If you want to lose weight, you know that calories matter. But in most cases, meticulously counting calories is not the solution. That approach is often tedious, inexact and unsustainable—and when eating becomes too complicated, people are more likely to give up and fall back on old habits.

So what can you do? The key is to find ways to eat quality foods in appropriate amounts.

Try this intuitive approach from John Berardi, PhD, co-founder of Precision Nutrition, and Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, Precision Nutrition coach and adviser to athletes like U.S. Open winner Sloan Stephens and professional sports teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Browns.

Using Your Hands

Berardi recommends a simple method that can help you build awareness of what—and how much—you’re eating. It’s easy, portable and customized precisely for you. In fact, all you need is your own hand and the ability to count to two.

Here’s how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your veggie portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

Of course, everybody is a little different. But since bigger people tend to have bigger hands and smaller people usually have smaller hands, your own hand provides just the right measuring guidance for your food intake.

Let’s break down how this works one food group at a time.

Protein

For protein-dense foods like meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, use a palm-sized serving. This means a serving has the same thickness and diameter as your palm. Each palm-sized serving provides approximately 20–30 grams of protein.

For men, a good guideline is six to eight palm-sized portions of protein each day. That’s two palm-sized portions in each meal, assuming you eat four meals per day.

For women, the recommendation is four to six palm-sized portions of protein each day. That works out to roughly one palm-sized portion in each meal (again, assuming four meals per day).

This helps you meet your protein needs to build muscle, burn fat, improve recovery and boost performance.

Vegetables

For nonstarchy colorful vegetables (think broccoli, spinach, salad, carrots, etc.), use a fist-sized serving. Again, a fist-sized portion has the same thickness and diameter as your fist.

For men, the guideline is six to eight fist-sized portions of vegetables each day. That comes out to roughly two fist-sized portions in each meal.

For women, the recommendation is four to six fist-sized portions of vegetables each day, or about one fist-sized portion in each meal.

Of course, you’re free to eat more veggies, but just adding one fist-sized portion to each meal is a great starting place.

Carbohydrates

For carbohydrate-dense foods—like grains, starches or fruits—use a cupped hand to determine your serving size. Each cupped handful provides approximately 20–30 g of carbohydrate.

For men, the guideline is six to eight cupped handfuls of carbohydrate each day. This works out to roughly two cupped handfuls in each meal.

For women, the recommendation is four to six cupped handfuls of carbohydrate each day. This works out to roughly one cupped handful in each meal.

This gives you enough carbs to fuel performance, maintain hormones and feel good without getting excessive.

Fat

For fat-dense foods like oils, butters, nut butters and nuts/seeds, use your entire thumb to determine your serving size. A thumb-sized portion is the thickness and entire length of your thumb, and each serving provides approximately 7–12 g of fat.

For men, the guideline is six to eight thumb-sized portions of fat each day. This works out to roughly two thumb-sized portions of fats in each meal.

For women, the recommendation is four to six thumb-sized portions of fat each day. This works out to roughly one thumb-sized portion in each meal.

This amount gives clients enough fats to support the immune system, maintain sex hormones and perform many other vital functions without being excessive.

This handout is a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry, ideafit.com.