If it sometimes feels like we could all be eating a little healthier most of the time, you’re probably right. According to a survey by the New Mayo Clinic Diet, a holistic diet program developed by the Mayo clinic, 1 in 5 Americans aren’t getting enough of the foods that comprise a healthy diet.
But it is possible to make the small, sustainable changes that can lead to a healthier diet. One way to do that is with volume eating, a diet hack that’s part of the New Mayo Clinic Diet approach to sustainable weight loss.
How It Works
“The principle behind this diet is that you’re eating foods that are lower in calories but higher in nutrients – vitamins and minerals – and water content or volume. This type of diet allows you to feel more satiated or fuller on fewer calories and therefore supports weight loss without the hunger,” explains Dana Ellis Hunnes, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and author of the book “Recipe For Survival.”
Because the volume diet focuses on fresh, whole, nutrient-dense foods instead of processed foods, it’s a healthy way to lose weight, Hunnes adds. This approach, she explains, allows you to get the nutrition you need while also decreasing – but not excessively – the calories you take in.
Jennifer Welper, a certified executive chef and the wellness executive chef with the New Mayo Clinic Diet, agrees that this diet ticks the boxes for effective and healthy weight loss. “It really, truly, is just one of those things where you’re incorporating a lot more fruits and vegetables and whole grains as nutrient-dense foods,” she says.
While most diets are associated with the concept of restriction and reduction of the amount of food you’re eating, with volume eating, “the attraction is that the plate looks fuller,” Welper says.
To satisfy the “volume” of volume eating, consider swapping out smaller or less nutrient-dense foods for larger, more nutritious foods. For example, add peppers and onions to a rice pilaf “so that your rice portion looks larger than just the half-cup serving,” Welper says. Risottos can work the same way – you can keep some of the creamy rice and cheese, but just add lots of veggies to extend the portion with fewer calories.
Like rice, potatoes also lend themselves well to the volume eating treatment. If you’re making breakfast potatoes, for instance, you might try adding some roasted cauliflower, carrots, peppers or Brussels sprouts. “You’re adding more volume to it with foods that are less calorie-dense,” Welper explains.
Welper says adding mashed cauliflower to mashed potatoes is a simple way of adding volume and nutrients with fewer calories. She recommends cutting the normal portion of potatoes in half and “adding more of a cruciferous vegetable” like cauliflower or broccoli, as both bring lots of fiber – which can help you feel full for longer – and other nutrients with far fewer calories than white potatoes.
Overall, the idea is to add more color to your plate, Welper says. The more brightly colored veggies you can add to a dish, generally speaking, the more nutrients, the bigger volume of food and fewer calories than you’d find in processed foods or heavier starches or meat products.
There are very few risks to this approach to weight loss, Hunnes says, though it is possible in some cases to overdo it.
“If all you are eating is vegetables that take up a lot of space in your stomach but have too few calories, you could be getting insufficient amounts of protein and you could lose significant amounts of muscle,” she warns. “I’m plant-based/vegan, so I absolutely know you can get more than enough protein from plant foods. But if you’re only eating, say, cabbage and watermelon, you could become deficient in certain vitamins, certain minerals and protein.”
Hunnes also says she would hesitate to recommend this approach for pregnant women “because the baby presses on your abdomen so much that you cannot take in enough food.” Plus, some people, Hunnes included, have difficulty tolerating certain foods while pregnant because of all-day (not just morning) sickness. “So, I needed to focus on getting more calorie-dense foods in my diet,” she explains.
She also says she wouldn’t usually recommend this approach to anyone who has a history of eating disorders “as it is a way to take in too few calories while looking like you’re ‘eating enough.’”
Who Should Try Volume Eating?
To determine whether volume eating is a good approach for you, Welper recommends filling out the Mayo Clinic’s comprehensive online assessment that gauges your values, interests and needs.
“A lot of people don’t always know what diet they should be on,” she explains, “and that’s where it gets really tricky” to find the best diet plan for your body and your goals. The free, online diet assessment tool can help you better understand your motivations and desires when it comes to eating and health. It can also help guide you in your decision-making about which diet to adopt.
“Something like 60% to 80% of people fail on diets because they chose one that’s not right for them,” Welper explains. Getting a better understanding of your unique perspective can help you skip that failure stage and land right in the successful, maintainable weight loss stage.
Welper says understanding what will work better for you can help you avoid that “cycle of feeling defeated. We don’t want that for people. We want sustainable, long-term success.”
For some people, the volume eating diet is a great way to approach dieting for weight loss without feeling super restricted. “It works for me personally,” Welper says, adding that it’s because this diet isn’t about subtracting things from your diet, but rather adding them.
But Welper notes that volume eating “isn’t for everybody.” If overeating isn’t your problem area and you don’t actually like eating a lot of food, then volume eating will probably miss the mark.
Slow and Steady Is the Best
In dieting, it’s all about balance – you need to take in enough calories to fuel your body and keep your metabolism humming along, but you do want to create a small caloric deficit so that the body burns some of the excess calories it’s carrying around as fat. In making those changes, slow and steady is better than fast, Hunnes says. “A small calorie deficit sets you up for long-term success, much more so than trying to lose 10 pounds in three weeks will.”
To that end, she recommends aiming for an average weight loss of about 1 pound per week, which is slow and steady, but sustainable long term. To achieve that loss, you’ll need to create a 500-calorie deficit per day.
“You can do this by decreasing intake by 250 calories and increasing activity by 250 calories, or decreasing intake anywhere between 0 to 500 calories or increasing activity from anywhere between 0 to 500 calories,” Hunnes says.
Hunnes also says she typically advocates for the two-pronged approach featuring both reduced calories and increased activity. “It’s usually easier, healthier, more sustainable long term and can help your cardiovascular fitness as well,” she adds.