The aim: Weight loss.
The claim: You’ll drop a pound or two a week.
The theory: People tend to eat the same weight, or amount, of food each day, regardless of how many calories they take in. Since some foods are less energy dense than others – that is, they have fewer calories per gram – filling your plate with more of those means you’ll be eating fewer calories without actually eating less food. Low-density foods, which are low in calories but high-volume, help you feel full and satisfied while dropping pounds. Fruits and veggies are ideal, since they’ll fill you up without breaking your calorie bank. (A pound of low-density carrots, for example, contains as many calories as an ounce of high-density peanuts.) Volumetrics is all about getting more mileage out of what you eat.
Volumetrics Diet is ranked:
Weight Loss Short-Term3.9
Weight Loss Long-Term3.5
Easy to Follow3.5
Scores are based on experts’ reviews.
How does Volumetrics Diet work?
Dos & Don’ts
Pioneered by Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls, Volumetrics is more of an approach to eating than it is a structured diet. With “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” as your guide, you’ll learn to decipher a food’s energy density, cut the energy density of your meals and make choices that fight hunger. Food is divided into four groups. Category one (very low-density) includes nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk and broth-based soup. Category two (low-density) includes starchy fruits and veggies, grains, breakfast cereal, low-fat meat, legumes and low-fat mixed dishes like chili and spaghetti. Category three (medium-density) includes meat, cheese, pizza, french fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream and cake. And category four (high-density) includes crackers, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, butter and oil. You’ll go heavy on categories one and two, watch your portion sizes with category three, and keep category four choices to a minimum. Each day, you’ll eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, a couple snacks and dessert. Exactly how strictly you follow Volumetrics is up to you. Though the books contain recipes and some sample meal plans, the point is to learn the Volumetrics philosophy and apply it where you can throughout the day. See where you can replace a category four item (baked white potato) with a category one item (sweet potato), for example.
Foods high in water play a big role in Volumetrics, since water increases the weight of food without packing in additional calories. Soup (80 to 95 percent water), fruits and veggies (80 to 95 percent water), yogurt (75 percent water) and yes, pasta (65 percent water) are among your best bets.
You’re also encouraged to eat foods similar to what you’re craving: crunchy carrots and hummus, say, instead of chips and dip. No foods are off-limits. And if there’s a category four favorite you can’t do without, indulge, as long as you make trade-offs elsewhere.
How much does it cost?
No exotic ingredients are required, so groceries shouldn’t cost more than they typically do. And there’s no membership fee. The diet’s individualized nature gives you financial wiggle room by making dinner from whatever produce is on sale, for example. You will, however, need “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” (William Morrow Cookbooks).
Will you lose weight?
Very likely. In general, diets rich in low-energy-dense foods have been shown to promote fullness on fewer calories and deliver weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what several key studies had to say about Volumetrics:
- In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, researchers randomly assigned 97 obese women to either a low-fat diet or a low-energy-dense, low-fat diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. After a year, both groups lost weight, but the fruits-and-vegetables dieters lost even more –14 pounds compared with 11 pounds. The researchers deemed low-energy-dense diets an effective way to drop pounds and keep them off.
- In another study, co-authored by Rolls, researchers investigated ways to maximize weight loss on a low-density diet. Two hundred overweight and obese adults were placed on a low-density diet and divvied 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, 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 2/5 pounds, compared with 15 9/10 for the two-soup group, 10 3/5 for the two-snack group and 17 9/10 for the comparison group, according to findings published in Obesity Research in 2005. Though the exact number of pounds lost varied, the study suggests that a diet high in low-density foods leads to substantial weight loss.
- In a study of 186 women, researchers found that those on higher-energy-density diets gained about 14 pounds over six years, while those on lower-energy-density diets gained 5 1/2 pounds, according to findings published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The high-density group also saw their body mass index, a measure of body fat, increase more than the low-density group did. The findings suggest that decreasing energy density is a way to prevent weight gain and obesity in both the short and long term, the researchers concluded.
- Finally, in 2016, more research bolstered the link between low-density foods and weight loss. A systematic review of 13 studies, published in April in the journal Nutrients, found a significant association between low-energy-density foods and body weight reduction. In October, another study released online in the European Journal of Nutrition (and co-authored by Rolls) looked at food-consumption patterns in more than 9,500 adults. People with higher proportions of low- and very-low-energy-density foods in their diets had lower BMIs, smaller waist sizes and were less likely to be obese.
How easy is it to follow?
You won’t go hungry – daily menus are designed to be filling, and include snacks and dessert. The focus is on making smart, sustainable tweaks to your eating habits that lower the overall caloric density of your diet. And since Volumetrics doesn’t ban or severely limit entire food groups, your chances of sticking with it are higher.
Convenience: You’re free to eat out, as long as you follow the diet’s guidelines. Alcohol is OK in moderation. Volumetrics books make shaping your plan easier, but there’s no way to avoid the grocery store and stove.
Recipes: Hundreds of recipes for appetizers, soups, sandwiches, pasta and vegetarian dishes (modified to cut energy density) are gathered in Rolls’ books. Choices include: roasted lamb chops, broccoli and tomato stuffed shells, and raspberry-apple crumble. Each has counts on calories, energy density and carbohydrate, fat, protein and fiber grams. Learn to lower the energy-density of traditional macaroni and cheese, for example, by using whole-wheat pasta, vegetables and low-fat cheese.
Eating out: Allowed; you’ll just have to determine which menu choices best conform. Starting with a low-calorie soup or salad makes you less likely to scarf your entire entree.
Alcohol: Wine coolers, gin-and-tonics and light beer are lowest on the energy-density spectrum, while pina coladas, margaritas and daiquiris are highest. Women should stick to one drink a day, and men, no more than two.
Timesavers: None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them and prepare them. And you can’t pay someone to exercise for you.
Extras: Rolls’ books contain meal planning, grocery shopping and dining out guides; a crash course in nutrition basics; and advice for staying motivated. However, resources are mostly limited to print – facebook.com/VolumetricsDiet includes little additional guidance.
Fullness: Volumetrics was designed to promote satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on the diet, provided you adhere to its guidelines. Fruits, vegetables, soup and other low-density foods help control appetite, as do lean protein choices like poultry, seafood, tofu and beans.
Taste: You don’t have to give up your favorites – just make smart swaps. If you leave the butter off your bread, for example, you can have two slices instead of one for the same amount of calories. Or choose skim milk instead of whole and chug a larger glass for equal calories. And a morning stack of pancakes is still OK; just cut the oil and butter, switch to whole-wheat flour, use raspberry sauce instead of syrup and add fresh fruit on top. Other meal ideas range from a baked potato topped with veggies, salsa and cheese to chicken fajita pizza.
Health & Nutrition
Volumetrics is based on low-energy-density foods. Its menu items are large in volume but low in calories. That’s thanks to a whole lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat dairy and lean meat. Volumetrics fully or almost meets recommendations for the majority of necessary nutrients, making it a safe and healthy way of eating.
What is the role of exercise?
Volumetrics is primarily an eating plan, but Rolls does extol the virtues of walking for 30 minutes on most days of the week. Try increasing your daily steps by parking farther away from the mall, getting off the bus a couple stops early or strolling to a colleague’s office rather than sending an email.