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The 80/20 Rule, What Is It and How To Apply It?

Originally the 80/20 rule was known as the Pareto principle which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. You can apply the rule to many aspects of your life like goal setting and diet.

I am going to focus on how to use the rule with your diet.

It’s common knowledge that depriving yourself of all treats and sweets simply isn’t sustainable and can also create and exacerbate an unhealthy relationship with food.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a “diet” or “weight loss tool”. The 80/20 is an approach to healthy eating teaching you balance, moderation and indulging without a guilty feeling.

The basic idea of the 80/20 rule is very simple. In order to be healthy and balanced, you don’t always have to make 100% healthy food choices. 80% is enough. The remaining 20% you can choose less healthy food and indulge yourself.

80% of the time I am cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients – which I love doing because of how it makes me feel. My energy levels are more stable, I recover quicker after training and I love the mindful process of cooking.

20% of the time I am drinking craft beer, eating chocolate brownies and the finest gelato ice-cream I can find!

Here is a common example:

A colleague has a birthday and brings a delicious home-made chocolate cake in to celebrate. You’ve been making a big effort to eat healthier recently but decide to take a piece, even though you know cake doesn’t fit into “eating healthily”. Afterwards, you feel guilty and the day is ruined. You then continue to eat sweet treats for the rest of the day and in the worst case you give up on eating healthy.

Following the 80/20 rule, your approach can be different. The piece of a cake is part of your 20%. With that in mind, you decide to enjoy the delicious cake and go back to eating healthily afterwards, with no feelings of guilt.

How to Incorporate It

Aim to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients. My food philosophy is simple: eat locally sourced, seasonal foods full of nutrients. In other words, eat real food. The body is not designed to constantly digest food and once you start eating foods that nourish your body you quickly realise that you don’t need to eat every three to four hours. You begin to recognise what real hunger feels like, empowering yourself with the ability to become self-sufficient. You will never be a slave to mealtimes again!

Incorporate the 2 Meal Day. Fasting can improve energy levels, cognition, and body composition. The 2-Meal Day is a very simple way of keeping your diet in check without the need for counting calories or tracking macronutrients. All you need to do is push your first meal later in the day and reap the rewards! It also gives you added flexibility, if you go out for dinner one evening and have a huge meal, it teaches you the understanding to know that you do not need to eat breakfast the next day if you don’t want to.

READ MORE: How to Reset Your Body to Burn Fat

Indulge on the weekends only. I personally prefer to save my 20% for the weekends. I find eating sugar can make me feel less energised, lethargic and sometimes it can actually make me feel like I have a hangover in the morning. During the week I like to be as efficient and productive as possible. For me, I don’t like to crave sweet things all the time, if I eat my 20% on a daily basis then I would always be craving. On the weekends, I have a few craft beers and will eat a nice dessert if I am out for dinner.

Always go for quality. Even when I am indulging in my 20% I am still trying to find the highest quality possible. You won’t see me tucking into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, I will only eat the finest gelato I can find! This way you are going to be consuming far less artificial flavourings, sweeteners and any other chemicals that can be used in processed food. There is still sugar and other ingredients that may not contribute to optimal health, but by choosing the least processed option you are going to drastically decrease the number of artificial substances.

Don’t binge. The biggest mistake I see people make when following the 80/20 is binging and thinking its ok. Allow yourself a dessert in a nice restaurant, don’t then go and buy chocolate and sweets at the petrol station on the way back!

Enjoy it all, not just the 20%

Keep in mind, every meal is an opportunity to nourish your body. For many of us, every bite should count in order to reward us with fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds).

If you learn to love the 80 percent—to crave fresh vegetables and home cooked food, then you won’t be dying for the 20 percent. Instead of thinking of it as a reward, think of it as some wiggle room to enjoy your life to its fullest!

READ MORE: What is The 2 Meal Day and Why is it the Most Effective Method of Intermittent Fasting?

Why the 80/20 Rule Is the Gold Standard of Dietary Balance

Atkins. Paleo. Vegan. Keto. Gluten-free. IIFYM. These days, there are more diets than there are food groups-and most of them do come with weight loss and healthy eating benefits. But how many of these would you want to maintain for your entire life? (Just think about how many years that is of counting macros, avoiding bacon, and steering clear of doughnuts.)

In the all-or-nothing health world where kale is king, HIIT is queen, and you’ve either drank the Kool-Aid or spit it out, developing lifelong habits seems like an afterthought. It’s all about going to the extreme to get better-body results ASAP.

But obviously, you’re not trying to lose the weight and gain it back. You’re not trying to get in shape, then get out of shape. You’re not trying to feel great, then go back to feeling shitty. So why do you subscribe to a harsh diet that you know is going to fail you eventually?

Enter: the 80/20 rule for healthy eating. It’s not so much a diet as it is a way of eating for life-one you can maintain happily until you’re 105.

What Is the 80/20 Rule for Eating?

The gist: you eat clean, whole foods for about 80 percent of your calories of the day, and you #treatyoself for about 20 percent of the calories for the day. (ICYMI it’s recommended by health pros like Jillian Michaelsand many dietitians as a way to teach moderation.) “The 80/20 rule can be a fantastic way to enjoy the foods you love and keep your weight in check,” says Sarah Berndt, RD for Complete Nutrition and owner of Fit Fresh Cuisine.

The Good & Bad of the 80/20 Rule

It’s something you can do forever. “It’s a more livable diet style, which allows you to enjoy a few special treats without feeling guilt,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D. and author of The Plant-Powered Life. When you feel guilty about eating something that doesn’t fit into the “healthy” category, it can lead to binging and disordered attitudes about eating and body image. (After all, it helps you avoid the worst weight loss mistake there is.)

It’s not great for weight loss. If you are eating large portions of even healthful foods, like whole grains, fruits, nuts, healthy fats, lean proteins, you can exceed your body’s energy needs (read: calories) and gain weight. Calories still count, even healthful sources of them. “The 80/20 rule is very loose guidance and could be applied to a diet lifestyle that’s already in balance when it comes to calorie needs,” says Palmer, meaning it may be best for weight maintenance rather than dropping lbs.

How to Implement the 80/20 Rule the *Right* Way

“It’s still important to practice moderation and portion control with the 80/20 rule,” says Berndt. “Your indulgences need to be a reasonable portion rather than a free-for-all to gorge.”

Just because that 20 percent is for “treats” doesn’t mean you can go ham with the Oreos or a bag of chips. “Try to consider this more as a general rule of thumb,” says Palmer, rather than specific numbers to meet every day.

For example, if you’re aiming for 2,000 calories a day (here’s how to figure out how many calories you need), then the rule indicates you’d have about 400 to “play” with. But just because there’s wiggle room for some indulgences (a glass of wine with dinner, a slice of a coworker’s birthday cake), doesn’t mean those are “throw-away calories” to be wasted on food with zero nutritional value-and you certainly don’t need to use all 20 percent. In fact, it’s probably best to shoot lower than 20 percent, since “people are really bad at estimating how much food they eat and consistently underestimate calories and portions,” say Palmer.

Keep in mind: “Every meal is an opportunity to nourish your body,” says Palmer. “For many of us, every bite should count in order to reward us with fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound).”

If you learn to love the 80 percent-to crave peanut butter instead of cake, and roasted Brussels sprouts instead of chips-then you won’t be dying for the 20 percent. Instead of thinking of it as a reward, think of it as some wiggle room to just ~live your life.~ (Because #balance is the essence of life-and the most important thing for your health and fitness routine.)

  • By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo

I often mention that you should try and eat healthy (whole foods, lots of veggies, protein, avoiding too many processed carbs) 80% of the time.

In fact, it’s stated right in the 12 Minute Athlete food philosophy. And it falls right in line with the 80/20 principle of eating.

But what exactly does the 80/20 rule mean? Let’s break it down:

It means that you don’t have to cook every meal at home.

You know as well as I do that it’s way easier to follow a 100% healthy diet when cooking your own meals.

Cooking at homes means you know exactly what goes in your food—how much oil, butter, how many carbs, etc. And it’s about a thousand times easier to figure out your portion sizes as well.

Yet I don’t know about you, but I like eating out. I happen to be lucky enough to live in San Francisco, a mecca of awesome restaurants and new places to check out. I like having other people cook for me. And I get joy out of finding new places to eat and exploring the city.

And while I do try and cook my own meals the majority of the time, I typically eat out anywhere around two to five times a week. Some of my meals out are similar to what I’d make at home—salads, veggie-heavy meals, burrito bowls (I’m a huge fan of these). And some of them are a little more indulgent—trying out a great new pizza place, sharing really yummy Indian food with friends, having delicious, carb-heavy pasta on a special occasion or just to end a tough week.

And as long as I don’t eat out too often, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about these meals. And you should too.

Because what do we work so hard for in our workouts, if not to enjoy ourselves in life?

It means that on birthdays/holidays/special occasions you can have a piece of cake.

One of the hardest things about trying to eat healthy is those times—whether it’s your nephew’s birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, or your best friend’s wedding, when it just feels wrong not to indulge just a little. And whether it’s a glass of champagne, a piece of cake, or both, it’s easy to feel like you’re completely ruining your diet if you have even just one bite.

But if you’re living by the 80/20 principle, this becomes completely unnecessary. Because as long as you’re not out indulging in cake and other yummy treats too often, and eating healthy the rest of the time, you’ll be totally fine.

I used to obsess over every single calorie at special occasions—avoiding pumpkin pie (my favorite) at Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies around the holidays, dessert at parties. I thought that if I did indulge, my entire diet would go to shit and I’d immediately gain 20 pounds.

Once I realized that was actually impossible, I started giving myself a little more flexibility in those situations—knowing that once the party/vacation/holiday was over, I’d naturally go back to eating healthy. I can’t tell you how much happier and less bitter this has made me over the years.

It means you’re building a lifestyle, not just following a diet.

Most people who start diets inevitably fail.

Diets aren’t sustainable. They’re based on restriction and denying yourself your favorite foods. They’re boring, and too often than not, based on the latest fad decided by the health and fitness industry.

What I want you to build, on the other hand, is a healthy lifestyle. I want you to start listening to your body, to realize that it actually craves protein and salads and sweet potatoes, not a 1,500 calorie hamburger. I want you to start relishing the taste of fresh strawberries, to experiment with new flavors and tastes, to order a kale salad instead of french fries at a restaurant not because you feel like you have to, but because it just sounds better.

And if you give up dieting, and focus on building a healthy lifestyle instead, you’ll get there, sooner or later.
Because as crazy as it might sound to you now, once your body starts getting used to eating adequate protein, fresh veggies, less grains… once it gets used to cutting out processed foods, not drinking soda, minimizing sugar… once you get used to feeling energized and pumped for your workouts… you won’t want to go back.

And then, when you have a cookie here and there, or a few too many chips, it’s just not a big deal. You’ll enjoy every bite—but then you’ll want to go back to your healthy meals.

It’s all about allowing yourself little indulgences here and there, so you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself of every food you’ve ever loved.

It means you don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time.

Nobody’s perfect. And you might as well accept right now that you’re not either.

So while it’s a good idea to aim to eat healthy 100% of the time by not buying unhealthy foods, cooking at home when you can, and choosing smart when you’re eating out, you should expect to go off course at times.

In fact, allowing yourself a little give in your diet is actually a good thing. Because not only will eating perfect 100% of the time make you feel bitter about life, it’ll also make it more likely that you’ll go on a binge eating fest when your willpower is at its lowest and chow down on anything you can get your hands on.

Perfection is what leads people off course. It’s what makes you down that entire bag of chips and pint of ice cream because all you’ve eaten is carrots and boiled chicken for days.

Don’t aim to be perfect. Aim to be pretty good, the majority of the time. That’s the best you can hope for.

Balance is key

In life and nutrition, it’s all about finding a balance. Because as much as you know that proper nutrition will get you the body you want, boost your performance and allow you to live a long, healthy, active life, you also want to be able to just live.

And the 80/20 principle allows you to do that.

Because while you should always aim to eat healthy most of the time, aiming for about 80% of the time gives you that wiggle room every sane person needs to still enjoy themselves.

It’s what allows you to go to a party and have something other than water. To be able to go to a Mexican restaurant and try the chips everyone raves about. To go to Paris and eat a croissant for breakfast instead of your usual protein shake.

It means you don’t have to obsess about every morsel of food you eat. It allows you to try new things and be adventurous. And most of all, it gives you freedom.

And that’s what life is all about.

A diet doesn’t need to be 100 percent healthy to be healthy, according to Work Week Lunch founder Talia Koren. The blogger lost 10 pounds following the 80/20 rule, which involves focusing on eating healthy foods 80 percent of the time, and less healthy foods the remaining 20 percent.

