Fill ‘er Up: Volumetrics for Easier Weight Management




Whether you have a full head of hair or not, the need to manage weight is almost universal – perhaps more so for the individual who values a healthy physique to complement their good looks. And if there is a key occasion on your calendar in a few months – school reunion, wedding, and travel destination involving swimwear – you might actually be toying with that four-letter word, “diet.”

Hirsute or not, that may well be a grim prospect. Diets imply depravation – days and weeks when all you can think about is the food you’re not supposed to eat. You’ll never be satisfied with what you’re eating, and going out for meals is a near-impossibility. You might even feel physically weak while dieting, with recurrent senses of hunger and cravings.

Just as daunting, diets generally require planning and counting and measuring and actually cooking. If you’re heretofore a non-cook, you either acquire those skills or depend on pre-packaged meals.

Dr. Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition who directs Pennsylvania State University’s Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, knows a lot about diets and people. She doesn’t like diets. And she knows a lot of people don’t like them either. Diets are the reason so many people attempt to lose weight but fail.

Volumetrics – The art of filling up

Over the past ten years, Rolls has developed a series of books on what she calls Volumetrics. It’s a style of eating that acknowledges the human instinct for feeling full. The plan recognizes that when something tastes good, we want more of it.

In its headline, Volumetrics could rightly be called an eat-anything-you-want diet. Which, while true, misleads a tad bit. At its core, it’s a fiber and water diet. But to call it that makes it sound far less appetizing than it really is.

“You benefit most if what you fill up on has a low density of calories – brothy soups made mostly of water and low-calorie vegetables would do it, as would a big salad with minimal salad dressing. These will slow you down from eating excessively.”

In short, here’s how it works: When you fill-up early in a meal, you do not scarf down second and third helpings. But you benefit most if what you fill up on has a low density of calories – brothy soups made mostly of water and low-calorie vegetables would do it, as would a big salad with minimal salad dressing. These will slow you down from eating excessively in the remainder of the meal. If instead, you had a few pieces of calorie-dense Italian bread, which digests quickly due to the processed nature of all white bread, you’ve merely primed the pump to invite in more calories from the meal.

This concept of caloric density is visually instructive. For example, compare grapes and raisins. Raisins are about 1/8 the size of their former selves on the vine, so a _ cup of raisins is calorically equivalent to two full cups of grapes. Or, place a fresh, ripe tomato – about 25 calories – next to four or five pretzel sticks, the caloric equivalent. It becomes clear rather quickly how whole vegetables and fruit provide distinct volumetric advantages.

This speaks to the long-term genius of this plan: it gets us to eat more fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, things that bring a boatload of nutrients and fiber that make us healthier in the long run. Sneaky nutritionist, that Dr. Rolls is.

How to Volumize – Even if cooking skills are minimal

For anyone uncertain if they can do this, I suggest a trip to the grocery store is a good place to start. Consider your shopping cart to be your stomach, somehow holding everything you eat at home over the next two weeks. Shop as you would normally, then step back and consider: are these caloried-dense foods (generally, the things that come in boxes and bags and ice cream cartons), or calorie-sparse (whole produce, whole grain)?

Just as interesting, glance at the carts of other people in the grocery store – then examine their body composition. It’s often instructive.

At home, begin every meal with something calorie-sparse: soups (non-creamy), salads, a piece of fruit, even a tall glass of water.

Or, follow my trick of making a large cabbage salad every Sunday. Cabbage, part of the super-healthy cruciferous family, is loaded with nutrients and fiber and is sparse in calories: about 30 per cup. My recipe is less a matter of measuring than cooking by volume, and it’s so simple a kitchen neophyte can do it:



  • 1 head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 cups garbanzo beans, mashed in a bowl
  • 2 cups diced or crushed tomatoes in any form (fresh, stewed or in a pizza sauce)
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 Tables spoons or more of vinegar (white, red wine or balsamic)
  • 3 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons of mustard (any type)
  • Salt, pepper and spice to taste (try oregano, turmeric, basil and/or cilantro)

Mash the garbanzo beans in a large salad bowl. Add lemon juice and chopped onions. In a skillet at medium heat, mix in cabbage, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and spices. Cook for about 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently – this is to soften the cabbage only. Remove from heat and mix with the garbanzo mash. Use in at least one meal each day for 4-5 days.