Volume Eating: Losing Weight While Feeling Full

Volume eating is a nutrition approach that encourages you to eat low-energy, nutrient-dense foods. By following this approach, you’ll learn how to choose nutrient-packed options that can easily fit into a healthy weight loss plan. Keep reading to discover more about volume eating and volumetrics.

What is volume eating?

Volume eating is a nutrition approach that encourages you to eat filling foods instead of picking options based on their energy or caloric value. It's very popular in weight loss circles because it's a sustainable lifestyle approach versus a diet. Research suggests this approach may help you feel more satisfied after eating, decrease hunger cravings, and deepen your understanding of portion sizes while trying to lose weight.

Dr. Barbara Rolls first brought attention to volume eating by creating her diet program, volumetrics. After twelve years, her approach consistently ranks high on nutrition and helpful diet lists. She has published several books to help educate people on this eating and weight management approach.

Vital elements of volume eating and volumetrics are:

  • Choosing whole foods over processed options
  • Prioritizing low-energy, nutrient-dense foods on your plate
  • Leaving room for smaller amounts of some high-energy foods (like plant-based oils and other healthful fats)
  • Building sustainable habits versus following an overnight diet plan

The benefits of volume eating are that it prioritizes nutritional quality, such as encouraging a greater intake of high-fiber foods. Additionally, it teaches people how to satisfy their appetite without interfering with weight loss efforts.

Should I choose volume eating?

To lose weight, it’s essential to include healthy food swaps that help you feel full after eating. It can be hard to stop eating if you don't experience the sensation of fullness, which can make it harder to lose weight.

To better understand which foods help you feel full, here are a few examples of easy volumetric swaps: choose whole fruits over fruit juice, pick whole-grain bread over white flour products, enjoy fish over fatty meats, and pick fresh vegetables over fried side dishes. If these swaps sound manageable, you’re probably a good candidate for volume eating.

Additionally, people like volumetrics because they can see a full plate of food. It lessens the feeling of being restricted, which may make it easier to comply with long-term.

How does food density affect how much we eat?

High-volume foods make you feel full, which may decrease the chances of overeating. These foods contain liquid, fiber, and other nutrients that fill your stomach and slow down digestion. An easy way to understand how food density can affect how much you eat is to imagine a bowl of grapes beside a bowl of raisins. You can correctly assume that eating grapes, which are high in fiber and water, will make you feel more full than an equal number of raisins.

Calories aren’t everything

Some low-volume foods may contain more calories than you’d expect. For example, a bag of chips may contain hundreds of 'empty' calories, but you may still feel hungry after eating them. This example demonstrates that one way your body recognizes satiety is through volume, not through the caloric density of foods.

Best foods for volume eating

Volumetric foods that help you feel full after eating contain fiber or protein. Your body digests these nutrients slowly, which enables you to feel satisfied after your meal. Here are examples you can incorporate into your diet:

  • Fresh fruits (apples, pears, peaches, plums, etc.)
  • Vegetables (celery, broccoli, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes, onions, etc.)
  • Beans (kidney beans, black beans, white beans, chickpeas, etc.)
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Baked whole-grain crackers
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lean poultry
  • Seafood and fish
  • Handful of nuts
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • Plant-based oils (olive, canola, sunflower, etc.)

These foods are rich in nutrients and contain moderate to low amounts of calories. However, being mindful of your calorie intake doesn’t mean avoiding dietary fats. Healthful energy-dense foods like avocado, nuts, fatty fish, and plant-based oils can easily fit into a volumetric eating plan by choosing moderate serving sizes.

How to feel full while monitoring your calories

To build balanced, filling meals, try to include higher-volume foods most often. Meals should consist of high-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, a variety of vegetables, lean proteins (animal or plant-based), and small amounts of healthy fats to help your body absorb essential nutrients.

Here are a few volumetric meals you can make at home:

  • A plate of shredded kale salad with sliced apple, slivered almonds, capers, cucumber, red onion, and cherry tomatoes. Add grilled chicken breast for protein and one tablespoon of light feta cheese. Dress with olive oil and mustard vinaigrette.
  • Half a cup of quinoa served with roasted broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. Top with grilled salmon and fresh pineapple salsa.
  • Whole-grain bread with hummus spread, sprouts, tomato, spinach, 2–4 avocado slices, and sliced hard-boiled egg. Add a sour pickle or mustard if you want a kick.
  • Stir-fry with shredded cabbage, celery, carrot, onion, and garlic. Serve over half a cup of brown rice with a handful of toasted cashews, fresh cilantro, a lime wedge, and 4–6 lightly sautéed shrimp. Drizzle with one teaspoon of sesame oil before eating.
  • Steel-cut oats with skim milk or water, berries, one teaspoon of chia seeds, cinnamon, and a quarter cup of walnuts.

The cooking method can also influence the energy content of a food. Grilled, baked, or lightly sautéed foods typically contain fewer calories than deep-fried or heavy-fried foods.

Healthy swaps: high-calorie to low-calorie

Monitoring your portion sizes can help you stay on track with your weight loss goals. A simple visual tool you can use is the USDA MyPlate model. To apply this strategy, build meals with 1/4 plate filled with fresh vegetables, 1/4 plate with fruit (or more vegetables), 1/4 plate with lean protein, and the final quarter should have whole-grain carbohydrates.

While following a volumetric nutrition approach, you’ll be amazed to see how much more food is on your plate (while staying within your caloric guidelines.) Below are examples of low-volume meals compared to more desirable high-volume options: all meals are approximately 350–500 calories.

Low-volume mealsHigh-volume meals
White burger bun with hamburger, ketchup, lettuce, and french fries.
Whole-grain bun with grilled chicken, mustard, lettuce, tomato, fresh side salad. Add a small low-fat yogurt cup with berries.
A McDonald's blueberry muffin and a medium coffee (with cream and sugar).
Homemade muffin made with olive oil, applesauce, and whole-grain flour for added fiber. Pair it with a coffee with skim milk.
A small bowl of white spaghetti noodles with creamy Alfredo sauce, chicken, and green peas.
Half plate whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, chicken, and veggies; other half with green salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
One slice of pizza with ham, sausage, and cheese.Two slices of whole-grain toast topped with low-fat cheese, tomato, avocado, and fresh herbs. Serve with fresh fruit on the side.

You can visually picture how the high-volume meals contain larger food servings but still comply with a weight loss plan.

Try volume eating

Volume eating is a great way to build sustainable habits that may support your overall health and weight management goals. To apply this nutrition approach, focus on building meals that include minimally processed whole foods that are low in energy but high in nutrients.

If you’ve ever tried restrictive diets in the past, this new approach can feel liberating because you’ll notice how much high-volume food can fit on your plate. It can be reassuring to see how much food you can enjoy while still trying to lose weight.

Remember, nutrition and a healthy diet aren’t just about nutrients and calories. The newest USDA nutrition guidelines (which are evidence-based) state that food should fuel your body, celebrate your culture, and reflect your taste preferences and budget. Volumetrics can be a tool to help you balance these crucial factors so you feel your best physically and mentally.


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