“I wasn’t restraining myself and I think that’s the key to what makes it work,” Koren tells NBC News Better. “You can have what you want, but you have to have more of the healthy stuff.”

Talia Koren lost 10 pounds by changing up how she eats.

The 25-year-old says she put on a few extra pounds in college. Her eating habits worsened after she started working for a busy New York City media company, where “pizza days” and free bagels were the norm. Shedding the weight seemed impossible.

“When you’re not eating well, your energy levels are affected, and that’s what I found,” Koren said. “I was really sluggish. I didn’t like the way my clothes fit. I just didn’t feel good about myself.”

Koren tried numerous diet fads, none of which seemed to help her lose weight. Exercise didn’t seem to help either. In 2015, while researching online, she learned about the 80/20 rule and decided to try it.

Daily Vs. Weekly Approach

Koren approached the 80/20 rule using what she calls the “week-long” approach. She eats about 21 meals in a week, 80 percent of which make up about 17 meals. She prefers this to the “day-long” approach, which means 80 percent of her daily meals are healthy.

“If 20 percent is sweet potato fries every day, that’s going to add up,” she explains.

The week-long approach, however, forces her to have more self-restraint. While about 17 of her meals are healthy during the week, just four are less healthy.

Why You Should Eat More Protein at Breakfast

July 26, 201701:07

What to eat and not eat

Koren began cooking her meals at home. Her healthy meals consist of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and nutrient dense carbs.

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For example:

  • Breakfast: Two slices of wheat toast with peanut butter and blueberries
  • Mid-morning snack: A piece of fruit (whole apple, whole plum, whole peach)
  • Lunch: Salmon, sweet potatoes, and broccoli
  • Mid-afternoon snack: Sliced pepper with hummus, or a handful of almonds with dates
  • Dinner: Scrambled eggs with veggies

She decided to reserve her less healthy meals for when she eats out with friends. But she’s careful not to pick menu items that are too unhealthy.

“I love Mediterranean food,” she says. “So I would get falafel, which is fried, and maybe some cole slaw — there would be mayo in there — that type of thing, where it’s not totally unhealthy but not super strict either.”

You should never use your 20 percent “less healthy” meal allowance as an excuse to binge eat, she warns.

“That doesn’t mean you’re going to an extreme opposite like you’re just going to eat pizza 20 percent of the time,” she says. “It just means caring a little less.”

Prepare your meals in advance

What’s Koren’s secret to keeping her healthy lifestyle consistent? She prepares her meals in advance.

“Meal prepping is a huge, huge reason why I was able to stay so consistent, because no matter what diet or plan you’re on, you need to prepare,” she says.

The blogger meal preps twice a week. On Sunday she’ll prepare her meals for Monday through Wednesday, and on Wednesday she’ll prepare her meals for Thursday through Sunday. For example, she’ll cook broccoli, sweet potatoes, and salmon, and divide them into three portions for her lunch for the next three days. She says these prepared dishes prevent her from making unhealthy excuses.

“You want to beat your brain to the punch and just have the healthy meal in front of you, so you don’t even have to think about a decision — it’s just there,” says Koren.

Focus on the process, not the goal

After six months of following the 80/20 rule, Koren went from about 130 to 120 pounds.

“This is what I would call my happy weight,” she says. “I’m not trying to lose more, I don’t want to gain more either.”

The blogger says losing the weight “felt awesome,” but notes it was a result of focusing on healthy lifestyle changes, not an obsession with slimming down.

“I was focusing on the process — on the cooking process — and all of a sudden I realized my clothes started fitting better, my energy levels were very balanced throughout the day,” she says.

“It just made life a lot easier,” Koren concluded.

How to use the 80/20 rule

  • Will it be weekly or daily? On the week-long approach, 80 percent of your weekly meals are healthy. The daily approach, on the other hand, means 80 percent of your daily meals are healthy. Koren found the weekly approach more effective, since it forced her to eat more healthy meals.
  • Educate yourself. Healthy meals should consist of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and nutrient dense carbs. Your less healthy meals should be an opportunity for you to eat what you enjoy, but not an excuse to binge eat junk food.
  • Invest time in meal prep. Meal prepping is an important way to ensure you always have healthy options available, and will prevent you from making unhealthy excuses when hungry.
  • Focus on the small stuff. When you focus on changing your eating habits and lifestyle, your body and energy levels will change too.


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Why sticking to 80% diet and 20% exercise is your best bet for weight loss!

Losing weight is not difficult. You can limit eating food and lose all that weight, fat and inches in less than a week. But in the process you will also end up losing your health. Sagging and dull skin, indigestion, hair fall are some of the effects that you will end up experiencing if you lose weight this way. Therefore, eating the right food is equally important and should not be digressed from just to reach your ideal weight faster. Weight loss, if done in the right manner, can lead to many benefits other than just a slimmer body.
What is the 80-20 rule?
The 80-20 rule talks about 20 per cent exercise and 80 per cent nutrition. While most mistake this the other way round, it is important to understand how 80per cent nutrition plays a huge role in fitness. Both nutrition and exercise compliment each other and neither can do anything without the other. This means that without exercising, you will not end up burning calories of the foods you eat and without food, you will not have the desired energy for exercise.

