BlogWeight LossHow to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories: The Healthy Plate and the Hand Rule

How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories: The Healthy Plate and the Hand Rule

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on March 31, 2021

Table of contents

Calories count but it doesn’t mean that you have to count calories. Calorie counting has multiple disadvantages including wrecked relations with food and lack of flexibility in your diet. Fortunately, there are two rules that you can combine to fill your meals with necessary nutrients and control your portion sizes.

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Mediterranean diet as a basis

A number of people have no idea what food they should choose to stay healthy and what’s the right portion size for weight loss. The abundance of information may leave them confused and overwhelmed: Should they chose a paleo diet or go vegan, should they try eating 1,200 calories a day, or try intermittent fasting? Unimeal experts, along with the U.S. News rank the Mediterranean diet as the best diet(1) overall, the best diet for heart health and diabetes, and the diet that is simplest to follow. This is why we recommend you to use its main principles along with two simple rules: the healthy plate rule and the hand rule.

The healthy plate rule: What to put on your plate and why?

The healthy plate rule provides a simple and effective way to find out the correct size of different types of food you should put on your plate. It is a handy tool for those who’re not sure about what to eat and for those of you, who, for some reason, can’t follow a personalized meal plan.

A healthy plate is 1/2 vegetables and fruits, 1/4 protein, and 1/2 grains | Shutterstock
A healthy plate is 1/2 vegetables and fruits, 1/4 protein, and 1/2 grains | Shutterstock

To apply the healthy plate rule, picture this: your plate is divided into four sections. Beside the plate, there is a glass representing dairy products, it shows how much milk or yogurt you can eat along with your solid meals. The four sections of the plate include grains, sources of protein, vegetables, and fruits. 

Fruits and vegetables

First, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. It’s better to have slightly more vegetables than fruits. Plant-based whole foods are nutritious. This means that they contain microelements and vitamins your body needs. 

How fruits and veggies help you lose weight?

When your body receives all the micronutrients from whole foods, it doesn’t crave them as it would if you were fueling it with “empty calories.” This is one of many explanations why you become hungry soon after you’ve consumed highly-processed foods and can’t get satiated with ice-cream, burgers, and candies even though they are high in calories.

Another reason why fruits and veggies should be in your diet is that they are rich in fiber which is quite filling and stretches the walls of your stomach quicker. When your stomach is stretched, it sends hormonal signals to your brain telling it you’re full. Research(2) shows that fiber intake can speed up weight loss as it helps you control your appetite and daily caloric intake.

How to consume?

Canned fruit juices or dried fruits with added sugar are not as healthy as whole fruits. Fruits and vegetables should be consumed as close to their natural state as possible. To enrich your diet with micronutrients and vitamins, increase your consumption of leafy greens. Add spinach, parsley, cilantro, and other greens to fill your dishes with flavor and your body with antioxidants.

Grains and starchy carbohydrates

The healthy diet rule offers you to fill ¼ of your plate with grains. These should be whole grains like whole-wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice, buckwheat, and barley. Try to opt for these products and minimize the amount of overly processed carbs like white bread or white rice in your diet.

Protein sources

The rest ¼ of your plate should consist of protein sources. Ideally, your proteins should come from lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and beans.

Why protein is essential for healthy weight loss?

Proteins are the building blocks for muscles and the main component of many hormones and enzymes. They are necessary for body cell growth, they participate in the production of antibodies, ensuring the efficiency of the immune system. They are also responsible for your skin and hair beauty: Collagen and keratin are types of proteins.

Another benefit(3) of protein is that it has a higher thermic effect of food, which means your body needs more energy to digest protein. Proteins have a higher satiety(4) level this is why you feel full for longer after the meal rich in protein.

How to consume?

High-protein and low-carb diets like Adkins, Keto, and Paleo can be efficient for fast weight, they might be dangerous for your overall health. Too much protein can increase your risk of kidney stones(5) and other health conditions, so consult your doctor if you want to try them. 

Remember that everything should be in moderation. Studies show that your body’s need for protein can vary from 0,8 g to 1,6 g(6) of protein per 1 kg of your body weight. This number depends on your physical activity level, there is evidence(7) that athletes need more protein than people with a sedentary lifestyle.

Sweets and other guilty pleasures 

If your major goal is to lose body fat, reduce the number of empty calories you consume. Empty calories provide little to no nutritional value, which means they don’t fill your body with micronutrients and vitamins. Some examples of empty-calorie foods are soft drinks, alcohol, candies, cookies, and potato chips. 

Why you should allow yourself some treats while on a diet?

