Since eating more food consistently, I’ve really gotten used to sticking to two to three large meals a day, generally around 850-1200 calories each depending on my activity level. My stomach has always loved satiety, but its capacity had expanded pretty dramatically the past few months. Now, I don’t feel as much pain after eating four cups of cereal and a giant salad in one meal. Not that I recommend it regularly, of course, but that’s just how I feel.
Most foodies I know can relate to this. Their stomach limit is so large that they can polish off an entire watermelon, jumbo bag of bagels, and a jar of peanut butter in one sitting. Unfortunately, with such a massive capacity, it’s so difficult to feel satisfied, especially when cutting or dieting. I’m currently not seeking to lose any more weight–in fact, I have the opposite goals–but having lost quite a fair amount of weight several years ago at a healthy pace, I’ve learned that there are indeed voluminous and physically substantial foods you can enjoy while cutting calories successfully.
- Leafy greens. Most of you probably rolled your eyes behind that screen, which means that it’s an absolute truth that they get the job done. Notice whenever you go grocery shopping and you see those ginormous boxes of spring greens that have six servings for so few calories? Yep, leafy greens will be your best friend not just for dieting, but for life. Greens cover a pretty large surface area, take time to chew, and are relatively bland by themselves, which make them difficult to overdo without major damage. It’s only when heat is applied that shrink the portions dramatically due to water loss, so eat them raw (with cookies vegetables on top for the warmth) if you want the extra volume.
- Popcorn. As a kid, I loved nothing more than inhaling a large tub of movie theater popcorn all to myself, and rummaging through my grandmother’s Christmas canister with the three types–caramel, cheddar, and butter–of flavored popcorn as a snack. With that being said, it’s no wonder that popcorn is constantly demonized! The excess dairy, oils, sugars, and weird additives you find in those popcorn dishes totally wreck a perfectly flexible and delicious whole grain. Believe it or not, you can get away with few macronutrients and calories if you snack on plain air-popped popcorn by itself. 30-40 calories a cup, popcorn is crunchy, airy, puffy, and irresistible. Keep flavorings to a minimum and stick with spices and herbs. Be wary of other toppings as well, including oil, sugar, chocolate, and cheese.
- Puffed grains. Similarly to popcorn, I could easily annihilate a whole box of granola and corn flakes. While cereals tend to be pretty healthy, some are very much overloaded with calories and sugar, are lacking in protein and fiber, and are easy to overdo. On the other hand, puffed grains–think corn, kamut, rice, wheat, and quinoa–generally contain half, a third, or even a fourth of the calories in conventionally “healthier” cereal brands per cup, virtually no sugar, and the perfect crunch factor. Though a great alternative to sugary cereals and granola toppings, puffed grains are nearly flavorless. Either sweeten your milk of choice with Stevia or any low or calorie free sweetener, add fruit to the cereal, or even mix a little bit of any other sweetened cereal to get used to the bland taste.
- Melon. I’ve never been an avid melon fan, but for the most part, melons tend to be extremely voluminous for a high amount of water and low amount of energy. If selected correctly, they are incredibly hydrating, crisp, dense, and perfectly juicy for the summer weather! For around 103 calories, you receive two-and-a-quarter cups of cubed watermelon versus a little less than an ounce’s worth of trail mix. Pick accordingly, depending on your nutrient requirements and health goals. Of course, I wouldn’t consider eating an entire half of a cantaloupe a balanced meal, plus it’ll be really easy to feel fuller more quickly after all that hard scooping and chomping.
- Unsweetened non-dairy milks. If you absolutely despise using water to cook oatmeal, blend into protein shakes, simmer a soup, and whisk into a pastry batter, unsweetened non-dairy milks are here to help. Depending on the brand and base you settle on, certain non-dairy milks contain much fewer calories than most dairy-based milks. The most common types out there are almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, cashew milk, hemp milk (one of the more calorie-dense types), and coconut milk. Other rarities include hazelnut milk, walnut milk, quinoa milk, pea milk, and potato milk. Most if not all non-dairy milks will act as a creamy, flavorful, and refreshing base for whatever dish you decide to make. Be wary of additives and sneaky sugars that can up the caloric value if you are cutting.
- Stems and stalks. There is a reason that celery is known as the “negative” calorie food (note that this myth has been debunked exhaustively). Being dense, long, hard to chew, and chock full of water and fiber, stems are absolutely perfect for snacking throughout the day or cooking in a vegetable roast. Not only that, each type of stem and stalk will provide its unique health properties. My personal favorites are green onions, asparagus, and beets!
- Most non-starchy vegetables. Five servings of veggies a day truly keeps the doctor away. Bursting with micronutrients, fiber, and water, you can never go wrong with any vegetable (botanical and legal). You’ll be surprised as to how much eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and green beans you can consume in one sitting for such little amounts of energy. What’s even better is that you’ll be packing in heaps of vitamins and minerals that will make your body feel amazing. However, with the crazy amount of fiber in the large portion you consume, your stomach might hate you for the next five hours.
- Low sugar fruits (berries, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers). With the exception of avocados and coconut, fruits with little to no sugar–including those that are botanically fruits but legally vegetables–can be consumed in pretty large quantities while cutting or leaning out. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are just some of my favorites because they are perfect for the summer weather and pretty much complement everything! Before diving headfirst, make sure to rinse the fruits and ensure that you’re purchasing the highest quality that you can possible.
- Broths and stocks: Whether from vegetables, chicken, beef, or any animal, broth and stock are probably one of the most filling foods for such low energy density. Sure, they are technically liquids, but better to consume broth and stock with a spoon than chug it from the carton, right? Using broth or stock in a soup rather than milk or cream saves a lot of fat, and adds a pretty good salty taste to the dish. The texture might not be the same as something like full fat coconut milk or yogurt, but you can use vegetable puree to add the perfect thickness instead, or just stick to loaded soups with a thin base.
What is the largest record of food you’ve eaten in one go? What is your favorite high-volume food?