The 80-20 rule has been backed by science and should be adhered to if healthy and sustainable weight loss is your goal. However, this does not mean that 80 per cent nutrition means you keep eating food all the time and exercise for sometime only. 80 per cent nutrition denotes to a food plate which is a perfect blend of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins and minerals.
How to ensure your 80 per cent nutrition intake everyday?
Since we know how our food plate needs to be divided into different food groups, here is the list of healthy foods which you can include in your daily diet:
Fiber: Indigestion and constipation are two biggest issues of any weight loss fanatic. Fiber will take care of this. To include enough fiber in your diet, you can include green leafy vegetables, fruits, pulses, whole grain foods such as buckwheat flour.
Fats: To cut the bad fats from your body, you need to consume good fats. This does not mean loading up your plate with harmful fats such as trans fats which are cancerous in nature, but rather healthy fats which contribute to a healthier body. To add fats to your diet, you need to include ghee, mustard oil, sesame oil, dried fruits and nuts such as walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts.
Proteins: Despite the fact that a typical Indian breakfast starts with milk, we lack protein in our diet. Proteins are the building blocks of the body and hence lead to weight loss as well. Not only milk but you need to include other richer sources of protein such as yoghurt, cheese, paneer, soya, tofu, gram flour, peanuts, chicken or fish to complete your daily intake of protein.
Vitamins and minerals: Even though we have read in many textbooks that vitamins and minerals are important for immunity, we tend to forget them anyway. Vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruits are the best way to get your daily dose.
Carbohydrates: The often feared food group during weight loss is actually the most important for a fully functional healthy active body. At least 40 per cent of your plate should contain carbs such as rice, roti, multigrain breads, vegetables, pulses, legumes and fruits.
Why is the 80 per cent nutrition rule important?
The 80 per cent nutrition rule is necessary to manage your daily calorie intake. If you are a weight loss fanatic, by now you understand the basic concept of calorie in and calorie out. This means that you should burn as many calories as you eat. This definitely does not mean that you exercise throughout the day only to make up for your last meal, but rather that you should be active despite your exercise schedule.
The calorie rule means that on every kilogram of your body weight, you need 30 calories. For example, if you weigh 60 kilograms, you need (60X30) 1800 healthy calories everyday, even to lose or maintain your ideal weight.

Why the ‘80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise’ Formula is Bunk

Several months ago, I wrote about how I was “retiring the ’80/20 Rule’” – the one where you eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself to eat less healthy 20% of the time. While the intentions behind this “rule” are good, I find that it doesn’t always help with “all-or-nothing”/perfectionistic type thinking. Some people have twisted the 80/20 Rule to mean, “I need to be 100% perfect during my 80%, so that I can go all out during my 20%.” Instead, it’s simpler and less triggering to say, “You don’t need to be perfect in order to be healthy.”

Here’s another “80/20 Rule” that needs to be thrown in the bin – that health is “80% nutrition, 20% exercise”

Why ‘80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise’ “Makes Sense”

Often the “80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise” phrase is used in the context of weight loss. Ignoring the fact that there is currently no 100% safe, effective, reliable and sustainable method of permanent weight loss, and that equating weight loss with improved health is problematic, evidence shows that exercise alone is an ineffective strategy to lose weight.

I used to love this YouTube video that illustrated this idea of “you can’t outrun your fork” – in it, there are two men – one is running top speed on a treadmill, while the other is eating pizza and drinking pop. As the guy running on the treadmill is huffing and puffing away, periodically announcing the calories that the treadmill states he’s burned, the guy who’s eating the pizza and pop shares that he’s already eaten many times that amount of calories, in the same few minutes.

Even without this extreme example, think about how often we eat versus how often we exercise – most of us eat at least three times a day, while exercising much less than that.

Why ‘80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise’ Doesn’t Actually Work

Our society tends to lean heavily on this idea of “personal responsibility” and “lifestyle change” when it comes to health. This fuels a lot of weight stigma and fatphobia—the idea that people in larger bodies have “done this to themselves”, and that there’s something “bad” or “wrong” with them if they’re not trying to lose weight or “be healthier”. This is textbook healthism, or placing a moral value on the pursuit of health.

In reality, we have much less control over our own health than we think. Though the exact figures are unknown, the CDC estimates that social determinants of health, like discrimination, income, living environment and access to health care, account for about 75% of our health, while health behaviours account for only about 20%. In other words, even if the “80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise” statement were true, it would really actually be “16% Nutrition, 4% Exercise”.

‘80% #nutrition, 20% #exercise’? More like 16% and 4%.

So, Does That Mean I Should Just Give Up on Being Healthy?

I know it seems counterintuitive for a dietitian to downplay the impact of food and nutrition on health. I mean, don’t I hold the “secret”? Shouldn’t I be the first to believe that nutrition cures all?

The point of this article is not to give up on eating your vegetables – everything counts.

Instead, I would say the take-home messages of this post are three-fold:

1. Cut yourself some slack when it comes to health. Food, water, exercise, sleep, etc. don’t deserve that power.

There’s no such thing as a perfect diet, and even if we somehow discovered what it was, I highly doubt it would be the answer to cheating death. Sure, engaging in health-promoting behaviours can make us feel better, but it can also make us feel worse mentally when we take it to extremes. We only have one life – why spend it counting calories, obsessing about what’s in/not in your food, or stressing about whether you’ve “done enough” when you can just enjoy it?

By the same token, there is no single food that is going to cure cancer, pay your mortgage and guarantee a long and disease-free life. Food is food. While some foods are associated with better health outcomes than others, there are so many other factors that play into health – you are not a “bad” person if you eat less nutritious foods, nor is there some miracle food that will solve all of your problems.

2. If health is a priority, we need to put more focus on social determinants.

Many public health initiatives, like posting calories on menu boards or banning all drinks except water from public schools, are at best band-aid solutions or window dressings, and at worst doing more harm than good. If we really care about health (and I should note here that it doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t), then we need to do more work in reducing poverty, fighting for equality and improving access to care.

3. Let’s stop it with the 80/20 Rules, ok?

So far, we’ve debunked two 80/20 Rules – NEXT!

#Health is NOT 80% #nutrition, 20% exercise

Actress Olivia Munn arrives at a screening of X-Men Apocalypse at a cinema in London, Britain, May 9, 2016. (REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Cameron Diaz, Olivia Munn and supermodel Miranda Kerr are just a few of the celebrities who have been associated with the 80/20 diet lately, crediting this “simple rule” for their slim figures.

Many insist this diet isn’t just another fad but rather an approach to a healthy lifestyle. We’ve all heard that before; you can eat the foods you like, lose the weight and keep it off— you know the promises.

Often, those promises lead to an all-or-nothing, do-or-die mindset that backfires, says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, director at The Nutrition Exercise Wellness (N.E.W.) Program. “It becomes an onerous, negative influence on your life, and you give up. This is not how life works, and it certainly is not how your health works,” Quebbeman says.

The upside of the 80/20 diet, he says, is that it allows you to avoid that failure-prone mindset and give yourself a little freedom to enjoy your diet more. The idea is that you eat healthfully 80 percent of the time, and indulge the other 20 percent of the time. Seems simple, but it’s easier to mess up than you might think.

READ MORE: Six Benefits of Eating Healthy

If you’re considering the 80/20 approach to weight loss, read this first:

Think in terms of calories or servings, not entire meals

Eating healthy food 80 percent of the time with no other restrictions doesn’t guarantee weight loss on its own, so proceed with caution. “I’d fear that the 20 percent of the diet would be used as a free pass to eat without restriction,” says Debra Nessel, a registered dietitian at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.

