It almost sounds like a riddle: How can you eat more but lose weight? The answer is volume eating. This way of eating, when there’s a plan in place, is also known as the Volumetrics Diet.
In general, many nutritionists and wellness experts are hesitant to endorse diets because they can be hard to follow, and weight loss is difficult to maintain when you’re restricting entire food groups. But volume eating takes a bit of a different approach. Instead of the deprivation tied to many diets, this way of eating is all about finding healthy foods that you can eat high quantities of and still lose weight. Instead of, say, a few slices of pizza and a small side salad, your plate would include a large salad and a slice of pizza (so long as you’re not following a plan that’s restricting fats or carbs).
“Eating foods that are low in calories but high in volume can help when trying to decrease overall calorie intake and ultimately lead to weight loss,” says Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N., founder of The Flourished Table.
Plus, Harlow says, if somebody eats high-fiber foods that are low in calories, such as fruits and vegetables, they will increase their fiber intake. Doing so can help to increase satiety and contribute to weight loss (more on this below).
Here’s what else you need to know about volume eating, including the pros, cons, and what meals might look like.
What Is Volume Eating?
Volume eating can encourage healthy weight loss, says Jennifer Schlette, R.D. from Kitchen Substitute, because eating vegetables and other low-calorie density foods are better for your body than eating larger servings of high-density calorie foods.
FYI: Energy density is usually measured as calories per 3.5 ounces, or 100 grams, of food. For instance, 100 grams of raw spinach has 23 calories. The same amount of chocolate has 546 calories and an equal amount of pasta has 121 calories.
“It may take longer to lose weight when following the Volumetrics Diet. But you’ll be keeping your metabolism healthy in the process,” Schlette says.
“Anytime you eat a good-sized meal or snack, your stomach stretches to accommodate the food,” Yawitz says. “This expansion in your belly activates special cells called stretch receptors. [These cells] send the message to your brain that you’ve had enough food.”
Of course, feeling full isn’t ideal when you’ve just finished your third plate at an all-you-can eat buffet, she explains. The difference with volume eating is that you’re eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that have a high water content and are low in calories. This can help keep you satisfied so that you eat fewer calories overall.
Pros Of Volume Eating
When you approach volume eating as a technique rather than a strict diet, you focus on eating meals that are nutrient-dense but low in calories.
As a result, you’re eating a full plate of food and feel full, even though your calorie count may be lower. That could help curb cravings for more processed foods like chips and cookies. Such items are higher in calories but don’t pack much nutritional value.
Volume eating promotes some eating habits that can benefit most people, Harlow says. One of these is to eat more fruits and vegetables.
“Most people are not eating enough fruits and vegetables and would benefit from eating more,” she says. “In addition to being low in calories, fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients—all of which are important to overall health.” (The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults eat 1.5 to 2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2 to 3 cup-equivalents of vegetables on a daily basis.)
Also, Harlow says, volume eating could help someone eat less calories without having to count calories. That act can be problematic for some, as it may turn obsessive and stressful.
Cons Of Volume Eating
Depending on your approach, volume eating can limit or completely cut out fats, Harlow points out.
“We need fats in our diet. Some sources of fat such as nuts, seeds, and avocado are calorie dense,” she says. Still, those foods are good for your overall health. For instance, omega-3s are fatty acids that are good for brain, heart, eye, joint, and immune health.
If someone is volume eating, she recommends still balancing your meals with protein and healthy fats.
It’s also important to note that calories are not bad, Harlow says. It’s the overeating of calories that can lead to negative health outcomes. Volume eating can help prevent that, she explains.
The Volumetrics way of eating is not for everyone, though, Schlette cautions. “This kind of diet is usually best for people who have a lot of energy and stamina,” she says. “It’s not suitable for people who suffer from certain diseases or conditions, such as heart disease or high blood pressure. This is because the foods included in the plans are generally out of their recommended calorie limits.”
Volume eating also isn’t a fit for pregnant women, who should consult with their healthcare provider or a dietitian before starting any eating plan.
Since it doesn’t require tracking calories or counting points, volume eating may be ideal for those who are burned out on dieting, yet want to lose weight.
“A large body of evidence shows that deprivation doesn’t work for long-term weight loss,” Yawitz says. “No foods are specifically off limits with volume eating—you are just encouraged to eat more high-volume foods. And from a motivation standpoint, there’s a lot to be said for focusing on eating more as opposed to eating less.”
What Meals Might Look Like When Volume Eating
Volume eating includes lots of fruits and veggies. Additionally, eat plenty of whole grains that are high in fiber (brown rice, barley, and buckwheat). It also emphasizes lean proteins (salmon, chicken breasts, shrimp, beans, tempeh).
Meals, Harlow says, might swap spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles for regular noodles and cauliflower rice for regular rice. Adding veggies to meals, like spinach in your scrambled eggs, is also key, she points out.
In terms of snacking, reach for raw veggies and hummus, berries, popcorn, cottage cheese, and fruit.
The takeaway here: You can have an eating plan that isn’t about deprivation.