hands portion moderation

back to basics | portion moderation

Earlier this month, we kicked off the “Back to Basics” series. This week, we’re taking on my third food rule: portion moderation.

If you recall, my “food rules” are as follows:

baby hands

When my daughter was born, we hadn’t yet embraced digital photography, so the first, hard-copy photos we dutifully sent off to her grandparents in China were greatly anticipated. And, of course, endlessly admired. She was, naturally, perfect.

(And I was informed that, “It’s alright if the first one is a girl.” Huh, after THAT experience, who said there would be a second?!? No, I just thought that, I didn’t really say it.)

The second batch of photos was apparently dissected in greater detail. The second assessment: Why are her hands and feet so large? (That, too, could be blamed on her mother, whose hands are almost a full knuckle longer than her father’s. Sad but true.)

I get a perverse satisfaction from the fact that my now-grown daughter’s hands and feet are relatively small. Even tiny.

We were amazed to learn that most of her classmates in middle and high school had feet that were easily 2–3 sizes larger. Was it something in the Ann Arbor water?!?

Why am I embarrassing her with all this?

Because this week’s post is all about portion moderation—and learning how to mind our portions using our hands.

nutritionism + portions

As I teach in my workshops, “nutritionism” is a fixation on the individual nutrients of food at the expense of the intrinsic value of food and the experience of eating.

And we are obsessed with nutritionism! Many of us can immediately state how many grams of protein/fat/carbs we limit ourselves to, how many grams of sodium our doctor has warned us not to surpass, etc.

And few of us would be able to expound on the fact that the nutrients in whole foods tend to be more bioavailable to our systems. Or that eating whole foods cooked from scratch in a social setting have benefits way beyond how many grams of fat we just ate. Or didn’t eat.

So when I mention portions, most people have two thoughts: Now I have to weigh and measure everything. And I hate doing that.

And most people immediately use the word “control,” as in “portion control.”

If you have been following me for awhile, you know I really intensely dislike the word “control.” It’s so … controlling?

So I like to use the word “moderation”—much kinder and gentler.

And no—I’m not saying you need to get out the measuring cups and spoons and scale.

Want to learn how to moderate your portions? Use your hands! And your eyeballs.

hand, hand, fingers, thumb

(Haha—all you parents out there, you’re welcome for that earworm. You probably immediately filled in, “Two hands drumming, drumming on a drum.”)

Here’s the fastest way to estimate your portions as you put together a plate:

hand (1)

The palm of your hand (minus thumb and fingers) is the size of a portion of protein, whether we’re talking beef, chicken, tofu, or legumes.

hand (2)

Your fist is the size of a portion of vegetables. Unless we’re talking dark green leafies, in which case use two fists for measuring them raw.


Flip your hand over, palm side up, and cup your fingers. That’s one portion of carbs (potatoes, pasta, rice, other grains—whole, of course!)


The tip of your thumb to the first knuckle you reach as you travel toward your hand is the size of a portion of fat. Think: salad dressing, cheese, butter….

portion distortion

Looking at your hand in this way, you might be struck by what’s called “portion distortion.” It’s most clearly evident at restaurants, and it also applies to our home cooking and portioning.

  • When’s the last time you got a steak or chicken breast the size of your palm (about 3.5 ounces if you’re into measuring)? They’re usually at least 8 ounces!
  • And how about vegetables? When’s the last time you actually ate 1 portion the size of your fist, much less the 3–5 recommended by the government?
  • Then there are the carbs. Can you imagine ordering pasta at a restaurant and getting just the amount that would fit in your cupped hand?!?
  • Finally, are you able to eat just one thumb-knuckle of cheese? (Just for the record, I’m not.) And how much salad dressing do you get when you order a salad at a restaurant? Well, you’d know if you ordered it on the side, like Sally.

Even our cookbooks have been affected: brownies that once served 36 now serve 16 even though they contain the same amount of the same ingredients and are cooked in the same size pan.

And those supersized portions are definitely creating supersized humans, many of whom are not healthy. I’m all for body positivity—and to me, health and wellness is paramount.

big hands, big … portions?

A final note on portions and why I started out talking about glove size.

Remember the concept of bio-individuality? It stands to reason that a tall human requires more nutrition than a small one. Size matters.

The human body doesn’t disappoint on this score: most tall people have larger hands than their smaller counterparts. Larger hands, larger portions—of whole foods cooked from scratch, of course!

make the connection

If you’re trying to take a health journey and you’re looking at your food as a starting place, try moderating your portions. (And please, please check with your primary care provider or alternative practitioner before restricting or increasing your food intake significantly!)

Don’t obsess over every BLT (bite, lick, and taste); instead, for a week, simply observe your portion sizes—whether you’re eating in or out. Use the hand, hand, fingers, thumb method to eyeball your protein, veggie, and starch amounts.

The following week, try sizing your food using the same method. Maybe start with just your protein or just your veggie portions? Gradually reduce/increase your portions and reflect (or even journal) on how you feel. Don’t forget: track your mental, emotional, and spiritual/energetic feelings, not just your physical sensations!

And if you need some support on your health journey, reach out! I currently have room for three 1:1 clients. You can schedule a free initial consultation here.

Photo from Pexels