Being aware of calories can have its place in a diet, but adding up all the calories in a recipe or in a snack can become boring and time consuming. Of course, counting calories can be relatively easy if you eat pre-packed foods, as these by law have to have various items of nutritional information on the package (such as energy, carbohydrate, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt). But there is very little good nutrition in such foods.

The best move you can make when changing to a healthier way of eating is to ditch all processed and pre-packaged foods and instead buy fresh ingredients and cook from scratch. If you’re cooking recipes from scratch, working out how many calories a dish or snack contains can start to become a complicated and long-winded process, as fresh ingredients are not labelled with the calorie or macronutrient content (although wouldn’t it be great if a carrot, slice of cheese or banana had a magical calorie label on it?).

No need for scales...use your hands.

When cooking with fresh ingredients and creating delicious dishes of your own, the only way to quickly calculate calories is to use a dietary analysis software or an app, such as MyFitnessPal. There are however some visual cues to look out for to ensure you’re eating the right amount of food and also the right proportions of different foods.

No need for scales...use your hands.

A good way to approach portion control is to use your hands. Generally speaking, the smaller you are the smaller your hands will be; the larger you are the larger your hands. Using hands for portion sizes can be useful as smaller people tend to require fewer calories and nutrients and smaller portions than larger people. A fist equals the amount to match your formed fist; a handful is the amount that fits inside your open hand.

Burn - reduce weight

  • A fist of protein
  • Two handfuls of vegetables or salad (or more if you can fit it on!)
  • A small palm of fatbased foods or 1–2 tsp of oil

Balance - maintain weight

  • A fist of protein
  • A handful or two of vegetables or salad
  • A handful of carbohydrate
  • A small palm of fatbased foods or 1–2 tsp of oil

Build - gain weight

  • A fist of protein
  • A fist or two of vegetables or salad
  • Two handfuls of carbohydrate
  • One or two palms of fat-based foods or 2–3 tsp of oil

Portion size matters

Research has shown that plate size has increased over 20 per cent since the 1960s; and this equates to people eating much more at each meal than in earlier decades. The super-size nature of the modern world has meant that many people are now super-sized themselves – not a healthy position at all. The size of your plate or bowl has been shown to contribute to the amount of food you eat during a meal. This phenomenon, known as the Delboeuf illusion, was expanded in 1960s to help explain the over-indulging nature of the Western diet. The basis of the illusion is that when a circle (in this case, the circle is food) is placed inside a much larger circle, the inner circle appears smaller than when placed inside a circle only slightly larger.

With the crockery trend leaning towards larger restaurant-style white plates, it can mean that you end up eating more at each meal as the illusion prompts you to think you’ve not eaten as much as you have. With a smaller plate size, you can easily reduce the amount you eat while your brain sees a full plate being offered. So by switching to smaller plates, the illusion may help you improve portion control and also curb hunger as your brain sees the food as a larger portion than it really is.

Use this illusion to your advantage by opting for a smaller plate when reducing weight (Burn), a normal-sized plate when maintaining weight (Balance) and a larger plate when increasing muscle mass or gaining weight (Build).

Plate sizes

Choose your plate size to match to your diet code to help you give yourself visually the right amount of food for a meal and to fool your brain in to thinking you’re eating more than you actually are.

Burn – 21cm (8 1/4 in)

Balance – 24cm (9 1/2 in)

Build – 27cm (10 3/4 in)