By: Melissa Mitri, MS, RD
Article at a glance:
- Volume eating encourages the consumption of high-volume, low-calorie foods high in fiber and water to keep you full.
- It is good for those who dislike counting calories but want to lose weight.
- This way of eating discourages some healthy foods like healthy fats. It is not recommended for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have medical conditions that require a specific diet plan.
Do you want to be able to eat more food without worrying about counting calories? If this sounds like you, volume eating may be an eating pattern to try. It is a simple yet effective way to adopt better health habits and even lose weight, encouraging you to fill up on lower-calorie foods that provide essential nutrients.
This strategy can be the perfect fit if you’re looking for larger, more satisfying portions in your diet plan. This abundance diet mindset feels often feels easier than the restrictive diet mindset, putting a positive spin on establishing healthy eating habits.
Keep reading to learn what volume eating is and how it works, its role in weight loss, how to start, and a sample meal plan.
What is Volume Eating?
Volume eating ditches the calorie-counting approach and instead focuses on what foods will keep you full – high-volume options with low caloric content. It’s an easy way to get excited about your meals while still maintaining your healthy habits.
Many of my clients who need larger portions to feel satisfied do well on a volume eating-style diet. For example, one of my clients was frequently overeating at night, but once she started eating high-volume dinners, she felt much more satisfied and had less desire to snack later at night.
A more formal diet called the volumetrics diet was derived from the volume eating concept. This is a more structured type of diet created by Dr. Barbara Rolls that categorizes foods based on their calorie density. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the general concept of volume eating and how it may be beneficial.
If small portions or restrictions aren’t sustainable for you, volume eating may be worth trying.
When You May Want to Consider It
If you are seeking a diet that feels less restrictive and allows you to eat a larger portion of food, volume eating may be worth considering.
Research proves diet restriction is not sustainable for most people, so you’re not failing if diets with strict rules aren’t working for you.
The types of foods emphasized on a volume eating plan are those that are high in water and fiber content, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
No foods are completely off-limits, but high-calorie foods that lack nutritional value are discouraged. The reasoning for this is because they contribute a lot of calories in a small portion, so eating a large volume of these foods would not be healthful.
While it may not be for everyone, there are many purported benefits to volume eating including weight loss. This way of eating can also serve as a reprieve from the traditional fad diets that are of the all-or-nothing mentality, requiring you to avoid entire food groups.
Volume Eating Foods – What Should You Eat?
What are the best high-volume low calorie foods to eat? Here’s the lowdown on what you need to know.
- Leafy greens – Leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, collard greens, bok choy, and lettuce
- Cruciferous veggies – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
These vegetables are very high in water content and fiber, but very low in calories. For example, there are only 20 calories in one entire cup of spinach!
Other than starchy veggies like potatoes, your intake of vegetables is pretty much unlimited on this diet.
- Tomatoes (yes, a friendly reminder that tomatoes are in fact a fruit!)
These fruits are all versatile and delicious in their own way, and are light on calories but heavy on fiber.
- Oatmeal (steel-cut oats, limit added sugar)
- Brown rice
- Light whole-wheat bread
While these grains are higher per portion than fruits and veggies, they are still encouraged in moderation on a volume-eating diet. Grains are a necessary component of a healthy diet, but some provide more health benefits than others.
These whole grains are always preferred to refined grains because they are richer in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals that satisfy your hunger and support health.
- Chia seeds
- Greek yogurt
- Lowfat cottage cheese
- Egg whites
These lean proteins are also an essential part of any diet, including a volume eating diet. Protein, like fiber, keeps you full and is necessary for building muscle, speeding metabolism, and healthy weight loss.
Foods to eat less often:
- Fatty meats
- Processed foods
- Fast food
- Calorie-containing beverages
While these foods and drinks are not completely off-limits, these foods are higher in calories and lower in nutrient density, and thus don’t provide many benefits in terms of health.
And since they are more processed and lack adequate nutrition, they are not filling and tend to make you hungry shortly after eating them (despite their very high-calorie count).
Remember these are not “bad” foods, they are simply foods that don’t serve a health purpose in your diet, and thus there is less room for them.
The good thing is by eating more high-volume foods, you’ll naturally have less room or desire for these foods.
Benefits of Volume Eating
There are several benefits to volume eating not only for its weight loss potential but its nutritional value.
Allows you to eat more
Volume eating allows you to eat more food while naturally lowering your calorie intake at the same time. Since the foods encouraged tend to be lower in calories but high in fiber and water, they help extend your belly, enhancing fullness without blowing your calorie budget.
Because of this, you are able to eat a larger volume of food with your meals without consuming a large number of calories. This is also especially helpful if you eat with your eye or tend to clear your plate, as seeing a larger volume of food can increase meal satisfaction.
