a great place to START.
…just don’t stop there.
Once you’ve tried that portion size a few times, you get to adjust based on how much feels good. For example, if you have a nice lunch based on hand portion sizes for a turkey sandwich, an apple, and some baby carrots…but you’re still hungry: have more!
On the flip side, are you feeling a little uncomfortable after a burrito bowl? Maybe that portion was a bit much this time and you’ll know to start with less next time.
Try having more carbs one day, more protein the next, and so on. Keep making adjustments until you find the amounts that feel best for your body, both in terms of satisfaction and sustained energy.
The key is to approach this information with neutrality and curiosity, not judgment. Are these portion-size recommendations the law? No ma’am!
Sometimes people wonder about folks having larger hands than others. Do they still work?
Everyone has different hand sizes but that is okay! That’s why it’s important to tune into what makes YOU feel good – not just blindly follow a serving size.
Serving sizes, whether from a food package or a suggestion from the size of your hand, are just a suggestion. You get to evaluate if they’re actually appropriate for how you’re feeling.
How many portions do you recommend?
How many portions do I eat a day? It depends!
I usually recommend carbs, fat, and protein at each meal. For example, roasted sweet potatoes for a carb, grilled shrimp for a protein, and a lovely lemon salad dressing for a fat.
At snack time, I recommend aiming to have 2 out of 3 of those nutrients, such as having some whole grain toast for a carb and some silky smooth avocado for a fat. As for things like fruits and veggies I consider those more “accessory” items that you can fill in around the macronutrients.
You’re in partnership with your body
Although diet culture would have us believe that our body can’t be trusted and that “health” (cough – bullshit – cough) is just a matter of willpower, I’m not buying it.
Have you ever worked for a boss that micromanaged every. little. thing. you. did? Like, you cannot send an email without their approval? Ugh. It makes you want to slack off and rebel, right?
Well, your body feels the same way when you try to micromanage every little calorie, point, or serving size.
But when you build trust with your body and let her guide what you eat, you will eat the right amount. And, it will feel good both to your body and to your mental health. Pinky promise.
Your body has the ability to regulate its caloric intake: I don’t recommend counting calories!
That’s a wrap
Hand portion sizes are just a tool. They can be used to incorporate some gentle nutrition concepts into your eating plan or they can be used to micromanage your eating and trigger a diet-y spiral.
If you feel like you’ll never be able to learn to “listen to your body” and you MUST micromanage your intake with a diet check out The SociEATy; the intuitive eating membership that will give you actual control over your food and eating, not the wisp of control that fad diets give for a few fleeting moments.
Everyone I’ve worked with says “this won’t work for me”…until it does!
I’ve helped over thousands of women find peace and joy with eating as they banish diets for good. You’re special (truly) but you’re not so special this won’t work for you (pinky promise!).
The SociEATy is your Anti-Diet safety net! Diet culture is appealing because of the community, structure, and goals. So it MAKES SENSE that it’s hard to leave behind. I created the SociEATy—the community that actually EATs!—with all the GOOD things dieting has to offer baked in. So you don’t have to free-fall into this new way of life!