We know that for weight loss, it comes down to eating less and moving more. But how can we eat less without feeling like we're starving? Using a strategy called Volumetrics helps our stomachs feel full, but helps us to eat less calories. Choose foods that are high in water like vegetables, fruits, soup, and cooked grains to lose weight effortlessly without hunger.
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You know that you need to eat less to lose weight. But if you just try and skip meals, the sub-conscious Assistant part of your brain will rebel. You'll find cookie crumbs all over your shirt and wonder what happened. There are several strategies you can use to trick the Assistant into eating less without her even knowing. Volumetrics is one trick to eat less calories, but still feel full.
Research shows that from day-to-day people tend to eat about the same weight of food. If you eat foods with a lot of water in them, you will eat the same weight of food, but eat less calories and stay satisfied. Eat more of these water-containing foods:
Use the Try This Tip Today (SCROLL DOWN) to get started with Volumetrics or download the Volumetrics Cheatsheet to pick your own strategies. WANT TO KNOW MORE? SCROLL DOWN FOR THE WHOLE ARTICLE.
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The Miraculous Weight Loss Power of Soup
Before I really understood the power of using habits to lose weight, I used a popular diet plan to lose my freshman 15 and post baby #2 weight. When I did Weight Watchers in college, I was always hungry. It was a battle of willpower to keep myself to my meager allotment of food. I lost the weight, but I consider it a minor miracle. (Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it off. If you want to know how to lose weight without dieting, check out my 5 Day Email course.)
The second time I turned to Weight Watchers, was ten year later to lose post baby weight. The program had changed and was now based on points. My portions were still meager, but this time around I discovered a strategy that turned down my hunger. I had a lot less willpower battles, and it was all due to soup!
Yep, you read that right. Soup. To be specific, the miracle 0-Point Weight Watchers Soup. Being 0 points, it meant that I could eat unlimited amounts of this soup and still stay on program. I started making a big batch of it once or twice a week. It was standard for me to eat a bowl before lunch and before dinner. This would take the edge off my hunger and help me to finally feel satisfied. I could stay on program without overeating, and I ended up losing the weight—until baby #3 came along. (Another story for another day.)
Don't Starve! How to Feel Full and Eat Less
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d discovered one of the secrets to eating less without feeling like you're starving. Barbara Rolls, PhD wrote a book about this strategy and named it Volumetrics.
The basic principle behind Volumetrics is that research shows that from day-to-day people tend to eat about the same weight of food.
So, if you took all the food you ate today and dumped it on a scale, it would weigh about the same today as it does tomorrow and the next day. For example, your standard pattern of food might be 10 ounces at breakfast, 16 ounces at lunch, 6 ounces at snack, and 20 ounces at dinner.
Why does this happen? If you recall, in this blog post article, the Assistant part of your brain is often in charge of habitual actions—like serving your meals. The Assistant is not good at math, and doesn’t know how many calories are in a plate of food.
So how does she know how much to serve you? The Assistant remembers having this type of food in the past and remembers how filling it was. Then, she fills the plate by how much she thinks will be an appropriate serving size to satisfy your hunger. This is all done quickly, intuitively, and subconsciously.
Here’s where the opportunity for weight loss lies. If you typically eat 16 ounces of food at a meal, a lower calorie meal would satisfy you just as much as a higher calorie meal as long as they weigh the same. Researchers call this energy density. A food that has a high energy density has a large amount of calories in a small amount of weight. While a low energy density food, may have a lot less calories for the same weight. Here’s a stark example:
4 ounces of butter has 815 calories while 4 ounces of celery has 17 calories.
Volumetrics-- Eat Less Calories, but Feel just as Full
Technically, the Volumetrics strategy is not about eating less food. It’s actually about eating foods with more water in them.
You may eat the same amount of food as before, but you’ll switch out or add foods that are bulkier and contain more water. Your meals weigh the same as before, but have less calories. This allows you to eat the same amount of food, stay satisfied, but eat less calories and effortlessly lose weight.
Stephan Guyenet, PhD in The Hungry Brain explains that the stretching of the stomach as it fills with food, ”is one of the main signals..that regulates satiety (feeling full). If your stomach contains more food volume, you’ll feel more full, even if that food doesn’t contain more calories. This only works up to a point; however, you can only trick the brain so much. A belly full of lettuce isn’t going to cut it.”
