Whether you decide to measure your food choices like a scientist in the lab or to take a more relaxed approach doesn’t really matter. What matters is the consistency of your practice.
If you have the patience and the inclination I definitely recommend you break out your measuring cups, measuring spoons, and food scale to get a real understanding of how you are eating. This is not a practice you will need to do for the rest of your life. Short term, it takes some work. Long term, you can stop when you know what the measures look like outside of the beakers and vials and in your bowl or on your plate. That knowledge will stick with you for many years.
A simpler approach is to use your own hand as the measuring device. It’s a little less exacting but it accomplishes the same ends. I’ll get to how to do so in just a moment. First I want to address a current reality that is circulating the fitness-sphere at the moment.
Just how many calories, exactly?
Something that is making the rounds on fitness blogs and popular media is discussion about how calories are not something anyone has a handle on when it comes to the foods we eat. There are many factors that make the accuracy of calorie counting problematic:
- Everyone’s stomach has an individualized ability to digest food. And that varies with the health we’re in, stress we may be under, and our age, to list a few factors.
- Food labels can be inaccurate. The labels are based on an average.
- We do not absorb all the calories available in the food. In the lab or in the body? There is a difference.
- How food is prepared can change its calorie load.
Bottom line – we don’t really know the total food counts of what we take in. And that’s just calories. If you also consider the protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamin, and mineral levels it gets even murkier.
Simple eating habits.
But none of that matters and here’s why. Most people are habitual eaters. We eat the same basic foods, between 12 to 15 staple items, over and over again. This is fantastic news. No matter how poor you think your eating habits are at the moment, they can be changed with some tweaks over the long term. No need for a life overhaul in one moment of frenzy. It has taken your entire life to get to this point, changing course incrementally will pay long dividends over the years.
Referring to the Preferred Foods List will provide you with high quality, nutrient dense choices. Find the foods that are consistent with these choices and make any appropriate substitutions. You’ll then design your daily eating plans around those foods. Simplicity is key here. Variety may be the spice of life but it leads to difficulties in asserting control over your eating. Food plans that are too much, too soon, or too complicated are non-starters.
The economics of getting fit.
How you eat is the most important factor in transforming your health, fitness, and physical appearance. The workouts you use to condition your body are akin to a purchase order. You make a demand on the body to come back stronger, fitter, better prepared for the challenges just introduced. But the body does not grow in the gym. It grows in the time between workouts.
The raw materials that the purchase order requires are the nutrients you take in. When those nutrients are in the right quantity and of good quality the transaction is complete, to continue the economic comparison. You step back in the gym and write up another purchase order. Skimp on the nutrients and you’re trying to build a healthy structure with shoddy material.
Control your eating, master your life.
Once you have mastered your eating you will be well on your way to mastering your life. The choices outside of the gym far outweigh the choices inside the gym. That’s why there is the common phrase that nutrition intake makes up 80-90% of success in health and fitness goals. It’s impossible to make up the difference in the gym if your eating is out of whack. Much easier to eat a high-fat muffin than to burn it off through exercise.
Give yourself a hand.
Now, back to using your own hands to measure your portions.
- Palm for protein. The diameter and thickness of the palm, ignoring the fingers and thumb.
- Fist for veggies. The volume taken up by your clenched fist.
- Cupped hand for carbs (grains, starches, fruits). If you were to cup the serving in your hand and rounded a little.
- Thumb for fats. Again, the volume taken up by your thumb from the tip to where it meets the palm.
It’s not a super accurate method to judge portion size. What it lacks in accuracy it makes up in convenience and consistency. As you become more aware of what you eat, how much, and what that looks like on your plate you’ll be able to make better choices. Any time you increase your awareness regarding a behaviour the more likely you are to improve that behaviour. This works in increasing or decreasing any habit.
So pay attention to how you currently eat. Begin right where you are. Use your own hands to pay attention to how much you are putting on your plate. Then, over time, begin to make better choices. This will make a massive difference in the way you feel and the results you achieve.