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Eat More but Stay Slim? Focus on Foods with Water and Fiber

Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training October 12, 2022

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. Keep reading to find out 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.” 

Want to Feel Full but Eat Less? Try This Proven Nutrition Trick

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. 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 hungrier.

Most of us are used to a distinct feeling of fullness that results when we’ve eaten a certain amount of food. 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 pretty 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. 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.

How to Eat More Food for Fewer Calories

Consider the difference between a fresh grape – which has loads of water – and a 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 will 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.

Tips and Tricks

Double up on vegetables and skip starchy sides at meals (you could spend 200 calories on a 1 cup serving of steamed white rice, or you could eat 10 times the volume of roasted cauliflower).

Try stacking lettuce leaves or cucumber slices on a sandwich instead of cheese. An entire head of lettuce only has about 25 calories, and a whole cucumber only has about 10 – but a single slice of Swiss cheese will set you back 100 calories.

Add chopped or grated vegetables (carrots and zucchini work especially well) to dishes like soups, stews, meatloaf, casseroles, grain dishes and pasta sauces.

Try folding plenty of steamed spinach into an omelet or adding cooked butternut squash to your protein shake.

Enjoy a salad with light dressing or a brothy vegetable soup as a meal starter. They can help to fill you up so you can control the entree portion and save some calories.

Turn away from fats and oils since they have no water or fiber in them at all and contribute the most calories to your diet in the smallest volume of food.

Next time you make your shake in the blender, add a little “air” by 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.