You really can eat more food and take in fewer calories. Foods that contain lots of water and fiber can fill you up without filling you out. Today, I’m talking about how you can eat more and still make your diet work for you.
“Just eat less.” If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably heard this suggestion more times than you can count. Every time you hear it, you probably think, “But if I eat less, I’m just going to be really hungry!” Sure, cutting back on the amount you eat is one way to trim your calorie intake, but it won’t work very well if you don’t change what you eat. I know it may sound too good to be true, but you can eat more food and take in fewer calories. You just need to know how to “pump up the volume.”
There are a couple of reasons why simply cutting your portion sizes without changing what you eat doesn’t work very well on its own. For one thing, if your diet is lousy to start with, you’ll just end up eating half of a lousy diet instead of a whole one. Yes, you’ll take in fewer calories, but chances are good your body won’t be getting all the nutrients it needs.
There’s another reason that cutting portions without changing anything else often backfires. If you cut your portions down, you are taking in less food which means you’re going to be less full. And it stands to reason that you are probably going to be a lot more hungry.
Most of us are used to a certain feeling of fullness that results when we’ve eaten a certain amount of food. After all, it takes up a certain amount of space in our stomachs. In fact, the amount of food that each of us eats at mealtimes is surprisingly consistent: we eat pretty much the same volume of food each time. So, how can you eat more and get full without busting your calorie budget?
The answer is fairly simple. You can pump up the volume of the food with water and fiber—all of which can help fill you up without filling you out. In other words, you want to increase the volume of food that you eat but take in as few calories as you can in the process.
This sounds fairly obvious. After all, it’s one of the main reasons we suggest that people eat more fruits and vegetables. They’re more than 80% water and the remaining 20% is nutrient-packed and fiber-rich. But when you actually run the numbers, you can see how small changes can make a huge difference in your calorie intake.
Consider the difference between a fresh grape which has loads of water and dried raisin which has very little. One grape and one raisin have the same number of calories (about 5). So, if you ate 20 grapes or 20 raisins, you’d eat about 100 calories either way.
But 20 grapes would have about four times the volume of 20 raisins, and take up more room in your stomach than 100 calories of raisins. For the same number of calories, the watery grapes are going to be a lot more filling than the dried raisins.
Here’s another example… What happens if you put a stack of lettuce leaves or cucumber slices on a sandwich instead of cheese? An entire head of watery lettuce has only 25 calories, and an entire cucumber has only 10. But a single slice of Swiss cheese will cost you 100 calories. So, by piling up the veggies on your sandwich, you can pump up volume without adding very many calories. This is also why salads make such good meal starters: they take up plenty of room in your stomach at a relatively low calorie cost, as long as they’re not drenched in dressing.
Most soups are another great meal starter for the same reason. A small bowl of low-fat, brothy vegetable soup will take up a fair amount of room in your stomach. But because it’s full of water and high-fiber veggies, it will only set you back about 100 calories or so. By the time your entrée arrives, you’ve already started to fill up. That means you can probably cut back on your dinner portions and save some calories.
This is also why I often suggest that you double up on vegetables and skip starchy sides at meals if you’re trying to cut calories. For the 200 calories you’d spend on a serving of steamed white rice, you could eat ten times the volume of roasted cauliflower.
Actually, sneaking vegetables into anything is one of the best ways to add volume to a meal with very few calories. So, add chopped or grated vegetables (carrots and zucchini work especially well) to dishes like soups, stews, meat loaf, casseroles, grain dishes and pasta sauces. Try folding plenty of steamed spinach into an egg-white omelet, or adding cooked butternut squash to your protein shake.
If watery, high fiber foods are the ones you want to turn to when you want to eat more and spend fewer calories. You’ll want to turn away from fats and oils. Since they have no water or fiber in them at all, fats and oils contribute the most calories to your diet in smallest volume of food. Think about this: a teaspoon of oil has the same number of calories as a whole fresh tangerine—but which one would fill you up more?
Here’s another trick: Add a little “air” to your protein shake. Next time you make your shake in the blender, try whipping it up for a while to pump up the volume. Making your shake bigger won’t boost the calories one bit—but it just might fill you up a whole lot more.