Volume eating helps with the most critical factor to success when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off… the calorie balance equation. In other words, to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Volume eating is one way that you can reduce the number of calories you eat whilst eating a lot of food.
It is not a strict diet plan; it is a technique that you can apply to your current diet in order to reduce the calorie density (also referred to as energy density) of what you consume. When following this approach, the focus is eating a lot of foods that have a lower calorie density.
Why is this way of eating useful?
- By focusing on mostly foods with a lower calorie density, the volume of your meals will be high so you will feel full whilst you lose weight.
- You will eat a nutrient dense diet. Because volume eating focuses on fruit and vegetables you will eat plenty of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. These are important for supporting a strong immune function and are critical to the body processes that work to break down food and turn it into energy. Not eating enough nutrients can lead to frequent illness, poor sleep, feeling sluggish and tired. These in turn are likely to interrupt a pattern of healthy eating and exercise.
- Whilst eating for volume does focus mostly on lower calorie density foods, the approach is flexible enough for you to include some calorie dense foods. Win win.
How volume eating can help you lose weight: Feel full with fewer calories.
This approach is a gradual change, not a fast way to drop 10 kilograms. You can apply this approach to almost any of your meals and snacks to make lower calorie versions of your favourite foods. Here’s a summary of the key factors why volume eating works for weight loss:
- You eat more food for fewer calories.
- It helps with satiety. You eat in a way that makes you feel full which means you are less likely to reach for extra snack foods, many of which are highly processed and calorie-dense.
- You can maintain this way of eating long term because:
- completely cutting out any foods or food groups is not required.
- there is no need to count calories or macros (which gets very tiring, annoying and can be deflating)
- you can tailor the approach to suit your own lifestyle and dietary preferences.
When all of these factors are taken into consideration you can see how volume eating leads to weight loss.
How to start.
Here’s a 5-step process to get you started with volume eating, as an example. Start by selecting one main meal that you have regularly at home and apply the following principles.
- Ensure 50% of the recipe and/or your plate of food is made up of high volume vegetables.
- Adjust your protein portion if needed. Protein should make up 25% of your plate.
- Adjust your carb portion. Starchy (sometimes also called ‘complex’) carb portion should make up 15-20% of your plate.
- Review your cooking method if required. The healthiest cooking methods are steamed, poached, baked, grilled, air fried or stir fried. Avoid being too heavy handed with the oil when using the methods where fat is added.
- Use portion control with fats. A maximum of one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per person is a good aim if you are using pour oil.
Volume eating is not a low-fat diet. Healthy fats are essential for healthy skin and cells, they protect our organs, reduce inflammation, help to slow digestion and assist with hormone regulation. Whilst fat is absolute included, with the volume eating approach we do use portion control given how calorie dense it is.
Are there any watch-outs when it comes to this way of eating?
Volume eating done right is a very safe, sustainable and a nutritionally adequate way of eating. Where it could cause issues is if implementing it leads to a drastic increase in fibre intake over a short period of time.
If before starting on a volume eating journey, your fibre intake is relatively low, the sudden increase in fibre intake from the larger portions of fruit and vegetables may result in gut symptoms such as bloating, discomfort and wind. This is usually due to the fact that your body is not accustomed to higher levels of fibre intake.
If your fibre intake is low, then you should build the changes slowly, i.e., you may decide to apply the principles to one new meal every two days instead of every meal straight away. This will give your gut time to adjust to the higher levels of fibre you are consuming.
The other caution is that volume eating should not be taken to the extreme. If you over consume high volume, low calorie foods at the expense of including moderate portions of healthy higher calorie foods then you will miss out on key nutrients that are essential for good health and disease prevention.
An example of this is if you limit good fats like extra virgin olive oil too much then you are missing out on essential fat-soluble vitamins, antioxidants and the heart protective effects of consuming extra virgin olive oil as a whole food.
Volume eating summary:
- Volume eating is also referred to as ‘eating for volume’ or the ‘volumetrics diet.’
- You can eat a lot of food – volume eating will not leave you feeling hungry.
- It focuses on including mostly low-calorie density foods.
- You don’t need to count calories or macros.
- The foods are nutrient dense – they contain a lot of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
- Volume eating does not require you to completely cut out any foods.
- It is still essential to include healthy foods with a higher calorie density when undertaking volume eating. These include foods such as eggs, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds etc.
You can find more on volume eating including food lists, recipes and snack ideas on my website.
Note: When talking about volume eating, I refer to calories instead of kilojoule as the concepts are easier to explain. Kilojoules (KJ) are simply the metric way to measure the energy that comes from food. Like kilograms (metric) versus pounds (imperial). Most food labels in Australia state both the number of calories and KJ on the label. 1 calorie equals 4.2KJ.
Paula is an accredited practising dietitian from Melbourne. She is a mum to twin toddlers and loves running, HIIT, hiking and tennis.
Whilst she is very big on the importance of individualised diet advice, she herself is an avid volume eater. This way of eating suits her personal philosophy to nutrition by helping her manage her hunger and optimise her nutrient intake whilst not going overboard with calories.
Paula is very passionate about providing evidence-based nutrition information through her Instagram page @movingdietitian.