Dr. Oz Explains the Volumetrics Diet
Eat Less, Feel Full: Does the Volumetrics Diet Plan Work for Weight Loss?
The Volumetrics approach involves considering foods’ water density with the aim of losing a pound or two per week, but despite the fact that studies support its efficacy, the plan comes with some drawbacks.
By Katherine Lee
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
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Volumetrics is a plan for losing weight created by Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, a renowned nutrition researcher who has been studying hunger and obesity for more than 20 years. The diet was named No. 5 onU.S. News & World Report’sBest Diets Overall list in 2019, whileShapemagazine named it the Best Low-Calorie Diet. In her first book, , Dr. Rolls, who is director of the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, described ways to avoid high energy-density (high-calorie) foods, learn to spot “calorie traps” (foods that seem healthy but contain hidden calories), and discover foods that will make you feel satisfied with fewer calories. In that book, she notes that reducing calorie intake by between 500 and 1,000 calories per day may lead to 1 to 2 pounds (lbs) of weight loss per week.
Rolls’ second book, , is a lifestyle guide and cookbook. It follows the original principles — losing weight by eating satisfying portions of flavorful, healthy choices rather than high-density foods — plus it offers more recipes, menu planners, and lists of healthy food options to give readers concrete, real-life instructions for every meal. Most recently, in 2012, Rolls’ released,which offers updated research, more recipes, and additional tips and tools for people interested in the diet.
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How Does the Volumetrics Diet Plan Work?
Volumetrics places the emphasis on eating rather than deprivation. “The focus is 100 percent about fullness,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author ofand, who is based in Chicago. “This diet is trying to get you full because, when given a choice, people will choose to eat more.”
According to Volumetrics, foods that contain more water, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier because they have lower energy density, or number of calories in a specific amount of food, than other options that have comparable satiety. Foods that have high energy density include sugary and fatty foods, such as potato chips and cookies. “[Rolls] is saying that you can naturally turn off your desire for these foods,” explains Blatner.
Essentially, the claim that advocates of Volumetrics make is you can lose weight by eating fewer calories yet still feel full.
“Volumetrics is one of my favorite diets because it’s more about eating than dieting,” says Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, a nutrition communications consultant based in Hermosa Beach, California. “People like to eat, and research has shown that when you eat high-water-content foods, such as a green salad with a lot of vegetables or soup, you eat less [calories].”
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Best of all, Rolls argues inVolumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories that you won’t have to give up foods you love while on the diet: “You won’t have to cut out all the fat from your diet, live on rabbit food, subsist on foods on a ‘free’ list, or avoid any food,” she writes in the book. Instead, the diet helps you understand how to enjoy certain foods — whether it’s raisins, pretzels, chocolate, cheese, or the like — without overeating, Rolls explains in the book.
Volumetrics also gives tools to calculate the energy density of foods, and recommends using a food journal and getting enough physical activity. “Research shows that keeping a food journal is one of the tactics that work for successful weight loss,” says Giancoli.
What the Science Says About Whether Volumetrics Works
A number of studies have examined how energy density of food — or the ratio between how much energy (calories) a food provides and how much it weighs — can affect weight loss and weight maintenance. For example, a carrot, which contains a lot of water, would have a low energy density, since it does not contain a lot of calories for how much it weighs.
One study published in the journalEating Behaviorsfound that eating a diet with a lower energy density, including more vegetables and whole grains, could help people maintain their weight loss. A review published in April 2019 in the journal Nutrientslooked at 13 studies and found evidence that suggests paying attention to the energy density of food could help people who are obese manage their weight.U.S. News & World Reporthas a comprehensive roundup of some of these studies in their profile on the diet.
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A Sample Food List for the Volumetrics Diet
The Volumetrics diet plan is not about telling you what you can and can’t eat, but rather, it aims to teach you how to eat and stay satisfied.
