Counting calories vs. portion sizes

Jun 19, 2015
Ashley Ann Lawrie


By Personal trainer Chris Volkert

Ahh, calorie counting – the mainstay of dieting fads and trends for decades.

It all began at the turn of the last century with chemist and nutrition pioneer Wilbur Olin Atwater, who developed the Atwater system for measuring calories and the energy they provide. Even then, he was advising people to lay off the carbs and eat more protein, veggies and legumes.

His work lives on, and so too do misconceptions about counting calories (he doesn’t take the blame for that). Not all calories, of course, are created equal. One hundred calories of almonds, for example, is going to have a profoundly different impact on your body than 100 calories of pure granulated sugar.

Besides, even if you are eating healthy, counting calories can be problematic.

“I encourage people to do it for the short term to get a snapshot of what they are eating, but it can quickly become negative and obsessive behaviour that is counterproductive,” said Chris Volkert, a Registered Kinesiologist and Certified Nutritionist at our Dalhousie location.

This is the next in our series of posts in which we explore with Chris the journey to better nutrition and living a healthier life.

“My advice is to instead focus on portion control,” Chris said. “But even this is just a generic starting point to help you develop the right habits about how much protein, carbs, healthy fats and vegetables you should eat.”

For example (as you can see in the pictures below), a serving of protein for men might be the size of their two palms, whereas for women, it is only one. A serving of vegetables is the size of their fist. As for carbs – that depends on your body type, the kinds of physical activities you practice and your fitness goals.

In our next article, we will delve deeper into fine-tuning the amount and type of these macronutrients your body needs. But first, here are some visual examples of typical serving sizes for men and for women.





















Another tool to help you manage your intake and portions, and to ensure you are fully aware of how many times you may really be reaching for those unhealthy treats, is a food log. For more on that, read the third article in this series, Food and Nutrition 101.

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