Experts believe that in order to lose weight from eating a healthy diet — and more importantly, to keep it off — feeling satisfied rather than hungry and deprived is key. This is the promise of the Volumetrics diet, which emphasizes low-calorie, high-volume, filling foods.
Those who have shared Volumetrics diet success studies attribute it to the diet’s flexibility, sustainability and tendency to reduce cravings. A good deal of research demonstrates that because this type of eating plan allows you to eat big meals that include a variety of foods, plus that no specific food group is off-limits, it’s a flexible approach that can help with weight maintenance long term.
What Is the Volumetrics Diet?
The Volumetrics diet is another name for a “reduced energy density eating program.” It’s a plan that involves choosing mostly foods that are low in calories and eating them in satisfying portions.
Many of these foods, such as vegetables and fruit, are also high in essential nutrients.
The “Volumetrics Diet Weight-Control Plan” was first published in 2000 after being developed by Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls. The fundamental principle of the diet is calorie control and adhering to a “calorie balance equation.”
In other words, the diet recommends that you consume less calories than your body requires each day to in order to lose weight.
The main idea is to “choose foods that pack less calories into each bite — this is, they are lower in calorie density,” according to the “Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” book. While the creators of the diet might not say it outright, the Volumetrics diet is mostly a low-fat diet.
In many ways, the diet is similar to the DASH diet (or MIND diet, which includes aspects of the Mediterranean diet) because it’s mostly plant-based, although not totally vegetarian, and high in nutrients like fiber, electrolytes and essential vitamins.
Pros and Cons
While weight loss is certainly possible when following the Volumetrics diet, it isn’t the only benefit.
Pros of the diet include:
- Eating large, satisfying meals while still having a low calorie intake.
- Decreased hunger and cravings.
- An enjoyable, flexible approach to healthy eating. Cooking at home often is also recommended.
- No particular food or entire food group being restricted.
- High fiber intake (as a high-fiber diet) from foods like vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.
- Reduced risk of problems like constipation, obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
On the other hand, the diet does have some criticism, one of which is that it isn’t necessarily original. Some argue that it’s just another way to eat a low-fat diet and count calories in hopes of weight loss.
Cons of the diet may include:
- Lower fat intake. Although large portions may be satisfying, some people might feel hungry if they reduce their protein and fat intake too much.
- Somewhat low protein intake. This seems to be a legitimate concern considering that many studies show that a high-protein diet is very good at controlling hunger and leading to weight loss.
- Too much focus on calorie content of foods. Counting calories (like on the CICO diet) may even become “obsessive” and stressful for some people when done long term.
- Not necessarily much emphasis on choosing whole, unprocessed foods, especially those that may be nutrient-dense foods but relatively high in calories.
- Because cooking at home is basically required, it may be time-consuming.
Diet Plan Steps
There isn’t a specific meal plan that you must follow in order to benefit from a Volumetrics-type diet. You’re free to eat foods from all food groups, although there’s an emphasis on nutrient-dense, plant foods.
There also isn’t any specific meal timing to adhere to. It’s recommended you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and one to two snacks if you’re hungry.
The Volumetrics diet divides foods into four groups, ranging from those that are “very low-energy-density” to “high-energy-density” (energy is another name for calories).
Most experts on the Volumetrics diet recommend getting about 50 percent to 60 percent of daily calories from unprocessed carbohydrates, about 25 percent to 30 percent from healthy fats and about 10 percent to 15 percent from protein foods.
1. Eat more high-volume, low-calorie foods
As one study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior explains, “Volume has been shown to be an important direct control of food intake, since larger volumes of food consumed prior to a meal can inhibit subsequent intake.”
To make food choices that enhance satiety and control hunger, you want to choose bulky foods that are typically high in fiber and water and low in fat. This gives you the same number of calories per meal but much larger portions.
Studies suggest that people tend to eat a similar weight/volume of food each day, although the calories in that amount of food can greatly vary. In fact, even eating foods that contain more air, such as puffed or whipped foods, has been shown to lead to decreased caloric intake. The same can be said about broth-based soups, which have a high water content and therefore take up a lot of room in the stomach.
By eating foods with low calorie density, you can eat the volume of food you’re accustomed to while still being in a calorie deficit, which studies suggest can help with weight loss.
Try to include vegetables and fruits in as many snacks and meals as possible. While this diet may be somewhat low in fat compared to other plans, such as the Paleo diet or keto diet, you’re still encouraged to eat a variety of foods and a balance of macronutrients, so don’t forget about your healthy protein and fat sources.
