The Volumetrics Weight loss plan is an interesting variation on the basic plant-based whole food diet that provides wiggle room for your favorite foods. It’s also one of the few diets that have the potential of being sustainable and supports good health. The diet offers plenty of opportunities to benefit from good nutrition, and not many opportunities run it off the rails. If not quite ready to go all in with plant-based whole food diet, the Volumetrics approach might be what you’ve been looking for.
The premise of Volumetrics is simple enough. To survive in a world of food scarcity our instinct is to stuff down all we can. In a world of plenty, this urge to stuff presents a problem. In particular, our body doesn’t have a good way of alerting us when we have had too many calories. However, the stomach will stop nagging the brain when it senses enough weight to feel full. While drinking water can briefly interrupt the urge to eat more, water exits the stomach rather quickly and then leaves us hungry. What works better is water-heavy foods that require some digestion – especially fruits, vegetables, and soups.
A unique feature of the diet is that no food has to be completely eliminated. Of course, you won’t be able to eat all the high-calorie foods you want, but then you are unlikely to want them as much if you wait to eat them after other foods that help you feel full. Of course, this requires some meal planning and self-control.
The plan is simple. You eat about the same weight of food each day as determined by the number of calories you need to meet your goal. For the most part, this will be fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. By eating more water-heavy foods, you fill you up with fewer calories. This helps because fruits, vegetables, and soup are typically 80 to 95 percent water.
As you would expect, eating an apple or having soup before the main part of the meal adds significant weight. The added weight then helps curb the urge to eat more. As an example, a 60 calorie cookie might be eaten in 3-5 quick bites as compared to a medium size apple offering 10-20 bites along with plenty of satisfying chewing and far more weight.
While the Volumetrics diet does not eliminate any food, it may require supplementing your diet with foods that have more weight per calorie.
For purposes of meal planning, foods are divided into four groups.
- Very low-calorie density – Includes nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk and broth-based soup.
- Low-calorie density – Includes starchy fruits and veggies, grains, breakfast cereal, low-fat meat, legumes and low-fat mixed dishes like chili and spaghetti.
- Medium-calorie density – Includes meat, cheese, pizza, French fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream, and cake.
- High-calorie density – Includes crackers, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, butter, and oil.
Overall, Volumetrics is one of the better diets. It encourages good nutrition by eating more plant-based whole foods. Also in its favor is the goal of slow and sustainable weight loss. The diet also comes with the promise that you don’t have to give up any of your favorite foods. Again, that doesn’t mean you can eat all you want. The downside of the Volumetrics is the need to do your own cooking. Of course, if you like to cook that’s a plus. There is a potential downside given that foods high in water content may leave you hungry after 2-3 hours. The solution is to pack low-calorie fruits and vegetables for handy snacks. When good choices are within reach, you will be less likely to hunt up a bag of chips.
The Volumetrics diet has many advocates. It was named “No. 5 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets” for 2018 and for 2019, place 2nd in “Shape magazine for the Best Low-Calorie Diet. While these are much sought after recognitions they would be less impressive if compared with a simple plant-based whole food diet, the only diet known to reverse heart disease and improve health for over a hundred other diseases. A closer look at the rankings suggests commercial interest may play a part in how diets are ranked. What magazine wants to offend its advertisers by suggesting they promote foods that compromise health? Sadly, the debate for the coming year will again be mostly about the merits of the top diets in US News & World Report and not about the evidence for a plant-based whole food diet.
The book provides an abundance of guides, including a chart to help you shop for foods you can eat freely and identifies foods you need to eat less of. While the concept is simple enough, habits are another matter. If a structured approach is what you need the book will serve your needs. Otherwise, you could skip the book without losing much. Where the book pays for itself, is with recipes that can help you stay on track. Granted, some of the recipes have quite a few ingredients. If you enjoy home cooking, this might be a bonus since many of the recipes look quite delicious.
Speaking of cooking, perhaps you have a tasty and nutritious recipe to share. Not to brag but my latest pumpkin soup recipe is to die for. Have ideas? Let’s chat on a Saturday morning walk.
Nancy Neighbors, MD
Learn More About Volumetrics
If interested in learning more about Volumetrics, Dr. Barbara Rolls has written three books that cover the ins and outs of her variation on a mostly plant-based whole food diet.
- The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off
To discover if the books interest you, check a copy out from the local library. The third book is not currently available from the local library. Additional information is available on various websites including:
- Pinterest boards, like Lisa Rothschild’s Volumetrics Recipes, containing easily searchable snack ideas and links to recipes that fit the Volumetrics plan
- The Facebook page for The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, where you can stay updated on news, tips, and tricks about the diet
- Sites like DietTools’ Volumetric Diet Recipes, where you can browse recipes tagged with the Volumetrics diet.
A Mystery Revealed
After reading the book, I remained curious about why a word suggesting food volume (Volumetrics) was used when food weight was claimed to be the most important factor. For an answer, I wrote to Dr. Rolls and ask her to explain the mystery. Dr. Rolls replied, “We have done several studies showing that volume affects intake (aeration and how foods pack down) and I do think it is primarily an early visual cue. In practice when we study how food affects intake, we vary the weight (it is hard to measure food volume). Our studies indicate that both weight (kcal/gram) and volume influence intake. Can you think of a title to describe the effects of food weight?” After giving her title some thought I had to concede, it would be hard to find a synonym for the word weight that would make a title as catchy as the word Volumetrics.