For example, if you eat healthy for three days, and then on the fourth day down a 3,000 calorie meal of pasta and cream sauce with dessert, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

“The idea is not to give yourself permission to destroy your health 20 percent of the time, and rebound 80 percent of the time,” Quebbemann says, adding that to lose weight and keep it off, you must maintain a calorie deficit, which occurs when you eat fewer calories than you expend.

Instead, track your calories for a week and try to get 80 percent of your calories from healthy foods, or make sure 80 percent of the servings you eat are from healthy sources. The remaining 20 percent of calories or servings would then come from indulgences.

READ MORE: Are You Too Heavy to Buy Life Insurance?

Eat the right ‘80 percent’ foods

Unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, fish, low-fat dairy, and whole grains are nutritious foods to target most of the time. If cooking with oil, use olive or safflower and use it sparingly.

Nessel gives these additional tips for getting proper nutrition while limiting calories:

● Eat a high-protein, high-fiber breakfast within one hour of waking, like Greek yogurt and berries.

● Eat a high-protein, high-fiber snack midday.

● Always strive for more nonstarchy vegetables like leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli and peppers.

● Stay hydrated. Drinking water and other sugar-free, non-caffeinated fluids helps you feel full, which can help you avoid confusing thirst for hunger. Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, but you may need more if you’re overweight, active, or live somewhere with a hot climate.

She also suggests you plan your meals ahead of time and record what you actually eat in a journal. “The forethought involved in the planning serves to keep folks on track,” Nessel says.

READ MORE: How Eating Your Veggies Can Save You Money

Don’t substitute the diet for exercise

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. In addition, you should get 30 minutes of strength training in, twice a week.

You can apply the 80/20 rule to the AHA guidelines by working out four out of every five days if you want a unifying principle, but that might not fit into your schedule. Instead, try to meet the minimum exercise requirements each week, to the best of your ability, thinking of diet and exercise separately.

There is no miracle method for weight loss. In reality, a healthy lifestyle takes practice and dedication, and its effects don’t show up overnight. “Take good advice as just that, good advice,” Quebbemann says, “and work gradually to see how you can incorporate it into your improved lifestyle.”

READ MORE: Whose Insurance Rates Are Affected by Obesity?

Should You Follow the 80/20 Diet?

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You’ve probably heard of people who follow the 80/20 rule. Many celebs swear by it: Jillian Michaels has said she follows an 80/20 eating plan, as does Miranda Kerr and Jessica Alba. Australian chef Teresa Cutter even wrote a book about it.

We can see why this diet has so many famous fans. Quite frankly, it sounds pretty sweet. Instead of following a perfectly “clean” diet, you’re encouraged to eat healthy 80% of the time. In other words, you can eat well during the week but give an enthusiastic yes (sans guilt) to that burger you’ve been craving on the weekend.

But is the 80/20 rule too good to be true? And will eating less-than-healthy foods 20% of the time sabotage your weight loss efforts? We tapped registered dietitians to get their take.

RELATED: Here’s What You Should Know About the Intermittent Fasting Trend

Is it healthy?

It can be. Following an 80/20 diet can help you maintain a balanced mindset about eating, experts say. “Being healthy doesn’t require eating ‘perfectly’—whatever that might be,” says Rachael Hartley, RD, a dietitian at Avocado A Day Nutrition LLC and co-founder of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program. “If 80% of your diet consists of nutritious whole foods, there’s room for the other 20% to come from fun foods without compromising health,” she says.

Also good: Knowing you can occasionally indulge in an ice cream sundae or to-die-for Italian pasta meal will make you more motivated to stick to healthy habits at other times, notes Chicago-area dietitian Christine Palumbo, RDN.

RELATED: How Much Sodium Should You Actually Eat?

The downsides

“We are notoriously terrible at counting calories, estimating portions, and assessing how much we really eat,” says Samantha Heller, RDN, author of The Only Cleanse and a SiriusXM radio host. “So it makes sense that we wouldn’t be very good at estimating what 20% of our diet is.”

It’s also important to consider how you categorize the foods that fall into that 20% category. Labeling chips or brownies “bad” can ultimately make you feel guilty about your choices—and that’s the exact opposite of what 80/20 should do for you. The word “cheat” “implies that healthy eating is punitive,” Heller points out.

Ultimately, know that indulging has a place in any sane eating plan. “While the 20% may not be contributing much nutritiously, these foods can be nourishing in other ways,” says Hartley. Namely, how a cheese plate with the girls is exactly what you need on a Friday night. Or how that double scoop totally feeds your soul.

RELATED: 24 Things You Should Never Order When You Eat Out

How to try it

For the 80%, fill your plate with fresh, whole foods like veggies, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, dairy, lean meats, and fish. Your 20% can be any food you want, though it’s best to stick to foods you truly love. Those treats will give you the biggest boost of satisfaction.

The way you go about it depends on your personality. If you want more structure, Palumbo suggests allowing yourself four freebie meals throughout a given week, or one full day plus an additional meal. You can also eat nutritiously most of the time and fit in one or two small indulgences a day.

But you can also be more lax and consider 80/20 a general guideline rather than a rule. Hartley is a big proponent of intuitive eating—listening to your body, feeding it nutritious foods most of the time, and following your intuition when indulging. She says that eating like this tends to naturally shake out to 80/20 without really thinking about it.

If you’ve tried 80/20 and find you go crazy with “cheat” days or meals and you’re not seeing the results you want (hello Mexican meal with margaritas, guac, enchiladas, and ice cream for dessert), Palumbo recommends aiming for 90/10. “Often 80/20 leaves too much leeway for indulgences, whereas 90/10 is pretty strict but does allow for a few,” she says. You can look forward to two freebie meals per week, and this method reduces the risk of overeating. “You can easily consume hundreds of calories in a few minutes, which can negate all of your hard work,” she says.

No matter how you approach it, the message is clear: let them eat cake—in moderation, of course.

  • Dietary guidelines have changed over the years as research becomes more accurate in determining what we should eat to attain optimal health and weight. The strongest evidence to date shows that calories matter, but focusing on food quality is an equally important part of preventing weight gain and promoting weight loss.
  • Focus on eating high-quality foods in appropriately sized portions.

