Eating more food for fewer calories is the ultimate dietary version of getting more bang for your buck. Sound too good to be true? Enter volume eating.
Unlike most diets, volume eating involves choosing foods that are low in calories but provide volume to your meal (like leafy greens or lean protein). That may seem like a no-brainer on paper, but there are a few common mistakes you'll want to avoid with this eating pattern.
Mistake 1: You're Overeating Fibrous Foods
Fiber is the beloved darling of the nutrition world and, considering it regulates blood sugar, keeps digestion regular and promotes satiety, it's reputation is well-deserved.
Fiber-rich foods like cruciferous veggies are typically nutritious and low-calorie, but you can overindulge, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, registered dietitian, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
Eating too many fibrous vegetables (think: kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli) can cause uncomfortable gas, bloating and abdominal pain, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Generally, you should aim to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat each day, but going too far beyond the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommendation can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort.
Nevertheless, only about 5 percent of people actually eat enough fiber each day, according to a February 2017 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. So, as you start to increase your fiber intake with volume eating, ease into the process. Start slow and pay attention to how your body feels after you eat big portions of vegetables, Taub-Dix says.
Taub-Dix recommends mixing your fiber-heavy vegetables with some less-dense options. For instance, if you're roasting a tray of vegetables, mix your Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with carrots, mushrooms or spinach. You can also try having a peppermint or ginger tea after your meal to help soothe your stomach, she adds.
Mistake 2: You're Assuming Healthy Equals Low in Calories
A food can be simultaneously high in calories and good for your overall health. Some examples include vegetable oils, avocado and nuts.
These foods are high in healthy, unsaturated fats, which are essential for overall heart health, according to Harvard Health Publishing. However, as they're fats, they're also high in calories — fats have 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram.
You certainly don't want to cut these foods out of your diet, but you may want to be more mindful with your portion sizes. A serving of olive oil, for instance, is a tablespoon, which is about 120 calories. One medium avocado is about 322 calories and a handful of almonds is about 164 calories.
Healthy foods can be high-calorie, so read your nutrition labels carefully. Incorporate some creativity into your cooking to make a little go a long way, Taub-Dix recommends. Instead of adding a handful of whole almonds to your salad, for example, sliver or chop a few and sprinkle them on top.
3. You're Focusing Only on Calories
Volume eating is a great way to trim calories while maintaining a healthy, satiating diet. But you don't want to focus only on the calorie counts of the foods you're eating, Taub-Dix says. Micronutrients still matter.
"[Choose] foods that have a lot of benefits at once," Taub-Dix recommends. "Some people fill up on things just because they're lower in calories without looking at what else is in there, like sodium, which could defeat the purpose if you're trying to choose foods that are healthier for you."
When you choose foods to incorporate into your daily menu, don't breeze past the nutrition label — especially the part that lists the vitamins and nutrients. You don't want to eat too many foods that offer zero percent of your daily recommended value of vitamins.
Instead, look for foods that multitask. If you're going to eat a lower-calorie cracker, for instance, look for a variety that maybe includes some fiber or some beneficial nuts or seeds, Taub-Dix advises.
Don't stop reading nutrition labels at the calorie mark. Although volume eating is a great way to cut calories, the point is still to eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods that will fuel your body. So, make sure that a majority of the foods you eat offer some sort of nutritional benefit besides a lower calorie count.
4. You're Filling Up Just Because You Can
Let's be honest, the most appealing part of volume eating is feeling full, right? As most of the foods in this eating pattern are nutritious, high-volume and low-calorie, it can be easy to just fill your plate with loads and loads of food. And while that's not necessarily a bad thing, you don't want to totally ignore your hunger cues.
"If you're trying to transition from eating a lot of food that's not that healthy for you, you may start to fill up on volume from foods that are healthier, which is a good next step," Taub-Dix explains. "Eventually, your next stage should be trying to cut back on portion sizes and meet your needs with foods that are energy-dense and rich in value without having to eat large volumes."
When you're eating, you still want to connect with your body, Taub-Dix says. Despite that you may be eating healthier foods, you still want to pay attention to your hunger levels. Filling up on foods just because you can may cause GI distress and doesn't teach an overall healthy eating pattern.
Judge how much you need to eat based on how full you feel before and after a meal. While you're having breakfast or dinner, avoid distractions (like TV or social media) and pay attention to your hunger levels as best as possible. This may be tedious at first, but eventually these hunger cues will become easier to read and less of a hassle.
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dietary Fiber"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Truth About Fats: the Good, the Bad, and the In-between"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet"
- USDA: "Olive Oil"
- USDA: "Almonds"
- USDA: "Avocado"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap"