The 80:20 Rule, What Is It and How To Apply It
When it comes to improving your eating habits, the 80:20 approach to healthy eating is a method that can lead to far greater success and sustainability. It is also referred to as ‘flexible’ or ‘realistic’ dieting. This means that if we focus on making healthy food choices 80% of the time and allow ourselves to eat what you might consider ‘unhealthy’ food the other 20% of the time. We then have a better chance at following a nutrition plan, and as the old line goes; ‘the best plan is the one you can stick to’. This is compared to trying to follow a restrictive diet that is strictly only what you deem to be ‘healthy’ food 100% of the time.
With the 80:20 approach, we may reach our personal health/weight loss/muscle gain/performance goals that bit slower. However, it does mean that we are more likely to actually achieve them rather than quitting your plan. If we don’t have flexibility with our food and we rigidly adhere to a meal plan that cuts out foods we enjoy, we are at risk of feeling deprived and eventually giving in to temptation and over-consuming high calorie, unhealthy foods.
Depriving yourself simply isn’t maintainable and can create and exacerbate an unhealthy relationship with food. Therefore, fad (restrictive) diets don’t work in the long run. Anything that promises to ‘Shed 7 Pounds in 7 Days!’ means that you are going to be seriously restricting food and calories, and this just doesn’t work long term. Will you lose weight quickly? Possibly. Will you put it all (and even more) back on? Probably.
Let me give you an example;
You’ve been doing well at eating healthy and making better food choices for a couple of weeks now. You’ve sworn off all the food you consider ‘bad’. No sweets, chocolate, crisps. You’re eating salad for lunch every day, and you’ve even given up your cup of tea and biscuits that you loved to have in the evening! But it’s John from works birthday today – and there’s chocolate biscuit cake in the kitchen. Everyone’s having a slice and after about an hour of thinking about it non-stop, you say, ‘feck it’ and head down for a slice (or two). Back at your desk, you’re miserable. The guilt is crippling, and you feel like a complete failure. You think ‘what’s the point?’ and hit the vending machine and stock up on crisps and chocolate bars. The above example is usually what happens the majority of those who embark on a rigid and restrictive diet change. If the 80:20 approach was taken the outcome may have been different.
The cake could have been part of your 20%. You could have enjoyed a slice and made healthy food choices for the rest of the day, with no feelings of failure and guilt. You would literally have your cake and eat it too!
This method is incredibly effective due to its flexibility which is vital for consistency with healthy eating and habit building. Being consistent with a nutrition change is the key driver for success. Following a personalized nutrition plan for 2 or 3 days, a week won’t help you hit your goals. However, continuously making the right choices at least 80% of the time will set you on the path to success. Enjoying less nutritious foods you like from time to time, while eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods most of the time, and staying within your calorie requirements, is far more likely to make you happy – rather than feeling deprived and miserable 100% of the time.
Now, for some people who have an unhealthy relationship with food, this may be a difficult method to adapt to due to an ‘all or nothing’ approach to their nutrition. Others may view this as using food as a ‘reward’. This is only one method of many to successfully following a healthy eating plan. Do what works for you, but for those who need more balance with their diets – the 80:20 approach is a great place to start.
About Laura – Bridge Nutrition
Laura Kealy, founder of Bridge Nutrition. is a registered Health and Performance Nutritionist aiming to improve people’s knowledge, understanding, and, appreciation of food – one meal at a time! Bridge Nutrition bridges the gap between scientific, evidence-based nutritional concepts and real-life practical implementation of life-long, healthy dietary habits. She provides personalised, bespoke nutrition plans, with the objective to improve her client’s health and diet, one meal at a time.
Find out more about Bridge Nutrition at www.bridgenutrition.ie