- Volume eating is a popular weight loss strategy that has seen a resurgence in recent months thanks to the online wellness space.
- The method behind volume eating is simple: eating a larger amount of food that is naturally lower in calories can help you feel fuller while maintaining a calorie deficit.
- Experts note that while volume eating may be an effective weight loss tool for some, it can be easy to lose nutrients or focus too heavily on the volume of food you're eating—instead, prioritizing a more general, well-rounded diet may be best.
The online weight loss space has seen a resurgence of a popular weight management method—volume eating.
Whether you're scrolling through TikTok and Instagram or reading your local news, it's hard to avoid tips and tricks for the next magic bullet to lose weight. There will always be a new fad, new product, or new habit that encourages you to give it a try in the name of weight loss.
Or, in some cases, an old idea will resurface. Such is the case with volume eating.
Volume eating is a dieting concept or method of eating that focuses on eating larger amounts of food that are low in calories.
According to Jamie Nadeau, RD, “The idea behind volume eating is that the larger physical amount of food will keep you fuller. Volume eating allows you to eat a large amount of food while still staying in a calorie deficit if you’re working toward weight loss.”
We talked to registered dietitians, experts in food and nutrition, to weigh in volume eating, what it's all about, and the pros and cons of trying it for weight loss.
How Volume Eating Works
Volume eating is a way to eat more food without increasing calorie intake too much. This works because the calorie content of food is determined by its macronutrient content,
Gram per gram, different macronutrients provide a different number of calories. For example, there are four calories in one gram of carbohydrate and protein and 9 calories in one gram of fat.
So, what foods are considered high-volume and low-volume?
Low-volume foods contain more calories per gram, which means that a small amount of food provides a large number of calories. Some examples of low-volume foods include high-fat foods like oils, nuts, cheese, and high-sugar foods like dried fruit or juice, and maple syrup or honey.
In contrast, high-volume foods pack a lot of fiber and water and provide much fewer calories per gram. Some examples of high-volume food include vegetables, high-fiber fruits, like apples and berries, oatmeal, and eggs. When eaten in volume, high-fiber and water foods keep you more full with fewer calories.
Volume eating, when done properly, can be helpful for some individuals to lose weight. Focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods helps keep you full and satisfied for longer since these foods quite literally fill up your stomach more.
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Unfortunately, individuals without certification or expertise in nutrition are oftentimes the ones giving the advice, selling the product, or sharing a "fool-proof" method that worked for them. While personal anecdotes have a space in the weight management world, it can be confusing to know whose experiences to believe. This is why it's crucial to prioritize the expertise and advice of certified healthcare professionals.
Volume Eating for Weight Loss
If you have a goal of weight loss, volume eating can be a helpful way to manage calories without actually having to count calories.
In volume eating, having a large amount of food on your plate doesn't necessarily mean more calories—this is good news if you are trying to maintain a calorie deficit. When carefully planned, volume eating can increase the overall nutrient density of your diet, since you are focusing primarily on fruits and vegetables. Volume eating can be a good way to boost the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in your diet.
“Volume eating is only healthy and helpful if you’re still getting all the nutrients you need throughout the day,” cautioned Kelsey Kunik, RDN and nutrition advisor for Fin vs Fin.
It is important to ensure you are eating a variety of foods that contain enough carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber and not only eat foods because they are low in calories.
"If someone is trying to use volume as a strategy for getting full, it's important to remember that volume can only go so far in terms of satisfaction," Nadeau added. "A huge piece of satisfaction is flavor and preference. If you're eating a large volume of foods simply because they are low calorie, you are likely to find yourself having lots of cravings and maybe even overeating or bingeing in the evenings."
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Common Volume Eating Mistakes
While volume eating may seem like an easy way to lose weight, there are many ways it can be done incorrectly and possibly cause more harm.
Volume eating may fail when someone is only focusing on the actual volume and not on the overall variety of foods they are eating.
Nadeau warned, "The lowest calorie isn't always the best choice, and volume eating encourages you to choose a lot of lower calorie foods simply because they fit easier into a calorie deficit. Mistakes made usually include not eating enough calories, protein, fat or not prioritizing foods individuals actually enjoy eating".
Since fats have the most calories per gram, individuals may choose to avoid them. But fats play a large role in the satisfaction of a meal, in addition to the incredibly important health benefits they provide such as the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, anti-inflammatory properties, and normal cell and nerve function.
Volume eating can have some more immediate health consequences as well.
Kunik added that “high-volume eating can lead to bloating and digestive discomfort, as many high-volume, low-calorie foods are high in fiber. Too much fiber from raw fruits and vegetables can cause digestive upset and micronutrient deficiencies.”
More serious consequences can arise over time when volume eating can easily turn into disordered eating without a focus on balanced nutrition and overall health.
"Volume eating encourages lots of low-calorie foods, which can contribute to cravings, overeating, constant food thoughts, and bingeing," Nadeau explained.
If you notice yourself feeling out of control around foods, constantly thinking about food or bingeing, be sure to pause volume eating and always seek help from a registered dietitian for guidance and support.
If volume eating is done too aggressively or obsessively, it won't be sustainable in the long term. Nadeau recommended "prioritizing satiating foods that you enjoy at your meals like protein, fiber, and colorful fruits and vegetables" instead of just narrowing in on the volume of food you're consuming. This allows your focus to shift to a more sustainable, nutritious approach to your diet.
As is the case with any new dietary routine, it's wise to check where you are getting your nutrition advice from before diving in. Online influencers giving advice about volume eating may not be the most sound, evidenced-based source to get your nutrition information. If you have any concerns, questions, or notice yourself beginning to obsess over food volumes, seek counsel from a registered dietitian.
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