Volumetrics: Part 4 by Fred Dimenna, CSCS

Researcher Barbara Rolls has spent many years studying eating behaviors in an attempt to explain why people eat the way they do. Her recent work, Volumetrics, is based upon her observations concerning how the energy contained in a given volume of food impacts satiety. Volumetrics has been touted the bridge between satisfying the human biological drive for abundant food while achieving a healthy weight.

The take-home message from Volumetrics is that different foods have dramatically different amounts of energy contained per unit volume. Consequently, eating a given amount of food each day can either facilitate fat gain or loss, depending on the particular choices you make. This has considerable practical import. In essence, you can eat a large quantity of food and still drop pounds if you choose foods that are not energy dense. In this case, you may feel deprived at times by being unable to eat the foods you crave when operating at the negative energy balance required to lose fat, but you would never have to feel hungry.


Specific foods don't make you gain fat; too much energy does. But this raises an interesting question: What constitutes overeating? Last month, I explained my post-competitive bodybuilding nutritional strategy in detail. Basically, I said, "No!" to so many foods I love for 20 years, so now that my competitive career is over, I've got some catching up to do!

A logical definition of overeating would be ingesting more energy than you use. After all, that's what makes you gain fat in the first place. If you follow the Volumetrics plan, you'd simply eat the amount (quantity) of food you want, while ensuring that you‚re not overeating by choosing appropriate (low energy-dense) foods. In addition to maintaining an ideal weight, this is also the healthy alternative because ingesting more food with less energy contained within means taking in more nutrients for your caloric buck.

There was one aspect of a reasonable energy balance plan that I felt was lacking from the Volumetrics write up in U.S. News & World Report. While a description of how to gauge a food's appropriateness was provided (dividing the calories contained in one serving by the serving's weight in grams and prioritizing foods with a quotient of two or less), only a casual mention was made of exercise. In my opinion, the tenets upon which Volumetrics are based are completely consistent with what we should be doing in the workout world, as well.

Back to overeating: The way I see it, there are two ways to interpret this condition. Sure, you can consider the overeater a discipline lacking glutton at the dinner table. And this very well might be the case. But it's also possible they're simply eating the amount of food that satisfies their desire to partake in one of life's pleasurable activities. And if that's the case, why cut down? When all is said and done, "overeating" might be more appropriately considered "under-activity-ing." Overeaters are simply not utilizing the energy contained in the foods they are inclined to ingest.

Now, don't get me wrong: The food choices you make have significant health implications. In other words, if you throw caution to the wind and eat everything good, bad or indifferent, atherosclerosis, hypertension and blood sugar metabolic abnormalities might rear their ugly head. But, by the same token, it's also possible to include many of the foods you enjoy in your daily intake at quantities you desire if you incorporate the Volumetrics approach with energy expenditure.

The amount of energy we use each day is a function of three factors: basal metabolic rate (the energy required to maintain existence), all activities above the basal state and the energy needed to digest the foods we consume. Maximizing each of these is a logical way to keep energy balance in the red. Basal metabolic rate is predominantly genetically determined, although it is contingent on the amount of muscle the body holds. However, this influence is often overrated. Incorporating resistance training into the exercise regimen is advisable because numerous benefits accrue from regular taxing of the neuromuscular/musculoskeletal system but, in all likelihood, adding enough muscle to use an appreciable amount of extra energy is not one of them.

Maximizing the energy used for digestion requires eating more, but before you get too excited, there is a catch. You won't wind up using all the extra energy you ingest, so if you're operating at an excess, increasing intake will only exacerbate the difference. Eating the same amount of energy divided into smaller meals might help, but much like adding muscle, this isn't the primary way to use enough energy to cover your intake.

By far, the most alterable aspect of energy expenditure is activity level. Included in this category is everything from watching TV while lying on the couch to running as fast as you can to catch the bus. Needless to say, choosing your activity options appropriately is critical if your goal is to apply Volumetrics in the gym.

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 him: mrnatural@yahoo.com