The Volumetrics Eating Plan is based on a basic fact: people like to eat. And if people are given the choice between eating more and eating less, they'll take more almost every time.
Unlike diets that are based on deprivation, the Volumetrics diet doesn't try to fight this natural preference. Its creator, nutritionist Barbara Rolls, PhD, argues that limiting your diet too severely won't work in the long run. You'll just wind up hungry and unhappy and go back to your old ways.
Rolls' approach is to help people find foods that they can eat lots of while still losing weight. The hook of Volumetrics is its focus on satiety, the feeling of fullness. Rolls says that people feel full because of the amount of food they eat -- not because of the number of calories or the grams of fat, protein, or carbs. So the trick is to fill up on foods that aren't full of calories. Rolls claims that in some cases, following Volumetrics will allow you to eat more -- not less -- than you do now, while still slimming down.
Rolls has excellent credentials. She a professor of nutrition and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State University. She is also the author of more than 200 research articles. Volumetrics is based, in large part, on the work done in her laboratory.
What You Can Eat on the Volumetrics Diet
Rolls doesn't ban food types as part of the Volumetrics diet. She doesn't divide foods into the good and the bad. But she does urge people to evaluate foods based on their energy density. This concept is crucial to the whole diet.
Energy density is the number of calories in a specified amount of food. Some foods -- especially fats -- are very energy dense. They have a lot of calories packed into a small size. Water is the opposite, since it has an energy density of zero. If you eat foods with high energy density, you rack up calories quickly. If you go with less energy dense foods, you can eat more and get fewer calories.
Very low-density foods include:
Very high-density foods include:
Volumetrics relies heavily on foods with a high water content - such as many vegetables and fruits, which are 80% to 95% water -- since they will fill you up without adding a lot of calories. Just drinking water isn't enough, Rolls says. It will quench your thirst but not sate your hunger.
Rolls's books are also full of recipes, including many for foods with a lot of water -- like soups, casseroles, stews, and fruit-based desserts. The recipes also use a lot of tricks familiar to low-fat diet veterans: cutting the oil, butter, eggs, cream, and using skim milk, egg whites, yogurt, and applesauce instead.
Rolls also suggests eating lots of foods with filling fiber, along with adequate portions of lean protein and some healthy fats from fish and other sources. Of course, energy-dense foods -- like sweets, fats, and alcohol -- are still allowed. You just have to eat them sparingly.
While the hook of Volumetrics is clever, it essentially boils down to the sensible diet that any nutritionist would recommend: lower-calories, lower-fat, with lots of vegetables and fruits.
How the Volumetrics Diet Works
The Volumetrics diet has modest goals. This isn't a diet that will help you lose 10 pounds in a week. Instead, Rolls says that you should aim for something reasonable and sustainable. She suggests a goal of losing 5% to 10% of your current body weight, shedding a pound or two a week.
Some of the key parts of the Volumetrics diet are:
Eating foods with low energy density. For example eat grapes instead of raisins, you eat less to feel full but are eating the same foods.
Keeping records of the foods you eat and the amount of physical activity you get. Rolls says that doing this is important for your long-term success. You start by recording your food and exercise on an average week so you get a baseline. This will let you see where you need to make improvements. Also, Rolls suggests that you log your weight at least once a week -- and not more than once a day -- to follow your progress.
Increasing your physical activity. You need to start slow, but Rolls suggests that eventually you should aim to exercise for about 30-60 minutes on most days. Any activity that you enjoy is fine. She suggests that walking is a great approach for many people, and recommends using a pedometer.
Learning how to calculate energy density in foods so that you can eat -- and shop -- more wisely. The book also has loads of charts at the end, which give you the energy density and calories of various foods by weight.
Rolls says that, for most people, counting calories is pretty difficult. Instead, she suggests that you learn what kinds of foods are high and low in calories so you can make better choices. To help you out, she supplies plenty of recipes and meal suggestions for people who are trying to eat basic 1,600 or 2,000 calories per day diets. The more recent book, The Volumetrics Eating Plan, provides three weeks of complete eating plans for every meal and snack.
On the covers and elsewhere in her books, Rolls uses side-by-side photos of foods -- with the same number of calories -- that have high and low energy densities. So for instance, a sixth of a cheeseburger is shown alongside its caloric equivalent, a big, brimming bowl of soup. The implication is obvious. The soup will fill you up, while the burger fraction will leave you hungry for the remaining 5/6 -- and maybe a side of fries.
Of course, the photos and premise might not convince everyone. Some might believe that a spoonful of real chocolate mousse would be worth barrels of fresh fruit and yogurt parfait. Some might gladly take a small plate of potato chips and dip over a massive platter of raw vegetables with hummus and salsa.
But in a way, that's Rolls's point. If you'd prefer the spoonful of real mousse, or a few chips, she says go ahead and eat them. She doesn't forbid anything. However, her focus on energy density lets you see just how many calories there are in some of your favorite foods. Rolls teaches you how to better evaluate your choices. Knowing this might help you stop after a few bites of energy dense foods, rather than eating the whole serving like you used to.
All in all, the Volumetrics diet plan is a well-researched and sound approach to weight loss. It doesn't make any big promises and urges you to go slowly. Admittedly, following the meal plans -- which are all Volumetric recipes -- will require a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Some people may be turned off by having to calculate energy densities and keep daily records. But for people who dedicate themselves, Volumetrics could prove a sensible and satisfying way to lose weight.