Consider quality, not just calories

“A calorie is a calorie” is an oft-repeated dietary slogan, and not overeating is indeed an important health measure. Rather than focusing on calories alone, however, emerging research shows that quality is also key in determining what we should eat and what we should avoid in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Rather than choosing foods based only on caloric value, think instead about choosing high-quality, healthy foods, and minimizing low-quality foods.

  • High-quality foods include unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein – the foods recommended in the Healthy Eating Plate.
  • Lower-quality foods include highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods such as potatoes.

There isn’t one “perfect” diet for everyone, owing to individual differences in genes and lifestyle.

Quality counts

One study analyzed whether certain foods were more or less likely to promote weight gain. This type of research examining specific foods and drinks allows us to understand whether “a calorie is a calorie,” or if eating more higher-quality foods and fewer lower-quality foods can lead to weight loss and maintenance.

Researchers in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health show us that quality is in fact very important in determining what we should eat to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and that the notion of “a calorie is a calorie” does not tell the whole story.

  • In a study of over 120,000 healthy women and men spanning 20 years, researchers determined that weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and both processed and unprocessed red meats. The researchers concluded that consumption of processed foods higher in starches, refined grains, fats, and sugars can increase weight gain.
  • Foods shown to be associated with weight loss were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt.
  • Researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods) is an important factor in helping individuals consume fewer calories. (23)

View the HSPH news release, “Changes in specific dietary factors may have big impact on long-term weight gain: Weight-loss Strategy to Only ‘Eat Less, Exercise More” May be Overly Simplistic’”

Managing macronutrients: Does it matter?

With the proliferation of macronutrient-based diets over the past several decades, from low-fat to low-carbohydrate, discussion of the three main macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – has become standard when talking about optimal diets. Researchers have begun comparing these “macronutrient management”-style diets to one another in order to determine which is most effective, but thus far evidence is largely inconclusive.

One study, published in JAMA in 2007, compared four weight-loss diets ranging from low to high carbohydrate intake. This 12-month trial followed over 300 overweight and obese premenopausal women, randomly assigning them to either an Atkins (very low carbohydrate), Zone (low carbohydrate), LEARN (high carbohydrate), or Ornish (very high in carbohydrate) diet.

  • After one year, weight loss was greater for women in the Atkins diet group compared with the other diet groups.
  • This study also examined secondary outcomes focused on metabolic effects (such as cholesterol, body fat percentage, glucose levels and blood pressure), and found that those for the Atkins group were comparable with or more favorable than the other diet groups.
  • There was no significant difference in weight loss among the other three diets (Zone, LEARN, and Ornish).
  • This study does raise questions about about long-term effects and mechanisms, but the researchers concluded that a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet may be considered a feasible recommendation for weight loss. (24)

Another study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, challenged the above study’s findings by testing four different types of diets and producing results that showed comparable average weight loss among the different diets.

  • The study followed 800 people over 2 years, assigning subjects to one of four diets: Low-fat and average-protein, low-fat and high-protein, high-fat and average-protein, and high-fat and high protein.
  • Researchers concluded that all of the diets resulted in meaningful weight loss, despite the differences in macronutrient composition.
  • The study also found that the more group counseling sessions participants attended, the more weight they lost, and the less weight they regained. This supports the idea that not only is what you eat important, but behavioral, psychological, and social factors are important for weight loss as well. (25)

An additional study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2010, looked at the role of protein and glycemic index upon weight loss maintenance. Researchers first implemented a low-calorie diet to produce weight loss, then examined whether protein and glycemic index impacted weight loss maintenance.

  • The study population was made up of nearly 800 overweight adults from European countries who had lost at least 8% of their initial body weight with a low-calorie diet. Participants were then assigned one of five diets to prevent weight regain over a 26-week period: A low-protein and low-glycemic-index diet, a low-protein and high-glycemic-index diet, a high-protein and low-glycemic-index diet, a high-protein and high-glycemic-index diet, or a control diet.
  • The low-protein-high-glycemic-index diet was associated with subsequent significant weight regain, and weight regain was less in the groups assigned to a high-protein diet than in those assigned to a low-protein diet, as well as less in the groups assigned to a low-glycemic-index diet than in those assigned to a high-glycemic-index diet.

  • These results show that a modest increase in protein content and a modest reduction in the glycemic index led to an improvement in maintenance of weight loss. (26)

The results from these three studies suggest that there may be some benefits to a macronutrient-based dietary approach, but research also shows that while a particular diet may result in weight loss for one person, it may not be effective for another person due to individual differences in genes and lifestyle. For those seeking the “perfect” one-size-fits-all diet, then, there isn’t one! The great news is that everyone can follow The Healthy Eating Plate guidelines and choose healthy, flavorful foods to create a diet that works best for you.

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Tag Archives: 80/20 rule

Some thoughts and considerations…

Getting older has its merits; but, of course along with it, the typical thoughts that go along with the ever-accelerating passage of time. The latter are likely more positive when one is healthy, allowing for the enjoyment of the beneficial elements of aging and yet so many individuals suffer considerably with chronic disease as their years progress. And, it is not a stretch to say that the majority of these situations are preventable. I turned 50 last year and I am extremely fortunate that I can say I feel little difference physically to when I was a young man in my twenties. Even typing that feels strange as it implies that I am not young and; yet, I feel as young as I ever have in nearly every way.

There could be many reasons for my good fortune. I was a competitive athlete for most of my life and I have continued to be extremely active working in the health and fitness industry. My parents are still playing golf in their 80s and show little sign of slowing down; and, so I likely have pretty decent genes. I know many individuals, however, that can say the same about their athletic past and healthy relatives but without the same enthusiasm for their current vitality. So I am confident that the major reason in providing me the good health I enjoy at 50 is because Dr. Cordain introduced me to the Paleo diet back in 1988 when I arrived as a graduate student at Colorado State University. Consequently, the Paleo diet has been my dietary template – both personally and professionally – since that time and; as a result, I feel I have more than a few thoughts that merit sharing about the diet that has now taken the world by storm.

