Volumetrics: The Biggest Fat Loss Bang for Your Buck
by Fred Dimenna, CSCS

The headline came from a magazine cover and caught my attention, like any good cover line should. And it left nothing to the imagination. "Eat more, lose weight" was plastered right across the cover. I couldn't help but take a closer look.

"Another scam has hit the world of fitness!" I lamented to myself as I picked up the magazine. After all, if I have learned one thing from my years in this business, it's that things that sound too good to be true usually are. But then, I noticed the periodical on which this bold proclamation was proclaimed. U.S. News & World Report never struck me as your typical sensationalist rag. When I flipped to the article situated under a "Health & Medicine" heading, a similar assertion was front and center: "Eat More, Weigh Less." But the subheading was even more intriguing. It suggested that "the answer may lie in the new science of Volumetrics."

Now my attention was really piqued. Sensationalist nutritional statements are nothing new, but it's unusual for "science" to be associated with such claims. Science uses a systematic way of analyzing data derived from experimental investigation. It's safe to say diets that promote losing weight while you sleep or by eating cabbage soup have never been held to such scrutiny!

The article by Amanda Spake chronicled the work of Barbara Rolls, a professor in nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. Rolls spends her days in the university's Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, a setting that can be likened to a labyrinth of food choices that human subjects must navigate under observation. Her goal is to study what and how humans eat.

With more Americans overweight than ever before, experimental setups like the one Rolls oversees are a critical link between identifying causative factors and discovering possible solutions. The "cure" for our obesity epidemic may very well lie in the behaviors associated with eating and appetite itself.

As I read the message being delivered, I was pleased to discover that there were no crazy claims made. In fact, Volumetrics (the name Rolls chose for her research) made perfect sense. And then I realized why this "new theory" sounded so reasonable to me. I have been preaching the same message for years!

Check out these excerpts from my column in the October 2000 issue of New Living: "To reduce fat stores, you decide to take in 2,400 (calories) per day to establish a negative energy balance. You plan to eat four daily meals (600 calories each), composed of protein (25-30% of calories), high carbohydrates (55-60%) and low fat (15%). After one such meal (3 ounces of chicken and 8 cooked ounces of pasta, with a teaspoon of olive oil), you're still hungry. Low-carb advocates would say this is caused by blood sugar being reduced below normal due to excessive insulin activity from eating the pasta. They would advise replacing the pasta with more protein and fat to prevent overeating. I look at it another way. Pasta is a good carbohydrate, but it's dense in calories. (You could substitute) 14 oz. of brown rice for the same amount of calories (or better yet, opt for) a baked potato and you'd have 22 oz. to fill up on."

Without knowing it, I was advocating Volumetrics. How did I discover this practice? Flashback to 1984 and my first foray into the world of competitive bodybuilding: When I prepared for my first competition, I ate the way bodybuilders eat. Consequently, a couple weeks into the preparatory period, I started feeling hungry. I went to bed hungry and awoke the next morning even hungrier. After breakfast, I was still hungry and, specifically, a little hungrier than I was after breakfast the prior day. As the weeks dragged on, it only got worse. I wore my hunger pangs like a red badge of courage as I prepared for my first competition. In my mind, they initiated me as a true practitioner of the new athletic pursuit I had chosen. But in subsequent years, I began to question the approach. Why suffer if you don't have to?

I began scrutinizing the caloric content of the foods I was eating and discovered that the energy contained per volume of food is far from constant across different foods (even healthy ones). Why was I wasting 120 calories wolfing down a banana (which doesn't require much chewing and is past your palate before you can say 'pass the gravy') when I could be eating 24 ounces of broccoli instead. The banana was more appetizing, but when all was said and done, I just wanted to eat for a while until my appetite was satiated.

Rolls was among the first researchers to notice that humans eat about the same volume of food every day, not the same amount of calories. If you recognize this specific quantity as your comfort level, your obvious goal should be to figure out how to ingest this volume of food without surpassing the energy you require.

Fred DiMenna, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant is a two-time Natural Mr. United States and a WNBF drug-free professional bodybuilder. Visit him at www.freddimenna.com or email: mrnatural@yahoo.com.