What is Volume Eating? Your Ultimate How-To Guide
What is volume eating and is it right for you? Read this comprehensive dietitian review to learn about volume eating and its benefits for weight loss and beyond.
Does more volume mean more weight loss? Better health? Comfier poops?
Those are the hard-hitting questions we’re answering today.
In this detailed blog post, we’re talking all about volume eating: what it is, how it helps, and how to actually use volume eating to support better nutrition and long-term health.
I’ll also share my perspective as a dietitian on the benefits and risks of this popular dieting tool.
Wondering if volume eating might be the answer to your struggles with food? Let’s dive in.
What is volume eating?
Volume eating is a strategy to eat more food while reducing your calorie intake.
Yes, you heard that right.
Volume eating works because it emphasizes low-calorie, high-volume foods. It encourages you to add more fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense options to your plate so you can get the physical sensation of eating more without actually eating more in calories.
Think: mashing cauliflower with potatoes, or mixing zucchini noodles with regular pasta.
Volume eating can make weight loss easier because it helps you feel full and satiated for longer. When you feel more full, you might eat less frequently throughout the day and be more mindful of your food choices overall.
Understanding calorie density
Calorie density is an important concept in volume eating.
Also known as energy density, calorie density refers to the amount of calories a food provides relative to its weight or volume. And in the case of volume eating, it’s that ‘volume’ piece that’s emphasized.
Calorie-dense foods = more calories for less food.
Low-calorie-dense or nutrient-dense foods = fewer calories for the same or more food.
A great example of calorie density can be seen when comparing peanut butter to popcorn. For 100 calories, you could eat roughly 1 Tbsp of peanut butter or 3 cups of air-popped popcorn. Kind of mind-blowing, right?!
High volume vs low volume foods
The strategy behind volume eating is essentially this: load up your meals with high-volume, low-calorie foods. And stay mindful of your portions with low-volume, high-calorie options.
Easy enough… but what’s the difference?
High-volume, low-calorie foods
Also known as nutrient-dense foods, these contain lots of water, fiber and/or air.
Examples of high volume foods include:
- Fresh or frozen berries
- Fresh or frozen fruits in general
- Non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, celery, and cucumber
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale
- Puffed grains like rice cakes or popcorn
Low-volume, high-calorie foods
Also known as calorie-dense foods, these might contain more fats or sugars.
Examples of low volume foods include:
- Dried fruits
- High fat dairy
- Nuts and nut butters
- Snack foods like chips and candy
- Fruit juice and soda
Moderate volume foods
Then, there are plenty of foods in the middle! Moderate-volume, moderate-calorie foods include many nourishing options that are staples of a healthy diet.
Examples of moderate volume foods include:
- Whole grains like oats and brown rice
- Whole grain products like whole wheat bread
- Lean meats, eggs, and fish
- Beans and legumes
- Low fat dairy
Why volume eating matters
As it turns out, feeling full is actually a complicated process.
When you eat, the nerves in your gastrointestinal tract are hard at work. They’re looking for chemical and physical changes that signal you’re getting full, and send hormones to tell your brain it’s time to stop eating. These are called satiety signals.
One of the important satiety signals that tells your body it’s full is stomach stretch.
This is where volume eating helps. When you eat more low-calorie foods, your stomach will contain more food volume and stretch to let your brain know you’re full.
Think of it this way: if you eat a big, high-volume salad, your stomach will actually feel fuller than if you ate the same amount of calories in poutine (my favorite). That might help you stop eating sooner with the salad compared to the more indulgent, low-volume option.
Your brain takes time to notice your belly is full. Eating high volume foods can help you eat slower so your brain recognizes fullness before you’ve eaten beyond your needs.
Benefits of volume eating
Volume eating can be a helpful strategy to support weight loss and other health goals. Here are some research-backed benefits.
Volume eating can support weight loss because eating more food with fewer calories can make sticking to a calorie deficit easier.
Volume eating can help you feel fuller for longer between meals so you eat less overall. It might also help you think about food less and approach meals with less urgency, so you stay more mindful of your food choices.
Volume eating promotes eating more low-calorie, high-volume foods like fruits, vegetables and puffed grains.
These foods tend to contain more fiber and water than more calorie-dense choices, which can support better poops and more regular digestion.
