How to eat a lot and still lose weight

I love to eat. I love good food. And I like to eat a lot of it. But that’s a problem because I can’t. Not if I want to maintain a healthy weight. Many years ago I learned to volumize food. It’s a concept more common and popularized thanks to the terrific work of Barbara Rolls, PhD, her research and many subsequent books on Volumetrics, her first written in 2000. The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off is more recent. It’s not a new concept to lose weight. Volumetrics is based on the idea that people tend to eat about the same quantity of food per day, regardless of calories.

Volumize defined

vol·u·mize – verb ˈ(välyəˌmīz,-yo͞o-/)

  • to purposefully eat food big on volume but low in calories
  • to conscientiously add high volume, low calorie food to meals to increase portion while maintaining lower calorie content
  • to eat low calorie dense foods. For example:

o   eating a substantial breakfast of eggs, whole wheat toast, fruit, milk, bran cereal, weighing 450 grams (16 ounces) and having 500 calories.

500 calories ÷ 450 grams = 1.1 calories per gram (low calorie dense—great!)

o   Versus a breakfast of two donuts having the same calories (500) but only weighing 140 grams (5 ounces)

500 calories ÷ 140 grams = 3.6 calories per gram (high calorie dense—not so great!)

Disclosure: I totally made that definition up—as it relates to food. (You’ll find a definition related to volumizing hair, but not necessarily food.) The concept is on point but I needed a way to explain the idea to volumize without your having to read Dr. Rolls’ books—although I do highly recommend them!

The concept is simple

Over the years I’ve heard many times, “But I don’t eat that much!” Yet those individuals struggle with weight. True, someone might not be eating that much. It is what they’re eating. Look at these two breakfasts−figures borrowed from the text I teach. Both contain 500 calories, but which one is going to be more filling? Of course the eggs, turkey sausage, fruit, etc. That’s a huge amount of food compared to the two donuts.

Volume-High energy dense breakfast Volume-Low energy density breakfast

The concept is simple and a way I encourage my clients to eat on a regular basis. Eat food with a higher water volume—foods that have a lower calorie density.


Often when people learn to volumize their food, they’re surprised how much they can eat. Not uncommonly I hear, “Wow this is a lot of food!” Yes, it is. When you change the preparation and volumize meals−it is a lot. (To learn more and get individualized help, click here to get info about my coaching program!)


Plain tuna salad w/ Triscuits – 410cal


Volumized tuna salad w/ Triscuits – 350cal!


Veggies added for volume

Here is an example comparing two cans of tuna and how dramatically different they can be prepared. The first plate is simply tuna and mayo, but in the second I added a healthy dose of veggies—the way I prefer to eat tuna. Volume!

The Plate Method

If you have ever worked with me or a registered dietitian nutritionist you might have been introduced to the Plate Method which emphasizes non-starchy vegetables (NSV). It’s an excellent example of volumizing a plate. There is roughly a 4 to 1 ratio of calories in starchy foods to NSVs. One cup of starch has about 200 calories versus one cup of NSV about 50. By shifting the balance of your plate from less starch to more veggies you can keep the volume of food but significantly reduce caloric intake.


Neily's Plate Method

Neily’s Plate Method

  • Non-starchy veggies:  e.g. asparagus, artichoke, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, onion, parsnips, peppers, pumpkin, radishes, romaine, snow peas, spaghetti squash, spinach, sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, yellow squash, zucchini
  • Starchy carbs:  e.g. bread, cereal, corn, peas, potato, tortilla, pasta, dried beans/legumes – red/black/ pinto/kidney/soybeans/butter, white beans, etc; grains – rice, quinoa, rye, oats, wheat etc.
  • Protein:  e.g. all animal products are sources of protein – red meat, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs; and also dried beans/legumes – red/ black/pinto/kidney/soybeans/butter, white beans, etc. (Although nuts, seeds, and nut butters like almond and peanut have some protein, they have considerable fat content and I don’t include them here.)

Are starches more fattening?

Here’s the deal. The higher the water volume of a food, the more you can eat. Perhaps you have heard starchy foods (breads, pasta, potato, rice, etc) are more fattening. It’s not that—they’re actually quite low in fat—but it is the volume of water they contain. Look at my chart below. Notice most non-starchy veggies are at least 90 percent water−many are 95 percent! You can eat a boatload of cucumbers for very few calories. At the other end are foods containing very little water like nuts which are less than 5 percent water. Peanut and almond butter are barely over 1 percent water! (That’s why I wrote my post how easy it is to overeat good-for-you foods.)



  • Water
90 – 98%
  • Many broth based soups
90 – 96%
  • Most non-starchy veggies
  • Watermelon (91%)
80 – 89%
  • Most fruits (except banana)
  • Green peas, carrots
  • Kale, Brussels sprouts
  • Winter squash, butternut, acorn)
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
70 – 79%
  • Most fish including shellfish
  • Banana
  • Corn
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Potato, all varieties
  • Eggs
  • Avocado
60 – 69%
  • Pasta
  • White rice
  • Legumes (dried beans – soy beans, red beans, black beans, etc)
  • Chicken
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Salmon
50 – 59%
  • Feta cheese
  • Part skim mozzarella cheese
  • Beef and pork
40 – 49%
  • English muffin
  • Most hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss, Colby etc)
  • Fast food burger without condiments
  • Pizza
30 – 39%
  • Bread
  • Bagels
20 – 29%
  • Syrup, jelly
  • Muffins, donuts
  • Cake
  • Biscuits
10 – 19%
  • Raisins & dried cranberries
  • Cookies, brownies
  • Butter
  • Honey
1 – 9%
  • Crackers
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • All oils, sugar

The key is to focus on getting food with a higher percentage of water, especially those with 90 percent or more! Limit the more calorie dense foods lower on the spectrum. By doing so you can eat more and lose weight.

If you are interested in researching the water content of the foods you eat, a terrific resource and where I obtained my information is the USDA National Nutrient Database. The database is the most comprehensive and where most all daily tracking apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt! get their information. It also will give you ALL nutritional info including vitamins and minerals—not just the standard calories, protein, carb, fat, etc.


  1. Jane HMears

    Thank You! THANK YOU! Thank You!

    • Neily

      You are so very welcome Jane! 🙂


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