If you really love your unhealthy treats, moderation without deprivation is important. Flexible and sustainable diets, as well as well-balanced meal plans, always allow you to have a sugary unhealthy snack once in a while to keep your mood and motivation up.

Note to remember: Don’t mountain your food on a plate building a tower! 

Use your palm instead of kitchen scales

The plate rule is easy to apply when it comes to full “square” meals like breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but what about snacks? In this case, the palm rule will come in handy. It will help you determine what’s your healthy portion size without measuring tools.

Your palm can help you control your portions without counting calories | Shutterstock
Your palm can help you control your portions without counting calories | Shutterstock

This is how much of various products you can eat:

  • Vegetables or fruits = 2 handfuls
  • Starchy carbohydrates (grains, pasta, potatoes) = 1 clenched fist
  • Meat or fish = your palm (no fingers)
  • Butter or oil = one fingertip of your thumb
  • Chocolate = one forefinger
  • Nuts = 1 small handful
  • Cheese = 2 fingers folded together

The rule of the palm allows you to determine the ideal portion of any product for you using your hand.

Practice mindful eating

We understand that people opt for calorie counting when they have trouble listening to their body signals. However, studies show that flexible dieting and intuitive eating are more beneficial(8) for mental health and more efficient for weight loss in the long run compared to rigid calorie counting.

Know the difference between physical hunger and emotional cravings to avoid overeating. Asking yourself questions like “Am I really hungry or just bored/sad/depressed” will help you in this quest.

Another tip that will help you stay mindful while eating is hiding your snacks. The best decision is to stop buying sugary snacks but this might be a problem if you live with kids or other people who’re not ready to sacrifice their eating habits for the sake of your weight loss. In this case, you can at least hide these foods in a cupboard, so they don’t tease you every time you see them. 

Try intermittent fasting

Some studies(9) show that intermittent fasting can decrease the level of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, over time. You might benefit from the 16/8 IF scheme if you’re prone to late-night dinners or have half of your daily caloric needs from snacks. Try eating three square meals a day, like our grandparents used to. Researchers find new and new evidence(10) proving that intermittent fasting can be beneficial for your lifespan, health, and even cognitive functions.

Note to remember: Intermittent fasting has some restrictions, so if you’re about to try its more extreme versions like 5:2 fasting or OMAD, first consult your doctor.

Stay consistent

The main benefit of losing weight without counting calories is that this approach is sustainable and you can stick to it for the rest of your life. To get all the advantages of such flexible weight loss, stay consistent with the rules and recommendations we’ve proposed. Remember that losing weight should not be fast: Stay calm and just keep on going, slowly and steadily.

Slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable than crash diets | Shutterstock
Slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable than crash diets | Shutterstock

Summing up

The healthy plate rule explains in a simple way what you should be eating and takes the confusion out of your diet. It’s an easy tool that helps you manage your portions and control your calorie intake. If something distracts you from following your personal meal plan from A to Z, apply the healthy plate rule and you will always be on the safe side.

You can make up a healthy size portion of any food by using your hand as a measuring tool. You can have a piece of chocolate or a handful of nuts once in a while and it won’t mess up your weight loss as far as you keep your calorie-dense treats in moderation.

Sources

  • Mediterranean Diet #1 in The Best Diets Overall. U.S.News and World Report. https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mediterranean-diet
  • Miketinas D. K., Bray G. A., Beyl R. A. (2019, October 1). Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. The Journal of Nutrition. DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxz117
  • Pesta D. H., Samuel V. T. (2014, November 19). A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats. Nutrition and Metabolism. DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
  • Soenen S., Westerterp-Plantenga M. S. (2008, November).Proteins and Satiety: Implications for Weight Management. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. DOI: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328311a8c4
  • Gottlieb S. (2002, August 24). High Protein Diet Brings Risk of Kidney Stones. The BMJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169452/
  • Phillips S. M., Chevalier S., Leidy H. J. (2016, February 9). Protein “Requirements” beyond the RDA: Implications for Optimizing Health. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2015-0550
  • Phillips S. M., Van Loon L. J. C. (2011). Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Optimum Adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences. DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
  • Stewart T. M., Williamson D. A., White M. A. (2002, February). Rigid vs. Flexible Dieting: Association with Eating Disorder Symptoms in Nonobese Women. Appetite. DOI: 10.1006/appe.2001.0445
  • Espelund U., Hansen T. K., Højlund K. (2005, February). Fasting Unmasks a Strong Inverse Association between Ghrelin and Cortisol in Serum: Studies in Obese and Normal-Weight Subjects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2004-0604
  •  De Cabo R., Mattson M. P. (2019, December 26). Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1905136