How to Diet without Counting Calories when You Are Busy

In part 1 of this series, we discussed the three most important factors that contribute to successful dieting. If you haven't read it yet, you can find it at 3 Key Principles of Successful Dieting.

This post will cover a simple, yet effective method on how to quantify your food intake, and recommendations on determining the amount of food you should consume in each sitting.

Get ready.



So how do we determine the amount of food you need to consume in order to achieve your dietary goals? 

Let's start with a quick analysis of your current diet.

If you are like most people, you probably eat a wide variety of different foods on a day to day basis.  Breakfast tends to be the meal that is similar for most people, while lunch and dinner can have more variety. 

However, if you were to actually break down each one of your meals, you may notice that some things are constant. 

First off, the volume of food that you consume at each sitting will be similar, as your body can only tolerate a certain amount of food at one time.

Secondly, despite the variety in your lunch and dinner, they probably contain similar proportions of the three food categories: carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

Healthy Food

For example; most meals usually contain some type of protein: chicken, shrimp, beef, tofu, etc and some type of carbohydrate: bread, salad, vegetables, rice, pasta, sauce etc.  

Some meals may not even have a protein, and may only be comprised of carbohydrates.

Now let's attempt to quantify the amount of food you had. Can you estimate how much of the protein you ate? What about the Carbohydrate? 

Fortunately, there's a quick and easy way to quantify your food.

Just compare the serving to the size of your hand.  Was the protein or the carbohydrate the size of your thumb? A couple of fingers? The size of your palm? Or was it closer to the size of your fist? 


In general,

* your Fist is roughly the size of 1 cup

* your Cupped hand is roughly 1/2 cup 

* your Palm is about 3-4 oz of food

* your Thumb is roughly the size of a tablespoon


Serving Size

Obviously, a female who is 5'3 and 110 lbs will have a smaller hand than a 200 lb, 6'0 man but it doesn't matter.  This doesn't have to be an exact science. Your hand will be personalized to YOU and those are the portions you should use for yourself.



So how do we account for the differences in the quantity of food you consume on a daily basis?

For example, maybe you were forced to skip lunch today because it was particularly busy. Or perhaps you ate more than usual because free dinner was served at the lecture you just attended.  

These deviations from your average are expected, and will not cause large alterations in the system. This is because your body follows the principle of regression to the mean.  When you eat less on one day, you will likely eat more on another day and vice versa.

As a result, if we were to average out your total calories on a weekly basis, we will notice that the week to week sum will be relatively constant. 

Fortunately, we do not have to count calories...



So how do we measure our food? How much of each macronutrient should we consume?

When selecting your meals, it is ideal to choose something from all three categories at each meal. 



The macronutrient that people eat too much of is carbohydrates. This is because carbs are easy to eat in large quantities and they are overly abundant.

The most common carbohydrates are breads, cereals, rice, pastas, dairy, most desserts, and almost any drink that isn't water. 

To make matters worse, we are traditionally accustomed to having at least half of our plate be composed of the carbohydrate. 

Excess carbohydrate consumption is one of the leading causes of poor weight management, insulin resistance and increasing body fat levels. 

When selecting carbs, it is helpful to choose whole wheat options and fiber rich varieties.

Whole wheat options have a lower glycemic index, which do not cause rapid changes in sugar/insulin levels like simple sugars do, while fiber helps slow down the digestion of carbs increasing satiety and further decreasing large fluctuations in glycemia. 



  • If eating vegetables, your portion size could be the size of your fist.

  • If eating non-vegetable carbs, your portion size should fit in your cupped hand.

  • Women can eat 1 cupped hand per meal while men can consume 1-2 cupped hands per meal.



Fat is the macronutrient that most people are afraid to eat. Unfortunately, fat has gotten a bad rap from the media and many popular diets. Just look at how many foods have a big label reading "Fat Free."

This is a disgrace.

The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of people don't eat enough of the right kinds of fat- the ones that our bodies need, and the ones that actually have a multitude of health benefits. These are the mono and poly-unsaturated fats, all of which we will list in an ‘Essential Foods’ post. Our favorites are nuts and avocados!

Healthy fats are an excellent way to help maintain energy levels and satiation throughout the day. 

In addition, fats have twice the calories as carbohydrates and proteins, which can help offset any large decrease in caloric intake that comes from eating less carbs.




  • When eating fats, your thumb should represent one serving size.

  • Women can consume one serving per meal while men can consume up to 2 servings per meal.



Proteins are always essential and easy to consume. Fortunately, many foods are high in protein. These mainly include high quality animal products such as lean meats, eggs and egg whites, and all kinds of fish and seafood.  Whole milk and cheese also provide good sources of protein, but keep in mind that dairy comes loaded with additional fat and carbs.

For vegetarians, tofu and seitan are great substitutes, as are different bean varieties such as lentils and chickpeas.

Whey protein powders are also extremely convenient and an easy way to get a quick serving of healthy protein.



  • The size of your palm determines your protein serving size.

  • Women can consume 1 serving per meal while men can consume up to 2 servings per meal.


Don't forget that total caloric intake is not the most important factor in long term dieting.  Use these principles to ensure that you are consuming high quality foods from each food group at every sitting.  Now that you are armed with the key principles of dieting and determining how much you should be eating, we can discuss how to create your perfect diet.


So in a nutshell...

  • Consume a high quality food from each food group in every meal.
  • Use the size of your hand to determine your portion sizes at each sitting.
  • Women should consume 1 serving of each food group at each sitting while men can consume 1-2 servings.


Be sure to check out Part 3- The Ultimate Guide to Dieting for Busy Professionals, where we synthesize all of the information presented and provide quick tips on developing a sustainable diet for yourself.


Are carbohydrates the major macronutrient in your diet? How many items in your refrigerator say fat free? 



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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here