A Dietitian’s Review: The Volumetric Diet

by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE

We review several different eating approaches in our “Dietitian’s Review” series with the goal of helping people who are looking to evolve their eating style towards better health. It’s important to emphasize that “going on a diet” is very rarely associated with long-term success with weight. We provide these reviews for anyone who wants to improve their health and is looking for an eating approach that will best fit their lifestyle and preferences.

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The Volumetrics approach to eating focuses on eating more high water content, low-calorie foods (such as fruits and vegetables) and less of calorie-dense foods like fried foods and sweets.  By eating foods that are higher in volume, you feel fuller so you eat fewer calories.

What foods does this diet focus on?

Foods are divided into four groups with better choices being first; however, no foods are off-limits in this diet.  The goal is to eat more foods from the first 2 categories.

  • 1 (very low-density): fruit and non-starchy vegetables, non-fat milk/yogurt, broth-based soups
  • 2 (low-density): starchy veggies, whole grains, legumes, low-fat meats
  • 3 (medium-density): meat, cheese, bread, pretzels, ice cream
  • 4 (high-density): crackers, chips, candies, cookies, nuts, butter and oil

Recipes offer suggestions for how to add more volume to meals. So, instead of spaghetti and 4-5 meatballs, enjoy spaghetti with lots of stir-fried veggies in the sauce with 1-2 meatballs.

Is it effective?

Yes. This approach has published research behind it for more than 10 years.  Dr. Barbara Rolls, a nutrition scientist at Penn State, has published many studies showing its effectiveness.  For example, studies find that people who eat higher proportions of low- and very low-energy-density foods have lower BMIs and are less likely to be overweight.

What are some pros and cons?

Pros:  No counting calories and no strict rules

Cons:  This diet requires more planning and cooking than some others as it involves less packaged foods

How do I learn more?

There are a variety of books available by Barbara Rolls including:

  • The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (2012)
  • The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan (2000)

Note: There are many approaches to weight loss that can be successful for people.  My Weight– What to Know does not recommend a particular diet but is happy to share facts about a variety of approaches. As with all meal planning approaches, regular exercise is recommended.

Eating a healthy diet and being active are both really important for being healthy, but for many people, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to help them reach their weight-loss goals. If this sounds familiar, read this fascinating article about what to do when diet and exercise aren’t getting you to where you want to be.

UPDATE: A recent study from the NIH suggests that a diet high in ultra-processed foods led to overeating and weight gain. Watch a Facebook Live episode that covers what to know about ultra-processed foods here:

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