I have always disregarded the most basic healthy eating advice. I’ve never been one to blindly follow the new trendy diets, but the same cannot be said for new studies or experiments.
I would consume all news and books that claimed to have found a “better diet” or a way to improve our body functions by eating a certain way (or within a specific time limit). After all, having a scientific background in applied mathematics with a high focus on optimization made me very data-driven, and longing for statistical confirmations. I still remember that my curiosity for nutrition started with searching if there was an “optimal human diet” – try to beat that!
Anyway, in all this search I had some kind of “filter” that made me ignore all the common advices:
- “Always eat breakfast.”
- “Eat small meals, several times a day.”
- “Use your hand to measure portions.”
Yeah, right. Hand portions? That will be completely inaccurate! (Remember: math and optimization lover on this side – the scale was my favorite object in the kitchen.)
Why I tried hand portions
My husband is a personal trainer. He has been my partner in all the diet experiments I made throughout the years. After eating fast food for more than a month, we were ready to eat healthy food again (check out how our kitchen renovation affected our diet temporarily).
Additionally, he was looking to have some “easy to follow” advice to give his clients that could help them get better results – and that could not be any of our crazy diet experiments. Plus, it is out of his scope of practice to provide anything other than general healthy eating advice – so it could not be anything prescriptive or even restrictive in any way.
And so we went, to try hand portions. See how to apply it, how difficult it would be, and, most important, the results it could get us.
Hint: it went way better than I ever imagine (even if my expectations were very low due to, you know, being a “normal” advice and such).
How we applied it
We searched a bit about how to use hand measurements before we tried it. The first step was to define the measurements we were going to use. Then deciding how much to eat overall. And finally, how to adjust the plan as we went.
Hand what? – the measurements
The overall guidelines were about carbs, fat, and protein amounts. Some guides had more sophisticated measurements like ones specific for cheese or milk. We decided to keep things simple and focus only on the main nutrients.
This way, milk would follow the protein amount (being its major nutrient). As for the cheese, it depended on the type. If it is a high protein cheese, like cottage, we would follow the protein amount. If it is a high-fat cheese, we would move closer to the fat measurement. Overall, we wore doing the same, but without having to memorize a lot of measuring limits and over-complicate the daily portions.
- Carbs: the cupped hand. We literally started using our hands to measure ingredients while cooking. When used for dry ingredients we would simply use the amount that fitted our hand without falling (e.g. to measure rice or pasta). But we would also consider it for others, such as potatoes or bread – here allowing a “bigger” cup these are already in the final size (while rice and pasta still “grow”).
- Protein: the palm of our hand, considering its area and thickness. Again, allowing a slightly bigger piece while raw, because the measurement sizes are considered for cooked food. This would be used for meat, fish, some cheese types, milk, and eggs.
- Fat: the size of our thumb. It is around one tablespoon. Used mostly for cooking oils and butter, but also a great help to measure nuts and high-fat cheese.
- Vegetables: one or two closed fists. although this is not a nutrient as the ones before, it deserved a category of its own to make sure we are consuming enough.
How much? – adding more meals
This was the second major change we made – increase the number of meals. We used to basically skip breakfast (coffee with milk is not really a meal…), eat a big lunch, snack when crazy hungry in the afternoon and eat only soup with cheese for dinner. Ok, not all days were like this – but most of them were not far.
The simplicity of this method is the best part. The goal was to make smaller, but frequent and balanced meals:
- We focused on making 3 to 4 meals a day, each of them with 1 to 2 measurements of the points above: carbs, protein, fat, and vegetables.
Note that I say 1 or 2 measurements because while I ate only one (as I am a woman with a petite frame) my husband ate mostly two because in general man need more food and he also exercises more.
Keeping track of the changes
We used the above measurements and daily amounts as starting guidelines.
Our second focus was to be aware of our internal hunger cues. On the first step, during the meals. But that approach can be flawed because we eat more and bigger meals. So, we would take a second step: wait. And evaluate how much time after eating we were truly hungry again.
While the first one helped us understand how we felt after eating smaller meals and differentiate true hunger from just desire to eat, the second allowed us to adjust the servings for the next day.
If after a meal we were hungry 2 hours later, we knew we were eating too little. On the other hand, if we can be 4 hours without thinking about food it means the meal was too big. We used that to adjust our portions.
At the moment we are comfortable with what we are eating. We have improved our eating patterns, corrected our portion sizes and we have even lost some weight without trying. We did this in a very flexible way and without restricting any food types or groups. We even increased the amount of vegetables we ate.
We still have to improve the “eat more meals” part, as we still make some mistakes in that department due to poor planning or just plain lack of time to cook.
Our next step is to reduce portions to start seeing even more progress on the fat loss department, as we both need that after those weeks of fast food! What about you? Have you ever tried this approach to improve your eating habits or losing weight in general?