Eating for Volume
When it comes to fat loss, one of the major obstacles is probably hunger. If you're not satisfied and still hungry after your meal, you're almost guaranteed to reach for more food.
One of the best strategies with these goals is to maximize the amount of food you can eat while simultaneously keeping your calorie intake as low as possible. How do you do that? Eat for volume.
How does that work? What in the world does that mean?
Essentially, calories and physical food amount are not directly correlated. It doesn’t take a lab scientist to conclude that a pound of broccoli will contain considerably less calories than a pound of french fries. In addition, as we know from experience after Thanksgiving, the human stomach can only hold so much food at any one time.
If we prioritize eating foods lower in calorie, you'll have less space in your stomach for higher calorie foods. This will help you feel fuller even though you ate the same amount of food calorie-wise. This diagram illustrates this point:
Benefits of High Volume Eating
The obvious and most important reason to eat for volume is that you'll get to eat a lot more food even if your calorie intake needs to be low.
If you want to shed weight or fat you have to drastically reduce the amount of food you eat if you are eating the right things. Heck, you may even be able to eat more.
In addition to this main benefit, there are a couple more to consider...
- Volume foods are nutrient-dense. You'll be getting lots of vitamins & minerals which will help improve health, energy levels, performance, sleep, and etc.
- You'll get lots of fiber. This means better digestive health and better GI health.
- Many volume foods often contain lots of water so you'll have an easier time staying hydrated.
- High-volume protein sources are high in protein, which can help to retain muscle mass and keep a better body composition
- It makes eating low-calorie mentally easier. Seeing a big plate of food is mentally more satisfying and rewarding.
The Best Foods to Help You Eat for Volume
When we are talking about eating for volume, the foods you would be eating are typically nutrient dense, and not very calorically dense. In other words, these foods are low-calorie, high in nutrients (vitamins & minerals), and will take up lots of space on your plate and in your belly.
Volume foods also tend to:
- Contain lots of water or are filled with air. Water is heavy, expands your stomach, and air increases the size of the food. Both are calorie free so the more air or water the food has, the better.
- Be higher in fiber, which slows digestion keeps you full.
if you really want to pack your plate high. choose foods that are high in fiber like vegetables, whole fruits, and root vegetables.
Lean sources of protein with very little fat are also great high-volume foods. As a bonus, protein is the most satiating macronutrient and has a high thermic effect which means that eating protein will satisfy your hunger better than eating carbs or fat will and protein takes more energy to metabolize. This increase in energy expenditure can help you better maintain an energy deficit to lose body fat.
Here are some high-volume foods you can choose. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but hopefully, you’ll get the idea of what kinds of foods to choose and build a big beautiful plate.
*All calories listed per 100g unless otherwise stated
- Broccoli (34 cal)
- Cauliflower (25 cal)
- Brussel Sprouts (43 cal)
- Asparagus (20 cal)
- Leafy Greens like Spinach, Kale, Bok Choy, Arugula and Lettuces (generally from 15-50 cal)
- Artichokes (47 cal)
- Mushrooms (22 cal)
- Whole Green Beans "haricots verts" (31 cal)
- Turnips (28 cal)
- Cabbage (25 cal)
- Bell Peppers (20 cal)
- Carrots (41 cal)
- Zucchini (17 cal)
- Hard Squashes like Acorn (40 cal), Butternut (45 cal), or Spaghetti (31 cal)
- Cucumber (16 cal)
- Tomato (18 cal)
- Pickles (11 cal)
- Sauerkraut (19 cal)
- Strawberries (33 cal)
- Watermelon (30 cal)
- Melon (34 cal)
- Grapefruit (42 cal)
- Oranges (47 cal)
- Peach (39 cal)
- Blueberries (57 cal)
- Raspberries (53 cal)
- Blackberries (43 cal)
Dense Carbohydrate Sources
- Cooked Oatmeal (68 cal)
- Boiled Potato (77 cal)
- Lentils (116 cal)
- Edamame (122 cal)
- Green Peas (81 cal)
- Air Popped Popcorn (1 cup = 31 cal)
- High Fiber Tortillas (1 tortilla = 90 cal)
- Egg whites (52 cal)
- Nonfat Greek yogurt (59 cal)
- Nonfat cottage cheese (72 cal)
- 99% lean ground turkey (115 cal)
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast (165 cal)
- Shrimp (106 cal)
Just remember that even though these foods are lower in calorie, this still doesn’t allow you to go hog wild. You should still measure, portion and be mindful of the quantity of these foods just like you would with any food.
