Volumetrics eating plan: defining food density

VolumetricsCoverI have always thought that people intrinsically know healthy foods from unhealthy foods. However, the numerous diets supported by ‘doctors’ claiming to be the healthiest, easiest and fastest way to lose weight can be confusing and frustrating. Most trending diets focus on the elimination of a food or food group yet research shows these types of restrictive diets cannot be sustained for long periods of time.


The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC) defines energy density as the amount of energy or calories in a particular weight of food and is presented as the number of calories in a gram (kcal/g). To calculate the energy density of foods, divide the calories per serving by the weight of the serving in grams. Foods higher water and fiber result lower the energy density where fat is the most energy dense component of food. For example, the energy density of a medium red apple is 0.5 and the energy density of a hot dog is 3.

Dr. Barbara Rolls, Chair of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University, has conducted extensive research on food intake and obesity. Through her research in 1998, she found that diets of low energy density may be helpful tools for weight loss and control and subsequently wrote The Volumetrics Eating Plan. She developed this eating plan so that dieters may achieve more successful weight loss and maintenance outcomes. Further research showed that eating low-energy dense foods was a more successful weight loss strategy than fat reduction coupled with restriction on portion sizes – the basis for many fad diets. This eating plan is even listed as a Resource for Weight Management and Obesity Prevention by the US Department of Agriculture.


The Volumetrics Eating Plan focuses on the feeling of fullness or satiety that is often missing from other fad diets. Each food affects the feeling of fullness differently and rather than reducing food intake and always feeling hungry, Volumetrics teaches how to consume lower calorie foods and still feel full. This diet plan stresses the importance of water and fiber rich foods with low energy densities. Water rich foods replace the volume but not the calories. By increase the water and fiber content of foods, you decrease the calories while at the same time increasing the feeling of fullness.

The Volumetrics Eating Plan is not like most other fad diets. Instead of focusing on losing weight quickly, this plan teaches how to manage weight loss or maintain current weight over an extended period of time. Following this diet can result in an average loss of 1 – 2 pound per week.

Even better, this eating plan provides guidance on how to incorporate all food groups without feeling guilty – including alcohol, fat and carbohydrates! Additionally, the eating plan does not restrict dieters from enjoying meals away from the home; rather suggests ordering half portions or an appetizer and salad when eating at a restaurant. Because of the nature of the diet, it can be accommodated to fit any lifestyle or dietary restriction such as vegan, gluten free and kosher.


On this meal plan you will eat three meals, two snacks and a dessert consuming between 1400 – 1600 calories per day. Foods are broken down into four categories. The diet should be heavy in categories 1 and 2, moderate in category 3 and minimal in category 4:

  • Category 1 – Very Low Density: fruits, non-starchy vegetables and broth based soups, fat free milks, rice, chicken
  • Category 2 – Low Density: appropriate portions of whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, whole milk, tofu
  • Category 3 – Moderate Density: small portions of foods such as breads, fat-free baked snacks, cheeses and higher-fat meats, hummus, eggs, potatoes
  • Category 4 – High Density: sparing portions of fried foods, candy, cookies, nuts and fats
  • Beverages: Calorie free and most low calorie beverages are allowable with water being the primary recommendation. Due to the caloric content of alcohol, one serving should replace one food snack.


Most other fad diets require a severe reduction of calories to reduce weight often leaving the dieter feeling hungry and ‘cheating’ on their diet. This eating plan focuses on including foods low in energy density that are high in water and fiber content to maintain nutrient values while at the same time increasing satiety and decreasing hunger. As a vegetarian, I can easily follow this meal plan as a large portion of my diet is made up of low energy dense fruits and vegetables. Although following this eating plan could potentially be costly due to the increasing prices of fresh fruits and vegetables, it will be more effective than those diets targeting macronutrients. The Volumetrics Eating Plan book includes plenty of recipes and tips for success.

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