The first topic worth addressing; particularly for those thinking about adopting the Paleo diet, is that of the constant attacks the diet comes under because of its newfound popularity. For those interested in the details of the many ludicrous attacks and unsubstantiated claims against the Paleo way of eating and the responses thereto, you can read a number of rebuttals1,2,3,4 I have recently penned. However, you can also realize that these unsupported attacks follow the same worn-out tracks that have, to date, not gained any traction worthy of merit. Further, the authors of such attacks demonstrate that they are either woefully ignorant of the science supporting the Paleo diet or that they are a pawn to the corporations that stand to lose financially the more the Paleo diet gains followers. Ultimately, the research, clinical findings, and individual success stories supporting the Paleo diet have set it on a path without an end. Therefore, it is important to become educated about the Paleo diet to make sure that the path followed is the right one and not an imposter hiding behind the name.

To that end, the Paleo diet template is such a simple concept, and one that resonated with me back in 1988. It made immediate sense to me back then and nothing has changed that thinking today. When I first heard Dr. Cordain outline the template for optimal nutrition, I simply heard the message that the diet represents the consumption of foods that the earth naturally provides for human consumption without human intervention. Non-Paleo foods represent the exact opposite. The foods on the Paleo diet template – animal protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, can all be consumed without human intervention, but those not on the Paleo diet template – grains, legumes, and dairy; with milk being an exception, can not. And with respect to non-human milk, for its consumption to be considered natural, one has to accept the image above to be natural for humans.

Since being introduced to the Paleo diet template, I have had my fair share of non-Paleo diet foods as I have always allowed myself to eat foods outside of the template that I enjoy. Having said that, I do not eat the foods outside of the template ad libitum, and it is always my guide when making healthy food choices. An example I always share with my clients is a dish I usual order at a local Mexican restaurant. The menu item is a lemon-garlic sautéed chicken breast that comes with; of course, rice and beans. I never fail to request that the rice and beans be replaced with sautéed or steamed vegetables and I have never come across a restaurant that won’t accommodate this kind of request. Making these sorts of small adjustments to meals add up over time and; so, even for people that eat out a lot, their diet can be improved considerably following the Paleo diet template. Eating free range animal protein and organic produce is not always possible eating out at restaurants and I am not going to try and argue that doing so as much as possible is not optimal.

However, I will say that avoidance of the non-Paleo foods, grains, legumes and dairy, is the more important practice. A goal of eating 80% Paleo foods has worked well for my wife, myself, and the majority of my clients. I also do not allow my clients to make the non-Paleo 20% quantity highly processed “junk” food; rather, I split the non-Paleo quantity into 15% minimally processed non-Paleo foods (i.e., “clean” grains, legumes and dairy) and the remaining 5%, if desired, into highly processed “junk” foods. I have also found that individuals adopting an 80:20 Paleo to non-Paleo diet quickly develop a different palate that allows the 80:20 split to be more easily attained; and, in many cases, individuals increase the quantity of Paleo foods by preference. Improved health following this 80:20 template indicates that it is sufficient for the body to obtain the necessary nutrients while also allowing the body to deal with the negatives of the non-Paleo foods (e.g., anti-nutrient consumption) without consequence. It might even be argued, that for many people, a small quantity of non-Paleo foods are useful to maintain the effectiveness of the physiological mechanisms that handle foods containing anti-nutrients.

However, I have also found there to be a significant amount of variability with respect to this. Some people can attain their health goals with a 70:30 approach, while others need a 90:10 approach. So if you are not seeing the results you expected by adopting the Paleo diet, you may need to be stricter and increase your ratio of Paleo foods to non-Paleo foods. However, regardless of the ratio of Paleo foods to non-Paleo foods with which you see effective results, I also recommend following a strict Paleo diet plan for around 7-14 days, 3-4 times per year to maintain optimal health.

But what if you have been extremely strict with your adoption of the Paleo diet and you are still not seeing an improvement in your health or specific chronic condition? Over ten years ago, while lecturing on high-intensity interval training and the Paleo diet, I met a clinical nutritionist by the name of Dr. Oscar Coetzee. Dr. Coetzee is one of the most impressive nutritional practitioners I have had the pleasure to work with and I have frequently sought his expertise with difficult clinical cases. He is currently lecturing and researching nutritional protocols at the Marlyand University of Integrative Health, with his research efforts now focusing on intestinal permeability, autoimmune diseases and cancer. He is an advocate for the Paleo diet and the answer to why a strict Paleo diet may not work for someone is tied to intestinal permeability. Consequently, Dr. Coetzee and I are going to address the above question in a series of articles for blog in the coming months. But simply stated, the answer lies in adopting, virtually, a liquid Paleo diet. So, if you are someone, or know of someone that has not had the expected results following a strict Paleo diet, stay tuned!

Following one of my recent rebuttals, I was Tweeted the statement “you must realize that a Paleo diet lifestyle is unrealistic.” This is a common criticism and yet it is easy to see the lack of logic in this thinking. If the Paleo diet was so hard to follow or is unrealistic, how has it gained such popularity? The fact is, the Paleo diet is not unrealistic at all, particularly the 80:20 approach, and as demand changes supply, we are seeing how its popularity is changing the landscape with respect to the choices being made available to the consumer.

A 100% Paleo diet may well be unrealistic or perhaps better stated, unnecessary for most. But I have also seen autoimmune patients, who discover they do not have the luxury of being able to eat outside of the Paleo template without consequences, follow a 100% Paleo diet with little problem. In my rebuttal to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), I challenged the BDA to choose and analyze 21 meals (7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners) from Dr. Cordain’s The Paleo Diet Cookbook. Then, having done so, defend their position that the Paleo Diet is “an unbalanced, sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies, which can compromise health.”

Despite me quoting exactly the BDA’s analysis earlier in the rebuttal, I received an e-mail from an individual challenging my closing statement because I did not fully address the statement that the Paleo diet could be “An unbalanced, time consuming, socially isolating diet, which this could easily be, is a sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies, which can compromise health and your relationship with food.” Because the BDA were so off base with their nutritional analysis of the Paleo diet, I quite honestly did not take their positions of it being time consuming and socially isolating too seriously, so let’s address those now.

For individuals experienced in following a Paleo diet, they are well aware that it is no more time consuming than any other diet that actually prepares the food from scratch. It is, of course, more time consuming than eating out from fast food restaurants or than grabbing highly processed, pre-packaged foods. However, I can assure anyone thinking of adopting the Paleo diet that the small investment of time in preparing meals at home following the Paleo diet template, would be well worth the investment. Having said that, I have had many clients that rarely cook at home and yet have improved their health considerably by using the Paleo diet template as their guide when eating out at restaurants. As to the Paleo diet being socially isolating, presumably because of the avoidance of grains, legumes, and dairy, the BDA endorses vegan diets, and so some how, the elimination of dairy, meat and fish does not have the potential for social isolation but the elimination of grains, legumes, and dairy does! For what it’s worth, I don’t think that following a vegan diet is socially isolating either, we should all respect everyone’s individual food choice, I just hope people make choices based upon accurate nutritional information. And similarly with the suggestion that the Paleo diet is unrealistic, the diet’s popularity wouldn’t have ballooned if the diet was socially isolating.