Doesn’t require calorie-counting
If the thought of counting calories sends your blood pressure through the roof, you’ll be happy to learn this is not required with volume eating. Since you’re focusing mainly on naturally low-calorie foods, the focus is on what you’re eating, not their calorie content.
By choosing more high-volume foods, you’ll naturally consume fewer calories without consciously trying to.
I’ve seen eating in this way to be much more sustainable for my clients, as when you tell yourself you can’t have something or you need to “cut down on your portions”, you’ll actually want to eat more.
Encourages nutritious foods
The foods on a volume eating diet are highly nutritious and not only can support weight loss but optimize overall health as well. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and protein to support a strong body and mind.
Essentially you are getting more nutrition and fewer empty calories from eating in this way, enabling you to get more bang for your buck from your food choices.
Can help keep you full and reduce cravings
Eating foods high in fiber and water content keeps your belly full, which can make it easier to lose weight without actively trying. For example, research has shown that eating more fiber can lead to weight loss even without directly reducing calorie intake.
These high-fiber foods may also indirectly reduce food cravings by keeping your blood sugar levels steady. Erratic blood sugars may lead to energy dips and cravings for sugar, which can be reduced by fueling your body with these nutritious, high volume foods.
Volume Eating Downsides
While there are clearly some benefits, you may be wondering is volume eating bad in any way. While it is an overall healthy way of eating, there are a few downsides to a volume eating diet plan.
It discourages some healthy foods
A volume eating diet discourages some nutritious foods like healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, and nuts as they are higher in calories. However, these types of fats have been shown to have several health benefits and may actually support a healthy weight.
Can unintentionally lead to an obsession with calories
While it doesn’t require you to directly count calories, it may still lead to a preoccupation with calories for some people. Because the focus is put on choosing low-calorie foods, it may lead to guilt for some people that choose higher-calorie foods on occasion. This is more of a risk for those who have a history of an eating disorder or obsessive thoughts around food.
May require some adjustment to the fiber content
Since high volume low-calorie foods are often high in fiber, this can be bothersome to someone people who aren’t used to eating them. If you don’t typically consume a lot of fiber, it’s best to start slow to allow your digestive system to adjust to the change.
For example, starting with one extra fruit or vegetable each day. Drinking plenty of water also helps speed digestion and reduces the likelihood of bloat or gas.
Volume Eating for Weight Loss
Can volume eating help you lose weight? If you’re thinking about trying it to lose weight, here are the results of three separate studies on volume eating foods for weight loss.
Research study 1:
A large research review of 13 studies involving 3,628 people linked foods with a lower calorie density to increased weight loss. This indicates there may be a relationship between the two which is similar to how volume eating may work.
Research study 2:
A smaller 12-week study involving 96 women found eating meals with a lower calorie density resulted in fewer cravings, increased feelings of fullness, and reduced hunger. Amen to that!
Research study 3:
An 8-year study in over 50,000 women associated high-calorie-density foods with increased weight gain. Therefore by filling most of your meals with low-calorie-density foods instead, you’ll have less of the high calorie foods by default.
It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of weight loss you experience may be more profound if you couple volume eating with other healthy habits. This is always the case when it comes to any way of eating, as your results are often a product of a combination of habits.
Therefore by combining volume eating with a regular exercise plan, a stress management routine, and maintaining proper sleep, you’ll increase your chances of successful weight loss.
How to Start Volume Eating
If you’ve never been a volume eater before, it’s very easy to get started.
You can simply start by purchasing your favorite volume eating foods from each food group. Then you can begin is by including at least one fruit or veggie on the high volume food list and add one to each meal.
Once you get a sense of the right portion for you to feel satisfied, you can go from there.
Remember to include a lean protein and whole grain with every meal, and a small portion of healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, fatty fish, or nuts.
Sample Volume Eating Meal Plan
Here is a 1-day sample volume eating meal plan to get you started.
- Oatmeal made with skim milk, fresh blueberries, and a sprinkle of cinnamon
- Black coffee
- Spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumber, grilled chicken, and a light vinaigrette dressing
- 1 slice whole wheat pita
- Tofu stir-fry with broccoli and cauliflower rice
- Celery or bell pepper with hummus
Volume eating encourages the consumption of high-volume, low-calorie foods high in fiber and water to keep you full. If you’re curious about volume eating, this guide can help get you started on the right track.
Remember to always consult with your doctor or Registered Dietitian before starting a new diet to determine what is best for you.
The All-or-Nothing Diet Mentality – How to Stop It
This is good information. However,
It looks like Volumetric Diet principles from Dr Barbara Rolls – without the credit ?
Thank you for your comment Amy. I did mention that the principles are derived from the volumetric diet but you are correct in that I did not include the founder’s name. Apologize for that oversight – I just included this in the section “What is Volume Eating?”