If volume eating helps you eat more fruits and vegetables, that’s a win for your long-term health.
Eating more high-volume whole foods can promote better diet quality because these foods are rich in fiber, prebiotics, antioxidants, and other beneficial phytonutrients. These nutrients help promote cell health and reduce your risk of developing many chronic diseases.
And when you eat more fruits and veggies, you tend to eat a little less fun foods like pizza, ice cream, and chips. That’s a win for your health too (although balance, not elimination, is key).
Relationship with food
As a dietitian, I’m a big believer in the power of satisfaction in healthy eating. When you feel more satisfied from your diet, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
Sometimes, satisfaction comes from adding a delicious sauce or crunchy topping. But having a high volume meal can offer satisfaction for many people too! So if higher volume eating is your jam, I’m in full support.
Volume eating, if done right, can make healthy eating feel really easy. That’s because most of what volume eating suggests is simply adding more fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks you already enjoy.
It doesn’t have to take any cooking skill whatsoever.
Volume eating could be as simple as stirring berries into your morning oatmeal or adding a few big handfuls of veg to your lunch plate.
Speaking of easy, download this FREE list of 70+ convenience foods to make healthy eating easier.
Relationship with food
A poor relationship with food can look like obsessing over calories, feeling guilty over food choices, binge eating, or prioritizing nutrition at the expense of your mental health.
But the beautiful thing about volume eating is that it’s not obsessive or restrictive. The focus is really on adding more nourishing foods to meals you already enjoy.
And as long as you’re not trying to out-volume your need for adequate fuel, it can be a healthy way to improve your eating without obsession.
How to eat a higher volume diet
Try these 18 tips to eat a higher volume diet to support health and gentle weight loss:
- Add spinach or frozen cauliflower rice to smoothies
- Add a bag of coleslaw mix to fried rice
- Enjoy your eggs and toast with a big handful of berries on the side
- Try half regular pasta, half zucchini noodles
- Add finely chopped mushrooms and onions to meat sauce
- Add 2 extra bell peppers to homemade turkey chili
- Try chicken salad or tuna salad over a big bowl of greens
- Serve berries on peanut butter toast instead of jam
- Fill half your plate with veggies or a side salad at dinner
- Try half bell peppers, half tortilla chips for nachos
- Enjoy a handful of mini peppers and baby cucumbers with snacks
- Stir a chopped apple into your oatmeal
- Layer thin slices of eggplant and zucchini in your lasagna
- Mix cauliflower rice with regular rice
- Cook chopped carrots with roasted potatoes
- Stir steamed broccoli in with your boxed mac n’ cheese
- Serve more veggies than pasta in your favorite pasta salad
- Use two greens instead of one as the base of salads
- Serve cucumber slices, baby carrots, and snap peas with yummy dips
Volume eating can be a helpful tool for weight loss and other health goals. But like many nutrition and diet tools, there’s potential for risk too.
Here are some common mistakes with volume eating that may worsen your mental or physical health:
- Neglecting important macronutrients. It can be tempting to prioritize volume over everything else. But your body thrives with adequate calories and a variety of foods. Eat lots of veggies, but don’t neglect protein, fat, or carbs.
- Overdoing the raw veg. Many people are sensitive to large quantities of raw vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. Stay mindful of digestive symptoms like bloat and gas as you add more volume.
- Focusing on restriction. Volume eating is about adding nourishing foods, not taking all the fun ones away. Make sure to include satisfying foods you love in your diet alongside all that colorful produce.
- Always adding volume. Sometimes you just need a cookie without a mountain of baby carrots served next to it. Ditch food guilt and honor your cravings when you have them.
Is volume eating a healthy choice for you?
Volume eating can be a helpful tool for weight loss, chronic disease management, and a balanced relationship with food.
Adding volume to your meals means adding extra fruits and vegetables, so you’ll benefit from extra fiber, water, and phytonutrients. Volume eating can support weight loss, heart health, digestion, blood sugar management and more.
But volume eating might not be right for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s one tool of many to help improve your nutrition and support your health goals.
If you have a healthy, balanced relationship with food, it might be worth a try. But if you have a history with disordered eating or any unique health concerns, I’d recommend checking in with your doctor first.