June 19

Volumetrics: The Art of Feeling Full on Fewer Calories


Volumetrics is a way of reducing the number of calories in a meal while still feeling full after eating it. It was developed in a weight loss research lab at Penn State when Barbara Rolls and her research team noticed that a big bowl of grapes made people feel more full than the same grapes shrunk down and turned into a small handful of raisins, even though both had the exact same number of calories. They noticed that different types and volumes of food have different effects on satiety and whether people still felt hungry after eating them. They realized that for weight loss efforts to succeed long term, that people had to feel full after meals, otherwise feelings of hunger and deprivation sabotaged any diet they devised (and made people miserable).

The researchers went to work developing meals that were lower in calories but that still stimulated satiety signals in the brain. They served these meals to research subjects in their Eating Lab day after day, until they found combinations that people said were just as tasty and filling – but they were eating 400-600 fewer calories per day!

Use these volumetric principles to help you feel full on fewer calories:

  1. Food that looks bigger will tend to be more filling. In other words, food that is less dense (fluffed up, like a fruit shake or a salad) is generally more filling for the same number of calories.
  2. Foods with a lot of water or fiber in them are more filling with fewer calories. You can take advantage of this by eating more soups and stews and by adding extra volume to your meals from ingredients with lots of water or fiber, like vegetables, fruits or whole grains.
  3. Fat-heavy and dry foods give the least satiety for the number of calories. Fat is the most dense type of food – it produces the least satiety for it’s size and calorie load so you’ll tend to eat much more of it before feeling full – sometimes about 10 times as much! You can also cut down on foods that don’t have much water in them, like crackers and pretzels.

Soup is an example of a great volumetrics food. If you compare a big bowl of vegetable soup with just about any side dish of the same size, the soup will generally have less calories – but because it’s big, it will still make you feel fairly full. This is because it’s essentially fluffed up with water.

If you add a handful of diced tomatoes or zucchini or mushrooms to a casserole or a bowl of pasta, you’re fluffing it up with water and fiber – that means you can eat more of it and still be eating fewer calories!

To make one of your typical meals into a volumetrics meal, try this:

  1. Start with the amounts you would normally put on your plate to feel full
  2. Add a few diced vegetables to any dishes that are appropriate
  3. Reduce the portion sizes of the dishes with the most fat (fat is the most energy dense food that give the least amount of satiety for it’s size)
  4. Fill up that extra space you just created with a side dish of soup, stew, vegetables, fruit or whole grains.

When you eat this volumetrics version of your meal, you’ll find that your brain still makes you feel full.. but you’ll know that there are fewer calories in what you ate.

There’s no need to take volumetrics to the extreme and try to cut out all fat and live off of nothing but vegetable soup! Use the volumetrics principles to take some calories out of each meal while still eating tasty food and feeling satisfied and full. Over time, you’ll be eating fewer calories each day and losing weight for the long term without suffering through any extra hunger.


More Info

There are two excellent books on volumetrics by Barbara Rolls. Read The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan if you want to understand the science behind these techniques and learn about all the different types of food and factors that affect satiety. Skip straight to The Volumetrics Eating Plan if you want lots of recipes and guidance on putting together a volumetrics weight loss plan for yourself. Wherever you decide to start, go forth bravely, arm yourself with knowledge and don’t deprive yourself – You can lose weight and still feel full after meals!


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