Counting calories can be a tedious, time-consuming, and potentially obsessive restraint on one’s life. Weighing foods, measuring a cup of this or a tablespoon of that, and updating calorie counting apps can be quite stressful. Or worse, you panic when a friend, family member or co-worker offers you something that you hadn’t planned for in your daily meals.
You are left with 2 options: decline the treat or accept the food and deal with the frustration of re-weighing, re-measuring, and re-calculating all the other foods you had planned to eat.
Or maybe you're lucky enough to have time to weigh, measure, and count every single gram of rice and trying to hit exactly 173g of protein doesn’t stress you out.
But ask yourself this; is this sort of practice sustainable long term? Do you really want to be obsessively counting in five or ten years from now? Do you think you will have the time to do this each and every day in the future? Not to mention, is even healthy to have such rigid day to day rules about what you’re going to eat?
What if there was an easy, sustainable way to monitor how much you eat? What if this approach would enable you to meet your calorie requirements without having to weigh or measure anything?
Keep reading if you’re intrigued and looking for the solution…
The Fist and Thumb Approach
The new way to stay on top of your nutrition is what I call the “Fist and Thumb Approach”. There’s nothing easier than using your hand as a measurement tool: you can’t lose it, it’s individualized for your calorie intake, and you don’t have to worry about the social stigma associated with weighing or measuring food.
First thing’s first, I ask that you ditch the online calorie needs calculators.
Why? These tools ask for an activity level (which you may or may not be estimating correctly), a body fat (which you are most likely estimating), and then they may use 1 of a collection of formulas, all of which will provide a different target calorie amount for you. On top of that, some don’t even calculate based on lean body mass which is completely incorrect.
Secondarily, I have seen many cases where someone enters their information and the calculator says they need 2800 calories to gain weight. The problem - this person is currently losing weight eating 3000 calories.
How does this happen? Aside from inaccurate estimations as I already mentioned, different people have different bodies and different metabolisms. Two people who are the same size and have the same activity level may require different amounts of calories.
So how do you know how much you need? Easy!
Simply figure out how much you have been eating and what your weight changes has been over this time. If your weight has been stagnant, then you are at maintenance. If your weight is changing, for every pound you have been gaining or losing per week, you are probably at a 15-20% surplus or deficit, respectively.
Counting and Measuring Servings
Now we get into how you will count servings for protein, carbohydrates and fat. For protein and carbohydrates you will use your fist, and for fat you will use your thumb.
So for the course of a few days figure out how many fists and thumbs of each food you are eating and write it down. The following tables will shows how you can convert your fists and thumbs into servings of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
|1 Fist||Servings of Carbs|
|Whole Fruits And Berries||0.5|
|1 Fist||Servings of Protein||Servings of Fat|
|Fattier Cuts of Beef||1||1|
|Chicken or Turkey Breast||1||0|
|Poultry Dark Meat||1||0.5|
|Lean Ham or Pork||1||0.5|
|Fattier Ham or Pork||1||0.5|
|1 Thumb||Servings of Fat|
Other foods that don’t quite work well with the fist and thumb approach are things like oatmeal, bread and dairy products. An easy way to count these foods is to think of a serving as about 90-110 calories of any food. Thus, if there are foods you don’t see listed, figure out how much 100 calories of this food is and how large the serving is. Then see how much this amounts looks like in terms of your fist or if it is similar to another food I have listed, just use that as your guide.
For example, 1 cup of cooked brown rice is about 200 calories. Another carbohydrate source, millet, is also about 200 calories for 1 cup cooked. Since you know 1 fist of rice is 2 servings of carbohydrates, you know that millet will also be 1 fist for 2 servings of carbs. For something like oatmeal, 1/3c raw oats is 1 serving of carbohydrates. Just leave a 1/3c measuring cup in your tub of oats and use that to scoop out your oats.
One cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese is 1 serving of protein and a half serving of carbohydrates. I measure out however many cups I would normally be eating and put it in a bowl. I see how far up the bowl the yogurt/cottage cheese takes up and just use that bowl every time (you can do the same thing with cereal and milk).
For milk, a 12oz glass of fat free milk is the equivalent of ½ serving of protein and 1 serving of carbohydrates (for full fat milk add a half serving of fat). Again, I would either find a glass that is about 12ounces or use whatever glass I normally use and see how much space 12 ounces takes up.
Here is a list of foods that count as a combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates:
|Food||Servings of Protein||Servings of Fat||Servings of Carbs|
|Nonfat Cottage Cheese (1 Cup)||1||0||0.5|
|Fat Free Milk||0.5||0||1|
|Can of Tuna (Packed in Water)||1||0||0|
|Sugary Sauce (1 tbsp/thumb)||0||0||0.25|
|Cream Sauce (1 tbsp/thumb)||0||0.5||0|
|Hummus (4 thumbs)||0||0.5||0.5|
|Nonfat Greek Yogurt||1||0||0.5|
|Nonfat Plain Yogurt||0.5||0||0.5|
Meeting Macro and Micronutrient Minimums
Next, you need to know how to ensure you will be eating enough protein and fat with this approach because protein and fat are the two essential macronutrients with minimum requirements that must be met.
For every 25-30 pounds you weigh, you should be taking in 1 serving of protein and for every 30-35lbs you weigh, you should take in 1 serving of fat. The rest of your intake should primarily be composed of carbohydrates.
Oh wait! Don’t forget your veggies! Regardless of your intake, I believe a sound diet has a base of nutrient dense vegetables to ensure you are getting a solid amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Every person should be taking in 4 fist sized servings of vegetables per day. This would be foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, eggplant, carrots, or cooked spinach. For raw leafy vegetables (lettuces) I would suggest counting 2 fist as a serving.
You can eat slightly more if it suits your preferences. The important thing is just to keep this amount consistent day to day.
Adjusting Your Intake As you Go
So if you are trying to gain or lose weight and you are not seeing the results you desire, you need to make adjustments. Most of the adjusting should be done by increasing or decreasing your carbohydrate servings.
If you are losing weight too fast or not gaining weight, increase your carb servings (i.e. fists) by a few and see how your weight responds the next week. Do the opposite if you are gaining weight too quickly or not losing weight as desired.
But Isn’t All This Far From Exact?
You may think this eye-balling and hand approach is not exact and you would be correct. But you know what? Your daily caloric burn isn’t an exact science either.
Do you walk the same number of steps every day? Complete the exact same chores or workout? What about time spent time sitting, standing, or sleeping? Of course it’s going to be different.
This approach is all about having an approach that is fairly accurate, highly sustainable, and easy to repeat day in and day out. It will make your nutrition tracking far easier, less time consuming, and reduce your stress over counting and weighing every single food you want to eat.
1. For most people, the process of counting calories and macronutrients is a time-consuming, bothersome, obsessive process that is not healthy or sustainable long-term.
2. Using calorie needs calculators and counting exact calorie amounts isn’t needed, as these calculators are just estimates and you really don’t know how many calories you are expending daily.
3. You can be far less-exact in determining how much food you need and still meet your goals and maintain progress.
4. Being able to keep track of what you eat with your fist and thumb provides a solution to help you meet your nutritional needs and goals, while giving you more time, flexibility, and piece of mind.