What Is the Volumetrics Diet?

Volumetrics diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Volumetrics Diet

The volumetrics diet is based on the idea that the volume of food you eat, rather the counting calories, leads to weight loss. When more food is consumed, you experience a fullness in a psychological sense. The diet follows more of an unstructured eating approach than one that restricts specific foods and severely limits your daily caloric intake.

This diet was developed by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a nutrition and obesity researcher at Penn State
University. She published her research in the book she co-authored titled "The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet.” The book includes recipes and tips to help you stick to this diet psychology.

The 2022 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Volumetrics Diet number five in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.7/5. The diet also ranked number one for Best Weight Loss Diet and number five for Best Diets for Healthy Eating.

What Experts Say

"The premise of this diet is simple—eat lots of high-water-volume foods to help fill you up and shed pounds. Nutrition experts agree this is a smart choice, as you’ll increase nutrient-dense choices like vegetables and fruits while naturally consuming fewer calories."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

The 7-Day Diet Plan

The volumetrics diet does not require meal timing or portion sizes. Rather, no food is off limits in the
diet, but it does focus on a food’s energy density. Food that is high in calories but contains limited vitamins and minerals is considered high-energy-dense.

Meanwhile, food with a low amount of calories that offers a high number of vitamins and minerals is considered low-energy-dense, and should make up the bulk of what you eat. Here is one example of week's worth of meals that includes breakfast, a snack, lunch, and dinner.

  • Day 1: Whole wheat toast, boiled eggs, berries; low-fat Greek yogurt with diced apple; salad with chicken breast; lentil soup, steamed broccoli
  • Day 2: Quinoa and steamed vegetables; low-fat cottage cheese; vegetable soup with turkey meatballs and whole-grain roll; brown rice bowl and vegetables
  • Day 3: Egg white omelet with spinach and fruit and yogurt smoothie; brown rice bowl with shredded chicken, black beans, salsa; halibut fillet, roast potatoes, asparagus
  • Day 4: Oat and apple yogurt smoothie and a boiled egg; raw veggies and tzatziki dip; tomato soup and tuna sandwich made with Greek yogurt; chili with ground turkey and beans, baked potato
  • Day 5: Egg white scramble with veggies and whole-wheat toast; low-fat yogurt and fruit parfait; chicken salad sandwich made with Greek yogurt and side salad; zucchini and chicken lasagna, green beans
  • Day 6: Low-fat yogurt and berry smoothie; carrots and hummus; egg salad made with Greek yogurt on whole wheat bread, side salad; vegetable and lean steak stir fry
  • Day 7: Oatmeal, fruit; chicken soup, salad; cottage cheese and berries; zucchini noodles with ground turkey, green beans

What You Can Eat

On the volumetrics diet, you eat low-calorie foods that fill you up, which can help you lose weight over the long term. Foods recommended on this plan have low-energy-density, which means they are filling foods with fewer calories.

The diet recommends eating three meals a day and a snack, as long as you consume low-energy-dense foods. Options include the following:

Fruits and Vegetables

Filling fruits and vegetables with a high water content are naturally low in calories and are allowed on this diet plan. These include:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Melons
  • Berries
  • Cucumbers
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus

Dairy Products

Any low-fat dairy products are permitted, such as the following:

  • Kefir
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese

Whole Grains

Unprocessed whole grains are encouraged to satiate carb cravings in a healthy way. Options to
incorporate on this diet include:

  • Grain bread
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal

Lean Protein

Lean proteins are welcomed on the volumetrics diet, as they are satiating and you do not need to consume a large amount. When grocery shopping, you should look for:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Top sirloin steaks
  • Tofu
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Extra-lean ground beef
  • Tuna

What You Cannot Eat

You should avoid high-calorie, low-filling foods, and stay within your daily calorie limit. Foods to avoid are fried and sugar-sweetened treats as well as fat-laden proteins. According to the diet creator, these foods all provide little or no nutritional value and do not fill you up.

Fatty Meats

You should avoid meats with a high concentration of fat. You can find the fat content on the ingredient label. You should avoid:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Poultry with skin
  • Red meats with high fat content

Processed Foods

Processed foods do not fit into this category because of the high calories, fat, and sodium. Items to avoid include:

  • Sugary cereal
  • Muffins
  • Doughnuts
  • Crackers

How to Prepare the Volumetrics Diet & Tips

The volumetrics diet divides foods into four groups based on their calorie and energy density. The International Food Information Council categorizes these foods as follows:

  • Group one: Foods that are low density, which include fruits and non-starchy vegetables, nonfat milk, and broth soups.
  • Group two: Low-density foods, such as grains, unprocessed meats, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Group three: Medium-density foods, which should get eaten in small servings. These foods are refined carbohydrates and high in fat and sugar, such as meat, cheeses, French fries, ice cream, and baked goods.
  • Group four: High-density foods that should get consumed only every once in a while. These foods are higher in fat and carbs than group three foods, which include butter, nuts, crackers, candy, oil, and cookies.

Sample Shopping List

When preparing for the volumetrics diet, you will be shopping for a large amount of produce. But keep in mind that nothing is truly off-limits with this diet. Because the eating plan is flexible in terms of food choices, this is not a definitive shopping list. You may find other foods that work best for you should you choose to follow this eating plan.