That said, the program does recommend certain foods that have high water content (low energy density), high fiber, and high nutrient density, to help promote satiety. These foods include:
- Fresh fruits (rather than dried fruit or juice, for example)
- Fresh or frozen vegetables (try swapping some in for half a portion of pasta in a pasta dish, for example)
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
- Fiber-rich breakfast cereals
- Low-fat fish
- Poultry without skin
- Lean meats
- Minimal added sugars
- Water (rather than sugary drinks)
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A 1-Day Sample Menu of the Volumetrics Diet Plan
This sample meal shows that there is a high volume of good food on this diet:
- Oatmeal topped with apple slices, cinnamon, and a sprinkle of brown sugar
- Nonfat milk
- ½ grapefruit
- Grilled chicken salad with chopped romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, 1 teaspoon crumbled blue cheese, and chopped walnuts with light dressing
- Whole-wheat pita bread
- Cheerios with skim milk and fresh blueberries
- Steak fajita with grilled green peppers and onions, salsa, shredded romaine lettuce, diced fresh tomato, corn kernels, and nonfat sour cream on a tortilla
The Potential Health Benefits of the Volumetrics Diet Plan
So should you consider trying the Volumetrics diet to help curb your appetite and improve your health? Certainly, Volumetrics has some distinct advantages:
- Solid Science “Volumetrics is sound advice that is backed by research,” says Giancoli. “The diet comes with science behind it.”
- Good Foods A big advantage of Volumetrics is the emphasis on learning how to eat water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which tend to be healthier foods. “It’s one of the best concepts out there because it teaches you how to eat right,” says Blatner. “It promotes all the healthy foods we know.”
- No Crash Dieting Rolls’ books on Volumetrics promote a safe and slow loss of 1–2 lbs a week, aiming for sustainable rather than rapid weight loss.
- No Rigid Rules When you start this diet, you won’t have to tell yourself that you’re never having chocolate or cheese again — instead, you’ll learn how to work it into your diet in the most healthful way possible.
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The Potential Cons of the Volumetrics Diet Plan
Still, the Volumetrics diet is not without its difficulties. The challenges of Volumetrics include:
- A Need to Cook Volumetrics is about cooking at home, so this approach may not work for everyone. “This plan is based on making your own meals,” says Blatner. “If you eat out for business or pleasure, this plan is not ideal.”
- Only Short-Term SatietyEating lots of low-calorie foods under the Volumetrics plan will help you feel full, but the effect may not last. “When you eat high-water foods, you feel full at the time, but may feel hungry a short time later,” says Giancoli. Try having protein with your meals to help the feeling of satiety last longer.
- No Rigid RulesThis pro can also be a con. Some dieters may find comfort in a set of rules and rigid measurements that let them know that, if they follow those rules exactly, they’ll lose weight. By contrast, the Volumetrics diet offers guidelines and suggestions on how to eat for satiety — but doesn’t restrict certain foods or provide specific calorie limits. The plan also encourages you to up your exercise and stay active, but again, provides no definitive guidelines. If you need those rules to help keep you disciplined, this may not be the diet for you.
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Resources for Following the Volumetrics Diet Plan
If you’re starting the Volumetrics diet, you’ll want to first check out Rolls’ three titles on the diet:
- Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories
- The Volumetrics Eating Plan
- The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet
Beyond these titles, you can also check out some of the following online resources for more info about the plan:
The Possible Short- and Long-Term Effects of the Volumetrics Diet
In the short term, you won’t feel deprived with the Volumetrics plan, says Giancoli. At the same time, you’re not likely to see rapid weight loss. “Volumetrics does not promise a quick fix,” says Blatner.
But in the long term, people who follow the Volumetrics plan are more likely to build lasting healthy habits. “They will develop a healthier lifestyle and maintain weight loss,” says Giancoli. “You’ll be getting a more plant-based diet and eating whole grains. You’ll be healthier.”
The Takeaway: Should You Try the Volumetrics Approach to Lose Weight?
The Volumetrics diet is really more of a lifestyle shift than a quick-fix diet. If you follow this plan, you may find yourself reaching for more fiber and more nutrients — never a bad thing.
But if you’re looking for quick and convenient, or are daunted by the lack of rules, this diet may not be for you. Just make sure to check with your doctor before starting any diet, especially if you have any pre-existing health condition.
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