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The Volumetrics Diet: What You Need to Know


Updated February 15, 2014

What Is the Volumetrics Diet?

The diet is found in a book called The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan co-authored by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a nutrition researcher at Penn State University, and Robert Barnett, a nutrition writer.


Who Is Dr. Barbara Rolls?

In addition to co-authoring the Volumetrics book, Dr. Rolls has researched obesity for more than 20 years. She served on the advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Disease as well as the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, for which she served as president.


What Is the Volumetrics Plan About?

The diet is based on the premise that it’s the volume of food eaten, rather than the number of calories consumed, that leads to our experiencing a sense of satiety (fullness). The plan promises that by eating foods that fill you up on fewer calories you will lose weight without feeling like you’re on a diet, being hungry, or suffering from a sense of deprivation.

You will see something called "calorie density" mentioned in this plan. The recommended foods on this diet have a low energy density, meaning they promote a sense of fullness; those to be avoided are energy dense, meaning they are higher in calories or you must eat a lot of them before you begin feeling full.


What Is the Evidence Behind This Diet?

According to the authors, we tend to eat roughly the same amount of food each day, regardless of the total number of calories consumed. If you eat about the same weight of food containing fewer calories than usual, according to the authors, you will able to lose weight without experiencing hunger. The studies the authors based the book on were performed at well-known, reputable institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and Penn State’s labs. The authors do mention, however, that research on calorie density is somewhat new and ongoing.

What Will I Eat if I Go On the Volumetrics Diet?

To follow the plan, you will eat low-calorie, high-volume foods that contain a lot of water and/or fiber, since both increase the sense of satiety. You will eat fruit, low-fat milk or other dairy products, whole grains, beans, low-fat fish, vegetables, skinless poultry, and lean meat while avoiding high-calorie foods such as regular cheese, candy, high-sugar beverages, and cookies (even low-fat ones). However, no food is completely banned, and you can enjoy foods considered calorie-dense -– such as chocolate -– as a treat, as long as you stay within your caloric recommendations.

The book provides a formula for you to calculate the number of calories you are allowed each day. The authors provide both 1,600- and 2,000-calorie meal plans, which can be modified to your specific caloric needs. The 1,600-calorie plan, for example, allows for a 400-calorie breakfast, a 500-calorie lunch, a 500-calorie dinner, and a 200-calorie snack. There are a number of recipes provided as well.

If you do not wish to use the diet plans, you can also use guidelines set forth in the book to plan your own meals; it provides a list of hundreds of foods’ calorie density. It also provides a simple technique for figuring out the calorie density of any food using the number of calories and serving size, both of which can be found on the nutrition label or About.com's Calorie Count.


What Additional Changes Are Recommended?

The authors recommend lifestyle changes that lead to long-term weight management, such as keeping exercise logs and food logs and planning for social situations that may throw you a curve ball, such as parties. The authors recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. They suggest that you weigh-in no more than once a week during the weight loss phase.

The book provides a maintenance plan to follow once you have met your goal weight, or after six months have passed. After you’ve maintained your weight for another six months, you can start the weight loss plan over again.

Is Volumetrics a Fad Diet? Is it Effective?

The Volumetrics plan is not a fad diet. It is nutritionally sound, and its recommendations are similar to those of the United States Department of Agriculture. It emphasizes a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and encourages the limiting of fat intake. Since the diet is sensible without being overly stringent, it is fairly easy to stick to for an extended period of time. It is also easy to modify to your own personal eating preferences.

The fact that the plan encourages regular, moderate physical activity is a definite plus. Exercise is something fad diets virtually ignore, despite the fact that regular activity is a vital part of a lifestyle that leads to long-term health and permanent weight loss.

The additional recommendations, such as keeping a food diary, will also help you adjust to your new lifestyle.

If the caloric guidelines and food recommendations set forth in this plan are followed correctly, this diet is both effective and nutritious. It will not bring major results very quickly, but it instead leads to safe, gradual weight loss of about one to two pounds a week, which is ideal for long-term success.


Rolls, Barbara, and Robert Barnett. The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan. New York: HarperTorch, 2002.

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