The following is a guest post by Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, LD/N
“They say “everything in moderation,” but does the 80/20 rule really work?”
80/20 Rule Defined
The 80/20 rule is one way of defining “eating in moderation”. The idea is you make healthy choices 80% of the time and 20% of the time you can choose “fun” foods or indulgences. It is an eating principle that gives you freedom to indulge occasionally while still eating nutritiously most of the time.
If you do the technical math based on 21 meals a week (3 meals a day), 80% = 16.8 meals and 20% = 4.2, or about 17 and 3.
Does it work?
When it comes to weight loss, I can’t promise this rule will make you shed pounds. It certainly could, especially if you’re coming from a place of reckless abandonment to healthy eating. This can be a simple and freeing way to guide your eating rhythm between healthier choices and pure indulgences.
The 80/20 rule can also be a great guide during times of life that are crazy busy. When your schedule changes (i.e the upcoming holiday season) or life just feels out of control (going through a hard time) the LAST thing you probably want to do or have energy for is counting every calorie. And that’s OK. Use the 80/20 rule to help you navigate this busy time and stay on track with general, healthy eating.
I also think this rule (and I’ll address that word at the end) is a good idea if you tend to be a restrictive eater or extreme rule follower. I am not a fan of super strict diets as I believe they lead to disordered eating or claiming your diet as a badge of honor. So the 80/20 rule can be a great thing to give you permission to not eat “perfectly” (whatever that means) all of the time.
Breaking Down Moderation
Moderation is a commonly used word in the dieting world. It’s a very important but I think it’s crucial to understand what it means for you personally.
I really want to stress that the 20% part of this principle is not the “bad” part. It is not a bad thing to enjoy a food purely for enjoyment sake. In fact, when the 80% of your eating is happening, the 20% becomes a VERY healthy component of your diet.
Define Your Own Eating Principles
I believe every person needs some sort of eating principles to help guide their eating. With the opportunity to access high calorie food everywhere, you need something to help you make reasonable decisions. The reason I called them principles instead of rules is because life is constantly causing you to be flexible and therefore so should your eating. Rules are rigid and unforgiving. Principles are flexible and gracious.
Through many years of nutrition counseling, I have discovered that your personality and lifestyle really play an important role in what kind of eating principles you should follow. What works and guides one person may not work for someone else. That’s OK.
To determine what kind of eating principles will best work for you, write down your favorite food or food events that you regularly encounter. Examples could be: eating lunch out with an important client once a week, drinks with friends after work, eating out on the weekend, watching football on Saturdays or Sundays, a pastry from your favorite bakery, family meals, someone’s special mac and cheese…you get the idea.
Next, think about the kinds of indulgences you face on a regular basis that aren’t really worth it. Things that come to my mind are: office birthday parties, lunch out with clients, coffee drinks at meetings, pastries, one type of alcoholic drink versus another, or food at church meetings.
Now, compare your two lists and PRIORITIZE these foods or experiences into “most important” and “least important”. From these two lists you can develop your personal eating principles.
Here are some ways you can apply the 80/20 rule, or any guiding principle, to these priorities:
- I like donuts, but I love danish. I’ll pass on donuts when I encounter them so I can enjoy a danish when I get the chance.
- If I eat out 5 times a week for business meetings, I’ll make sure I get a balanced meal (fruits, veggies, lean protein, watch fat, etc) at 4 of those meals.
- I can live without pumpkin spice (insert whatever flavor) lattes so I’ll get a skinny latte or cup of coffee instead, most of the time.
- I LOVE watching football on Sundays with friends and eating whatever I want. Therefore, if I eat out on Saturday, I’ll be more mindful of my choices.
- I enjoy getting drinks with friends but don’t love cocktails. I’ll stick to light beer in this situation.
- Grandma makes THE best mac and cheese. I want to enjoy that whenever I get the chance so I will skip other sub-par mac and cheese that I encounter.
So while the 80/20 rule is a great principle to follow, it’s not the only possibility and there are many ways to apply it. It’s important to be intentional though and actually plan out what that 20% looks like. Look at your schedule and plan those 3 meals for the week. Or as I said above, write out those eating principles that will now help guide your decisions.
With some planning and intentionality, the 80/20 principle could be just the guiding light you need to bring balance to your eating and enjoyment to your splurges.
Jenna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. More importantly, she is a mom to 2 littleboys and wife to a football coach. She shares real life strategies for better health and doable and delicious recipes on her site Make Healthy Easy atwww.JennaBraddock.com. She is active on Twitter, Instagram,Facebook and Pinterest, sharing her real life antics.