  • Lean skinless protein
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (apples, tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini)
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables (berries, cherries, peas, green beans)
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes (black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas)

Sample Meal Plan

You can eat three meals a day, plus snacks, on the volumetrics diet. This is not an all-inclusive meal plan and if following the diet, you may find other meals that work best for you.

Depending on the calorie level of your diet, you can choose different meal plans. Modifying each meal plan to your specific caloric needs is also acceptable on this diet plan and portion sizes vary depending on calorie goals.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries, almond milk, and pumpkin seeds
  • Lunch: Garden salad with grilled tilapia, topped with a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil
  • Dinner: Baked, skinless, chicken breast; boiled potatoes; sautéed spinach
  • Snack: Low fat cottage cheese with apples and cinnamon

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Boiled eggs, steamed asparagus, and whole-grain toast
  • Lunch: Chickpea and vegetable soup with a garden salad
  • Dinner: Chicken breast, mushrooms, and bell peppers in marinara sauce with black bean noodles
  • Snack: Low-fat Greek yogurt with berries

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Whole egg plus egg whites, scrambled with whole wheat tortilla, baby spinach and low-fat cheese
  • Lunch: Tuna with avocado, cucumber, and lettuce on whole-wheat bread
  • Dinner: Lean grilled steak; rice pilaf; grilled mushrooms, peppers, and onions
  • Snack: Chickpea hummus with carrots, grape tomatoes, and whole-grain pita bread

Pros of the Volumetrics Diet

As one of the top-ranked diets for overall weight loss and healthy eating, you’ll find significant advantages to following the volumetrics diet.

  • Provides Long-Term Healthy Eating: Recent peer-reviewed research demonstrated that dietary management using principles found in the volumetrics diet can help people not only lose weight, but obtain an eating pattern that they can sustain indefinitely.
  • Helps Manage Weight: A 2014 study published in the journal Obesity looked at 132 people participating in a number of weight loss diet plans. Researchers found that the volumetrics diet had the most superior outcomes and the best success at sustained weight off for at least 2 years.
  • Safe in Comparison to Other Diets: Popular fad diets restrict foods, whereas the volumetrics diet allows for all types of food. Researchers, in a review on dietary-related strategies, found this particular manner of eating as safe and effective in producing a gradual transformation to a lifelong way of eating.
  • Combats Obesity: The volumetrics diet can help lead to significant weight loss. A 2016 study that included more than 9,500 adults showed that when consuming low-density foods, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference lowered, two methods doctors use to measure obesity.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnic descent, race, gender, and age. The original index was developed to create statistics about population samples using European men as a baseline. It has since been used to assess people of all ages and races, perpetuating the creators' bias that the male, European body was the ideal body and measure of a person's fitness.

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Cons of the Volumetrics Diet

Following the volumetrics diet can come with disadvantages to consider, as they can disrupt your current lifestyle.

  • Can Be Time-Consuming: Especially when you are new to the volumetrics plan, following the diet will take a significant portion of your time. You will need to analyze your food choices for density, keep track of what you are eating, count calories, and prepare food. For those who eat out often, this could impact your time management.
  • Lacks Online Support: Many diets have apps and online groups for support. But the volumetrics diet does not offer much for those who need support in the digital world.

Is the Volumetrics Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The daily calorie intakes suggested for weight loss on this plan are 1,600 calories for women and 2,000 for men, which should be a sustainable goal for most people. However, everyone's diet needs can vary, depending on physical activity, age, and health issues.

You should speak with a medical professional if you have any questions about following the volumetrics diet and to ensure you get the nutrients needed.

The food recommendations in the volumetrics diet fall within the eating guidelines promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The plan categorizes healthy, low-density foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for energy. The diet also limits sugars and saturated fat, which promotes overall long-term weight loss. 

A Word From Verywell

When you follow the volumetrics diet properly, you can lose weight in a healthy way and learn how to feed your body with variety of foods full of vitamins and minerals. You train your brain to crave foods that provide good energy, rather than empty calories that leave you still feeling hungry.

You also can continue this diet for the long-term, rather than follow a quick fad diet and immediately gain the weight back. The eating plan is flexible, too. You can choose from a number of your favorite healthy foods, rather than deal with restrictive diets that can impact your mental health.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your
healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rolls B. The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. HarperCollins.

  2. U.S. News and World Report. Best Diets Overall 2022.

  3. International Food Information Council. The basics of the volumetrics diet.

  4. Smethers AD, Rolls BJ. Dietary management of obesityMed Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):107-124. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.009

  5. Lowe MR, Butryn ML, Thomas JG, Coletta M. Meal replacements, reduced energy density eating, and weight loss maintenance inprimary care patients: A randomized controlled trialObesity. 2014;22(1):94-100. doi:10.1002/oby.20582

  6. Soeliman FA, Azadbakht L. Weight loss maintenance: A review on dietary related strategiesJ Res Med Sci. 2014;19(3):268-275. PMID:24949037

  7. Vernarelli JA, Mitchell DC, Rolls BJ, Hartman TJ. Dietary energy density and obesity: how consumption patterns differ by body weight status. Eur J Nutr. 2018;57(1):351-361. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1324-8

  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Additional Reading
  • Rolls B, Barnett R. The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan. HarperTorch, 2002.

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."