Eating for Volume Hacks and Strategies
Okay, so you know what foods to eat to maximize your food volume. But, even with the best knowledge, sometimes clients struggle with the application part.
Here are some of my hacks and strategies to “eat for volume”...
Add veggies to all of your plates
Add a bunch of vegetables to everything you eat and you'll automatically add a ton more volume without adding a lot of calories. You can be obvious and give yourself an entree-sized portion at meals or get creative and sneak them in wherever possible.
- Throw some veggies into your scrambled eggs for breakfast.
- Make stir-fry with tons of veggies
- Add veggie to pasta dishes
- Bake veggies into a casserole
- If you make a protein smoothie, add foods like spinach, kale or pumpkin.
- Just get them on your plate!
The only way you might possiblky go wrong with more veggies is to top them or cook them in calorically dense foods like oils, cheese, etc.
Swap carbs out for low calorie substitutes
Swap high-carb foods for lower-carb, veggie-based alternatives. For example, instead of eating white rice, use cauliflower rice.
1 cup cooked white rice (205 cal) vs 1 cup cauliflower rice (25 cal)
Buying or making spiraled zucchini or spaghetti squash can be a great substitute for pasta dishes like spaghetti.
1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta (180 cal) vs 1 cup cooked Spaghetti Squash (42 Cal)
Substitute butternut squash for sweet potatoes.
100g sweet potato (86 cal) vs 100g butternut squash (45 Cal)
Make a big ol' salad
Get a bunch of lettuce or leafy greens.
Add some other colored veggies and fruits like bell peppers, tomato, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, and etc.
Sprinkle some seeds, nuts or a little avocado.
Throw some lean protein like grilled chicken breast, fish, shrimp or lean steak on the top and drizzle a little dressing to finish it off.
You now have a big, high-volume salad full of micronutrients that will keep you full for hours.
Drink less protein shakes, eat less protein bars and avoid liquid calories
Protein shakes are made with water which take up space in your stomach but you can always make a little more room in your stomach for liquids. Instead of doing protein shakes, choose whole-food protein sources that you have to chew and work to eat. Eating whole-food protein will slow you down and take up more space on your plate and in your stomach. Avoid protein bars like the plague. A tiny 200-300 calorie protein bar is ok in a pinch, but you could eat an entire bowl of greek yogurt with berries instead.
Lastly, avoid drinking your calories (milk, milk substitutes, fruit juice, and etc). Chew them instead. Mentally and physically you'll be more satisfied.
Pimp your oatmeal
Oatmeal is already a great high-volume food because oats soak up a lot of water. Try turning your side dish of plain and boring oatmeal into a giant, balanced meal by adding egg whites and a little fruit or veggies.
The egg whites will add more volume to the oatmeal and give it a nice, cake-like texture. I like to add some banana, blueberries and cinnamon to the mixture for a bit of sweetness. To add even more volume and increase nutrient-density, add some grated zucchini, pumpkin or carrots. Pimp out your oatmeal and I promise you won't be hungry afterwards.
Make soups and stews
Studies have repeatedly shown that eating a low-calorie, vegetable-based soup or stew before the main course reduces calorie intake over the course of the meal. Makes total sense right? Eat a high-volume, liquid based food before eating and your stomach will get fuller leaving less room for the rest of the meal and dessert. Just from personal experience, this also works when soup or stew is the main meal. Eating stew also helps you eat slower (especially if it's hot), which then helps you perceive fullness faster.
Soups and stews are super-easy to make. Buy some bone broth (or make your own), toss a bunch of veggies and seasonings into the crockpot and make yourself a hearty soup or stew. Add some lean protein to the mix and you've got a balanced meal that will keep you full and satisfied. Just make sure you keep the stew broth-based, rather than cream-based if you're watching calories.