Losing weight by eating more is like winning the weight-loss lottery — it sounds almost too good to be true. But when you take a look at the calorie density of the foods you're eating, chances are you can totally cut calories but add more volume to your meals. After all, who doesn't want more bang for their buck?
Swapping some of the high-calorie foods in your diet for options that are lower in calories but higher in nutrients can help you maintain a calorie deficit while warding off hunger (because no one likes a grumbling stomach). Here's what to know to get started.
What Is Volume Eating?
To understand how eating more can actually help you lose weight, you need to ditch the "more food equals more calories" mentality and start thinking about the quality of the food you're eating. Once you've got that down, volume eating is pretty simple: Replace high-calorie foods with lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and eat more of the latter, Shena Jaramillo, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Peace & Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Volume eating isn't really a diet plan or regimen but rather a technique. Simply put, this hack involves strategically packing your meals with large amounts of low-calorie foods. As a result, you feel full while cutting calories.
High-Volume, Go-To Foods
The easiest way to eat more food for less calories is by filling your meals with plenty of vegetables. Leafy greens have a higher water and fiber ratio to total calories, so you can eat several cups each day while barely adding any calories to your diet. For instance, a cup of arugula is less than 20 total calories, according to the USDA, but can add substantial volume to your plate, helping you feel full. Other leafy greens to include are:
Swapping refined grains (like white bread) for healthier, whole grains can also increase the volume of your meal, Jaramillo says. Whole grains are not only higher in fiber, but they also offer more nutrients, like fiber, iron and magnesium. Some whole grain options to consider include:
Leaner protein options are also typically lower in calories than higher-fat proteins and can be eaten in higher quantities. Swap red meat and full-fat dairy for some of these options:
How Volume Eating Helps With Weight Loss
Swapping low-volume foods for high-volume options usually means you'll be eating a more filling diet for less calories, which ultimately promotes weight loss. In order to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit (when you burn more calories than you consume), according to the Mayo Clinic.
Calorie-restricted diets can be difficult, though, because they can leave you feeling hungry. Eating more volume can keep you more satiated and make it easier to stick with your diet.
Volume eating can also increase the overall nutritional value of your meals, Jaramillo says. Foods that are high volume, like leafy greens and whole grains, are generally more nutritious than low-volume alternatives, like processed foods (think: granola bars, cookies, chips).
One key nutrient you gain with more voluminous foods is fiber, Jaramillo says. Fiber will not only increase satiety after a meal (aka help you feel full) but can also promote weight loss and dietary adherence, according to an October 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutrition. After observing the effects of different diets in 345 individuals, researchers found that fiber was the most surefire predictor of weight loss.
Should You Consider Volume Eating?
Considering volume eating isn't a step-by-step diet routine or regimen, you can use this hack whenever you'd like to add filling density to your meals. But if you frequently find yourself reaching for the snack cabinet, choosing higher-volume foods is a great way to keep your calories low and help support weight loss. As this eating routine stresses whole foods high in nutrients, just about anyone can benefit from focusing on volume and quality of food, Jaramillo says.
However, volume eating does take some planning and can be challenging for those with a hectic schedule or rigorous physical activity regimen, says Jaramillo. If you're a granola-bar-on-the-go kind of person, volume eating will require some more meal prep commitment than you may usually give your meals.
As you begin introducing a more voluminous diet, you may experience some initial GI distress, Jaramillo warns. Especially if you're not typically consuming much fiber, you'll want to introduce these fiber-heavy foods more gradually.
While it will take some more commitment where meal prep is concerned, eating more voluminous foods, like vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, can not only help you stay in a calorie deficit more easily but can provide your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Let your creative side run wild and experiment with adding more volume to your meals.
- USDA: "Arugula, Raw"
- USDA: "Kale, Raw"
- USDA: "Spinach"
- USDA: "Romaine Lettuce, Raw"
- USDA: "Cabbage, Raw"
- USDA: "Whole Grain Oats"
- USDA: "Brown Rice"
- USDA: "Millet, Cooked"
- USDA: "Barley"
- USDA: "Chicken Breast"
- USDA: "Salmon"
- USDA: "Nonfat Yogurt"
- USDA: "Cottage Cheese"
- USDA: "Ground Turkey"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study."
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"