Staying Slim: tips from the Stone Age

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2006

Slim was in during the Stone Age. Our ancestors had to be lean and nimble in order to find a meal or to avoid becoming one. They had a huge advantage over us: calorie-sparse foods. Most of our diet is the exact opposite, namely processed foods that are packed with calories, what nutritionists call calorie-dense.

Fruits and vegetables are calorie-sparse. You'd have to eat 3 pounds of raw broccoli to get the same number of calories of one cheeseburger — without the fries!

If you had room for dessert, 4 apples would give you the same amount of calories as one slice of home made chocolate cake.

Even our meat has concentrated calories. A restaurant T-bone steak (12-ounces) has 1236 calories; there are only 632 calories in 12 ounces of venison.

If even the thought of eating 4 apples gives you heartburn, how about a small scoop of sherbet or sorbet with a sprinkling of berries? Jazz it up with a half teaspoon of crème de cassis for only 8 more calories.

These examples make it obvious that it's possible to cut back on calories without making large, uncomfortable changes in your lifestyle.

When calorie-sparse foods are the central part of your stay-slim strategy it's much easier to follow a basic rule of weight management: control food portions. Because vegetables provide so much bulk with few calories you'll find that using standard portion sizes won't leave you feeling hungry.

A convenient guide to a serving is your own hand. It doesn't matter how big or small your hand may be. A proper serving size for your frame is still related to the size of your palm or fist. Magazine articles that dictate servings as "the size of a tennis ball" or "a deck of cards" aren't very helpful. They ignore the fact that a standard portion is too much for a slender gymnast and not nearly enough for a Steelers linebacker.

A standard portion of meat is not the 12-ounce coronary crusher that we noted above and that most steakhouses offer. It is about the size of your palm, not counting the fingers. For the average 150-pound man that's about 3 ½ ounces and that top round is now only 216 calories.

A vegetable serving is about the size of your clenched fist. Two fists are appropriate for a leafy salad (and more won't do you any harm). The one-fist rule applies to potatoes, pasta and rice but you could probably replace them with another serving of a vegetable that would give you more fiber and more nutrients.

When you adopt these suggestions you'll also gain other health benefits. Even if you don't have access to wild game, smaller portions of red meat contain less saturated fat than large ones. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables will lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. It also means that you are not likely to join the ranks of those with obesity and type 2 diabetes. It might be worth the change.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at