Be warned, you can’t use Volumetrics to lose weight by only eating Cabbage Soup or even Weight Watchers 0-Point soup. Eventually your brain will catch on. Combine this with several other strategies that I've talked about for eating less and feeling full for maximum weight loss effect: using a smaller plate, taking smaller bites and chewing for longer, and using a meal template and eating your foods in a certain order.
Eat More Water-Containing Foods
So how do we take advantage of the Satisfying Magic of Volumetrics?
We eat more foods that have a lot of water in them. That’s it. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Add more water-containing foods to your meals.
Specifically eat more of these four foods:
Eat More Vegetables—
Vegetables have the lowest energy density of any food group. Uncooked vegetables have the lowest energy density of all. Cooking vegetables may release water, but they are still an awesome choice for taking advantage of the filling effects of Volumetrics.
Lean towards the vegetables that are crisp when you take a bite or cut them. Tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, or celery come to mind. Starchy vegetables—such as corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and peas— won’t give you the same calorie busting ability as the high water vegetables will.
I’ve made it a habit to ask myself as I prepare each meal, “How can I add more fruits or vegetables to this meal?” Then I add as much as I can.
When I’m having lunch, I usually up the water content of my meal by making a salad. I take the leftover protein and roasted vegetables from my dinner the night before, and add them to a bed of spinach to make a tasty, gourmet salad.
Also, I always give my kids a serving of fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner (see meal templates article).
Eat More Fruit—
Have you ever taken a bite out of a fresh peach and had juice run all over your face? That’s what we want here. Fruits have lots of water naturally. Dried fruits takes the water out of them and increases their energy density, so don’t use those. Canned fruits or applesauce add sugar, so those aren’t as good of a choice either. And yes, as you may have heard, bananas have the highest energy density of all the fresh fruits. So don’t make bananas your go-to.
To up my family’s fruit intake, at breakfast I add frozen berries to smoothies, and I keep a fruit bowl on my kitchen counter for easy snacking.
Eat More Soup —
Soup is a magic food when it comes to Volumetrics. Broth-based soups will be lower in calories and a better choice for effortlessly cutting out calories than cream-based soups. I recommend adding a lot more vegetables than the soup recipe calls for.
I make soup once a week most seasons of the year. I do it a little less frequently during the summer, but I still make Roasted Eggplant soup or Italian Wedding soup a couple times a month.
Eat More Cooked Whole Grains —
When you take a grain (like oats) and add water to it (like in oatmeal), you’ll make it more satisfying.
If you choose whole grain options like brown rice or quinoa, you’ll also get the filling effects of fiber. It’s very easy to eat double or triple what a serving size of grain is, so I am very careful not to add too many grains.
I always prioritize adding fruits, vegetables, and eating more soup as my favorite Volumetrics strategies. But, if you keep your serving size of cooked grains to 1/4 of your plate, then this is an excellent tip to eat less calories and stay full.
Drinking Water Doesn't Fill You Up
I know you’re wondering, so I’ll just come out and answer it.
“Can I just cheat and drink a glass of water at my meals? Would it work to drink water instead of adding more water containing foods?”
Barbara Rolls conducted a study where women were given a meal of chicken rice casserole, a meal of chicken rice soup, or a chicken rice casserole meal with a large glass of water and instructed the women to eat until they were full. The women ended up eating 392 calories of chicken rice casserole, 289 calories of the soup, or 396 calories when they ate the casserole with the glass of water.
Nope, you can’t fool your brain with a cup of water. A beverage won’t fill you up. The water has to be incorporated into the food itself.
Want Even More Ideas?
Download the Volumetrics Cheatsheet
So how do you add more vegetables, fruits, soup, and cooked grains into your day? How do you take Volumetrics and make it part of your life? I’ve shared a few of the ways that I incorporate Volumetric “Meal Hacks” into my daily routine. If you want a ton more awesome ideas, be sure to download The Volumetrics Cheatsheet—Easy Ways to Increase the Water-containing Foods you Eat.
And of course, you can always head over to the Real Healthy Habits Facebook page for more ideas and support.
Stay tuned for more blog post articles in this series, so you can eat less, lose weight, and do it all without feeling like you're starving!
Until next time,
I'm a dietitian, personal trainer, and health coach who started asking all the tough health and weight loss questions-- like how do we get more willpower, why can’t we stay motivated, and why is getting healthy and losing weight so tough?
I discovered that the answer to all these questions is simply--Your Brain.
I help you stop the health and weight loss struggles by understanding your brain and then working with it—instead of against it. Then, I teach you how to put your personalized healthy habits on autopilot for results that last.
I believe that you deserve the health and energy to live your best life.
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