The best foods to eat while following the Volumetrics diet include:
- All types of fresh vegetables (cooked or raw)
- All types of fresh fruits
- Lower-fat dairy products, including yogurt, milk and cheese
- Legumes and beans
- 100 percent whole grains
- Lean meats and proteins, such as fish, chicken and turkey
- Low-calorie condiments like mustard, salsa, vinegar, spices and light dressings
- Organic tofu/soy products
- Nuts and seeds in small amounts
- Small amounts of oils and fats, such as avocado and olive oil
Surveys show that people make most of their food choices based on taste, pleasure and convenience. This means that in order for the Volumetrics diet to work for you, you’ll have to figure out ways to include your favorite high-volume foods into more meals that you already enjoy.
Here are some examples of how to do this:
- Add fresh vegetables to meals like pasta, casseroles, grains and meat fish.
- Regularly eat salads, but be careful about adding lots of high-calorie toppings.
- Try having more filling soups and stews, made with things like veggies, beans, herbs and whole grains.
- Pair calorie-dense foods like meat or eggs with a side salad or cooked veggies to add more volume.
- Add fresh fruit to denser foods like cereal or yogurt.
- Limit calories from beverages, sticking to mostly water, seltzer, coffee and tea.
2. Eat Less high-calorie, low-volume foods
If you search online for “before and after Volumetrics diet meals,” you’ll notice that the “after” meals are much bigger yet lower in total calories. That’s because much of the fat, added sugar and refined grains are removed from the diet.
In other words, the Volumetrics diet excludes most ultra-processed, “highly-palatable foods” that are easy to overeat.
Foods you want to avoid or eat in limited amounts include:
- Added fats and oils, including butter and salad dressings
- Added sugar of all kinds
- Products made with grain/wheat flour, such as breads, pasta, rolls, etc.
- Desserts and baked goods, like cookies, cakes, etc.
- Fried foods and fast food
- High-calorie meats, including cured meats like salami, sausage, beef, etc.
- High-calorie dairy products
- Alcohol in excess amounts, especially sweetened drinks
- Soda, juice and other sugary drinks
3. Pay attention to portions and try to eat mindfully
Although you may eat more food while following the Volumetrics plan than many other diets, it’s still important to pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Serve yourself smaller portions, especially of higher-calorie foods. Aim to eat slowly, while undistracted, and to stop eating when you’re about 80 percent full, rather than stuffed.
Give yourself about 20 minutes or longer to eat a meal, taking your time to chew thoroughly — this way you give your body a chance to feel satisfied before you overeat.
To help prolong your meal and make it feel more filling, consider starting with a salad or vegetable-based soup.
You may also want to experiment with keeping a food journal or using a Volumetrics app on your phone/tablet in order to track your food intake. This may help keep you accountable and point out patterns that are standing in the way of you reaching your goals.
4. Plan ahead and track your progress
In order to get the most benefits from the Volumetrics diet, other tips and suggestions include:
- Writing a weekly meal plan each week, then dedicating a day to shop for groceries and cook.
- Cooking foods with low-calorie methods, like steaming, sauteing, roasting or grilling, using little added fat
- Removing all tempting foods from your home.
- Giving yourself a daily allotment of calories for “fun” foods, like a small dessert or treat.
- Weighing yourself weekly (this is optional but encouraged in order provide you with feedback).
- Ideally walking 10,000 steps per day or more.
Risks and Side Effects
Because foods with a high volume are the main focus of this diet, it’s tempting to eat a very low-fat diet in order to “save” calories for more voluminous foods.
The “Ultimate Volumetrics” book explains that, “fat is calorie dense. The higher the fat content of foods the smaller the portion you get for your calories.” While this may be true, healthy fats in your diet are still important for appetite control, taste and more, so the goal isn’t to restrict all fat.
Aim to combine a sensible portion of fat-containing foods with a bigger portion of high-volume foods like veggies, beans or whole grains. This will still allow you to stick to a relatively low calorie-density diet without sacrificing flavor or your health.
In order to strike a balance between overeating and overthinking the calorie content of your meals, here’s a good rule of thumb: Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and/or fruit, about a quarter with a quality source of protein, and the rest with a small serving of a complex carbs.
Then add a bit of healthy fat, such as in the form of olive oil, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter or sliced avocado.
- A Volumetrics diet plan is one that emphasizes low-calorie, high-nutrient foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Foods that are more calorie-dense, like added fats and sugar, are limited or avoided.
- What are some Volumetrics diet pros and cons? Pros include boosting your fiber intake, allowing for flexible and enjoyable eating, helping with weight loss, and potentially reducing your risk for some health problems. Cons include too much focus on low-fat eating and calorie-counting.
- How do you begin the diet? Start by following these steps: Eat more foods that are unprocessed and high in fiber and water; add fresh fruit and vegetables to as many meals and snacks as possible; cut out processed foods with added sugar, flour and fat; pay attention to portion sizes and eat more mindfully; and consider keeping a food journal and doing a weekly weigh-in.