The Volumetrics Diet – #3 in the Best Eating Plan Series


What Is It?
I have mentioned The Volumetrics diet and its concepts in previous blogs and I share it with clients often. It is a plan pioneered by nutrition scientist Barbara Rolls, Ph.D. Ultimately this long-term plan encourages sustainable, healthy eating that can help you to lose weight while still feeling full and satisfied on fewer calories.

One of the things that keeps people from being successful at long-term weight loss is the feeling of being on a diet and being hungry and deprived. We tend to focus on what we need to cut out of our diet, whether it is fat, carbs, etc. The Volumetrics Diet is based instead on focusing on thinking positively about what you can eat and actually eating MORE nutrient-dense food.  As a result you feel full and satisfied, instead of always hungry and craving more. Physical activity is also an important part of the plan and is highlighted and encouraged.

The main focus is on “calorie density,” which is the number of calories in a certain amount of food. Foods with high calorie density have a lot of calories for not much food and little nutrition, but items with low-calorie density provide fewer calories with more volume. For instance, if you compare 16 jelly beans to 1 1/2 cups of apple slices, both have about 100 calories, but vastly different nutrient profiles. The jelly beans are calorie dense while the apples are low in calorie density but high in nutrition. Think about it. How would you feel after eating a small handful of jelly beans? Satisfied? How about after eating a cup and a half of apple slices?

What Foods Are Included?
Similar to both the plant-based diet and the Mediterranean diet, the foundation of Volumetrics eating is based on eating lots of fruits and vegetables.  They are important in helping take weight off and for promoting good health.  Plus, because they are low in calories, you can eat more to better help manage your hunger.

Foods are divided into four groups:
Category 1 (very low-calorie density) Non-starchy fruits and vegetables, non-fat milk, and broth-based soup
Category 2 (low-calorie density) Starchy fruits and veggies, grains, breakfast cereal, lean meat, legumes, and low-fat mixed dishes like chili and spaghetti
Category 3 (medium-density) meat, cheese, pizza, French fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream, and cake
Category 4 (high-density) crackers, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, butter, and oil

The plan encourages you to base your eating plan on categories 1 and 2, be more mindful about smaller portion sizes with category 3, and keep category 4 choices to a minimum.  The water content of foods also plays a big role in the Volumetrics way of eating. Water increases the weight of food without packing in additional calories. Soup (80 to 95 percent water), fruits and veggies (80 to 95 percent), yogurt (75 percent), and yes, even pasta (65 percent) are all good choices.

The plan includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, a couple of snacks and even a dessert if you choose. The great thing about this way of eating is that it isn’t restrictive and no foods are off limits.  The book The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, written by Rolls and dietitian Mindy Hermann, is a great resource that explains the plan in detail and also provides meal plans and tons of recipes.

What Are The Health Benefits?
The benefits to incorporating more nutrient-dense and less energy/calorie dense foods are numerous, including weight loss, improved heart health, and improved insulin sensitivity.

In one study published in the journal Obesity Research in 2005, researchers followed 200 overweight and obese adults who were placed on a low-density diet and divided into four groups: one got a serving of soup a day, another got two servings of soup, and a third got two daily snacks, like crackers or pretzels. (Soup, because it is a high-water, low-density food, is a staple on the Volumetrics eating plan.) People in a fourth comparison group shaped their own low-density diet, without any special food instructions. After one year, those who supplemented their daily menu with one soup serving lost 13.4 pounds, compared with 15.9 pounds lost for the two-soup group, 10.6 pounds lost for the two-snack group, and 17.9 pounds lost for the comparison group. The study results suggested that a diet abundant in low calorie-dense foods leads to substantial weight loss.

In this same study, the 200 participants following a low-density diet all showed significant drops in blood pressure (high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease). Average blood pressure decreased from 116/77 mm Hg to 111/73 six months later, where it stayed for the duration of the yearlong study.

Another study published in 2007 in Diabetes Care found that adults following an eating plan similar to Volumetrics had significantly lower fasting insulin levels than those whose diets emphasized high-energy-dense food. Low-density diets, the authors found, help prevent insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin but does not use it effectively. When people have insulin resistance, glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells, leading to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

5 Ways To Start to Incorporate the Volumetrics Way of Life

1. Start by keeping a food diary for 3 days of everything you eat and drink.  At the end of the 3 days take an honest account of what you have eaten. Are most of your choices low-calorie dense from categories 1 and 2? Did you include fruits and/or vegetables at every meal?

2. Begin at least one meal per day with a fruit and veggie or at least incorporate it into the meal.  Good choices are salad greens, tomatoes, celery, carrots, steamed zucchini, sweet potato, apple, strawberries, cantaloupe raspberries, blueberries. By beginning your meal with a fruit or veggie you can better manage calories while increasing fullness.

3. Plan snacks ahead of time.  If you wait until you are starving to get a snack together it is more likely you will choose a not-so-healthy choice. Base your snacks on fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, and whole grains.  Have them ready to go so they are easy to grab when you need them.

4. When eating out remind yourself to not treat it as if it is the last meal you will ever eat. Be smart when you are ordering and ask questions about how food is prepared.  Make it your mission to up the nutrient-density of your meal and lower the calorie-density.  You can include a broth-based soup to start, a salad, or switch out a leaner meat like grilled chicken or fish for red meat. Portions are huge typically. Share, take food home, or leave some on the plate.

5.  Rate your hunger and fullness at the beginning and end of each meal.  Many of us have lost touch with our body’s cues and signals telling us when and how much we should eat. Before you eat ask yourself the simple question “Am I hungry?” and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being ravenous and 10 being completely stuffed.

Activity is an important component of the plan too.  Set a daily activity appointment for yourself wherever you keep your daily schedule. Just like you would schedule a business appointment or a massage, taking the time to schedule physical activity will make it more apt to happen. Recruit a friend to come along!

The Volumetrics plan is a healthy eating plan for life. It is a proven way to not only lose weight but also protect yourself from heart disease and diabetes, among other chronic diseases. I love it because it isn’t restrictive and doesn’t require any special products. It is a plan that can be incorporated into anyone’s everyday life. Successful long-term weight loss and management mean making lifestyle changes over time that become habits for a lifetime.  That is what this plan is all about.