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EATING LOTS AND lots of food seems like the last thing you’d want to do if you’re trying to lose weight and embrace a healthier diet. But, it can work—as long as you choose low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods.
This is a strategy known as volume eating.
Volume eating focuses on consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are low in calories and packed with nutrients and fiber, so you can eat more without taking in too many calories. The approach helps you stay full for longer.
“Think: big salad,” says Jennifer Welper, wellness executive chef at the New Mayo Clinic Diet. “The idea is that these will help the dieter, who likes to eat with their eyes, feel full and satisfied.”
Volume eating isn’t a fad diet. It’s considered a long-term eating lifestyle or strategy, Scott says. “If you can make that a lifestyle change that sticks, it will be a sustainable diet,” Welper adds.
Still, it’s not an invitation to overeat or sneak in too many foods like candy or French fries, which are high in calories, just because the rest of your diet is lower-calorie. “You still need to keep an eye on portion size and frequency of consumption,” Welper says.
Embracing a volume eating lifestyle will help you meet your weight loss goals and offers many other health benefits. Here’s how to do it.
What Is Volume Eating?
The concept of volume eating, also known as the Volumetrics diet, was developed by nutrition scientist Barbara Rolls, Ph.D.
Volume eating suggests consuming nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories and high in water content (think: fruits, vegetables, and soups) and limiting calorie-dense foods, such as saturated fat, candy, cookies, and junk food.
“Volume eating is more of a lifestyle than a fad diet because it meets the requirements of a balanced diet,” says Romane Guerot, registered dietitian at the nutrition app Foodvisor. “Unlike a fad diet, there are no nutrient restrictions involved in volume eating, so this is an eating habit you can follow sustainably. Eating this way on a regular basis can help build nutrient-rich meals and maintain a regular meal pattern.”
How Does Volume Eating Help You Lose Weight?
Eating is partly a psychological experience. Some people might only feel satisfied when they’ve cleaned their plates or consumed a full meal, Welper says.
“Volume eating allows them to experience a meal without feeling that they have restricted themselves, portion-wise, while at the same time providing them with fewer calories so that weight loss, theoretically, can be achieved,” she explains.
Since fruits and vegetables are lower in calories, you can eat more of them. And, because they’re full of fiber, vitamins, and nutrients, you’ll feel satisfied and not be tempted to overeat. Research shows that diets of low-energy-dense foods can help control appetite and meet weight loss goals.
For example, eating 400 calories of chicken, spinach, and beans is more filling than eating 400 calories of just chicken, Scott says.
“No one likes to feel hungry,” she adds. “If you don't feel full and satisfied, you’re going to find something to fill you up. And, you’re more likely to binge or overeat.”
Volume Eating Offers Other Health Benefits, Too
Volume eating has been shown to help with weight management and is linked to lower body weight. It also benefits your health in other ways, according to the International Food Information Council. Research shows that a low-energy-dense diet can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Incorporating more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also does wonders for your digestive system, Scott says. Men need 30 to 38 grams of fiber a day, and women need 21 to 25 grams, but most people don’t get that much.
You’ll likely just feel better when you add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, Guerot says. “It creates plates that are balanced and nutritious, which has a positive impact on energy, mood, sleep, skin appearance, and cognitive abilities.”
The Best Foods to Volume Eat
Fruits and vegetables should take center stage when you’re volume eating, including:
Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and kale
Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower
Skinned vegetables such as peppers, onions, zucchini, and celery
But, meals should still be balanced, with lean protein, low-fat dairy, legumes, healthy fats, and whole grains, Welper says.
“While eating a lot of vegetables is great, a lack of protein can cause significant health issues because the body needs enough protein every day to function optimally,” says Yann Harstein, a registered dietician at the nutrition app Foodvisor. Healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and flaxseed oil, are good for the brain, eyes, and heart.
Mixing vegetables into your meals makes your plate look more bountiful, Welper says. For instance, add cauliflower to mashed potatoes, diced vegetables to rice, and steamed broccoli or roasted vegetables to pasta.
Increasing your fluid intake also helps you feel full, Scott says. Drink plenty of water and add broth-based soups with vegetables, legumes, and whole grain rice or pasta.
Even though you’re eating more low-calorie foods, it’s still important to pay attention to your portion size and how often you’re eating, Welper says. “There’s also a tendency to sneak in foods, generally carbs, under the false assumption you can eat larger portions of those.”
Volume eating meals
Meals should be balanced, with a lean source of protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Here are some examples of meals that incorporate volume eating:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with 1 cup of vegetables, yogurt, and toast
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast, 1/2 cup of whole wheat pasta, and 1 cup of broccoli
Snack: Cottage cheese with carrots or cucumber, or edamame, or low-fat yogurt and berries
Dinner: Taco-seasoned ground turkey breast, with 1/2 cup of rice, 1 cup of mixed peppers and onions, and 1/5 of avocado
Who Should Try Volume Eating?
People tend to underestimate how many calories are in food. Sticking to whole foods, not processed or prepackaged items, is a crucial part of volume eating. So is working with a dietician to get your strategy just right.
Just about everyone can benefit from volume eating, Scott says. But, talk to a dietician or your doctor first if you have gastrointestinal issues, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and need to pay closer attention to your fiber intake. Or if you’ve had bariatric surgery, you might need to watch your overall food intake.
It’s always a good idea to talk to a health professional anytime you dramatically change your diet, Welper says.
“Every person and metabolism is different. No diet should be undertaken without medical supervision,” she says.
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