So what has more than 25 years of eating and recommending the Paleo diet taught me? Very simple, it is not time consuming and is easy to implement. For most of you, you do not have to be 100% strict and can find the balance that works best for you. In doing so, you will not find yourself an outcast in society and your health and vitality will change dramatically for the better.

Dr. Mark J. Smith

Dr. Mark J. Smith graduated from Loughborough University of Technology, England, with a Bachelor of Science in PE & Sports Science and then obtained his teaching certificate in PE & Mathematics. As a top-level rugby player, he then moved to the United States and played for the Boston Rugby Club while searching the American college system for an opportunity to commence his Master’s degree. That search led him to Colorado State University where Dr. Smith completed his Masters degree in Exercise and Sport Science, with a specialization in Exercise Physiology. He continued his studies in the Department of Physiology, where he obtained his Doctorate. His research focused on the prevention of atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque in arteries that leads to cardiovascular disease); in particular, using low-dose aspirin and antioxidant supplementation. Read more…

1. “Dr Mark Smith Rebuttal To Dr Christina Warinner TEDxOU Presentation.”Medical Meals Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

2. “Weighing in On The Paleo Diet – Dr. Mark Smith Chews the Fat.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 12 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

3. “British Dietetic Association (BDA) Against Adopting The Paleo Diet.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

4. “Sprouting Truth From the Rubble: Modern Paleo Diet Template.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

Why 80/20 Paleo is a Recipe for Disaster

Jeremy Hendon | July 21

You can call me the Paleo police or a bad person or whatever you want.

But this needs to be said, because I hear SO many people tell me that they’re 80/20 Paleo. And it’s a recipe for disaster.

80/20 Paleo is Completely Backwards

The term “80/20” originated (at least popularly) with a guy named Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He went on to develop a general principle that 80% of the effects you get come from 20% of the actions/causes.

For instance, in business, 20% of your clients often account for 80% of your business.

Let’s think about this in the case of diet, nutrition, and Paleo.

What you’re trying to get is 80% of the results. You want to feel 80% as good as you would if you were 100% strict.
Ideally, you can achieve that 80% of feeling better by only doing 20% of the things you would do if you were trying to be perfect.

In Paleo, this is the opposite of what most people do. Most people try to be “good” 80% of the time, but they end up getting perhaps 20% of the benefit.

If you’re not going to be perfect (and I’m most definitely not perfect), why wouldn’t you want to do the least work for the maximum benefit?

What’s Most Important About Paleo

Let’s take a step back for a minute.

Being Paleo is about 2 things:

1. Eating foods high in nutrients; and
2. Avoiding foods high in toxins.

We might use a evolutionary model to get to these 2 concepts, but really, your body knows only about nutrients and toxins.

And that’s really important to remember, because most people think of 80/20 Paleo as avoiding non-Paleo foods 80% of the time. But that’s a problem.

You Can’t Just Say that 80% of Your Meals are Paleo

Your body doesn’t really work on a meal-by-meal basis. If you drink arsenic at one meal, it doesn’t matter that it was only one meal.

If you’re sensitive to gluten, eating it just once can lead to inflammation and other ramifications for months. In other words, you’re not just 20% inflamed because you eat crappy food at less than 20% of your meals.

If 20% of your foods are high in toxins, then your body is most likely going to be 80% worse off (which, in the end, is really being 20/80 Paleo).

For instance, if you spend all day Saturday eating pizza, cupcakes, and donuts, that’s pretty clearly toxic. So how much does that count for? Does one day of cheating get you enough toxins to last you for a few months? Quite possibly

What all this means is that eating non-Paleo foods for 20% of your meals really means that you’re not getting much of the benefit of a good diet at all. Think about it. Before you ever heard of Paleo, at least 30 or 40% of the foods you ate were probably Paleo, but you wouldn’t have considered yourself 30 or 40% Paleo at that time.

It’s silly.

Feeling a Little Better is Not Good Enough

Doing your version of 80/20 Paleo might make you feel better than you used to. I know you want a pat on the back for it.

And in many cases, when people are just starting out, I give them that kind of encouragement. But at some point you need to be honest with yourself.

You don’t actually know how much better you might feel or how much healthier you could be. Until you spend many months (or years) getting enough nutrients and avoiding highly toxic foods, you don’t really know how much better off you could be.

Just think back to the time before you went Paleo at all. You almost assuredly felt worse, but most days you probably didn’t think that you felt that bad. It was only once you started feeling better that you even realized the possibility of living a better life.

Well…there’s a whole other level.

What 80/20 SHOULD Be

If you actually want to be 80/20 Paleo, then you need to ask yourself what the 20% of most important things are. And here are a few suggestions:

1. Always sleeping at least 8 hours.
2. Never eating gluten, processed sugar, or omega-6 seed oils.
3. Moving around more often every single day.

On the other hand, here are things I’d do to be perfect, but probably not if I were 80/20 Paleo:

1. Buying grass-fed meat
2. Buying organic vegetables.
3. Taking the right supplements and vitamins.
4. Avoiding Legumes.
5. Avoiding Pasteurized Dairy.
6. Intense Exercise.
7. Eating more organ meats.
8. Eating locally and seasonally.
9. Avoiding Rice and non-gluten containing grains.
10. Spending more time in nature.
11. Learning to de-stress.
12. Building a stronger community and social network.

Are these last 12 things good to do? Absolutely. Of course they are good for you. But if you do just the first 3, you’ll get about 80% of the results of doing all 15.

The key, though, is that you’d need to do those first 3 things 100% of the time. That’s what 80/20 really is. It’s doing the few things that are most important and getting most of the results.

Let’s All Be Better

I help people with diet, fitness, and health because I love feeling better and having loads more energy. That’s something I’d love for everyone to have.

It makes me a little bit sad to see so many people doing 80% of the work only to get 20% of the results. Doesn’t seem to me like the best way to do things.

I’m definitely not perfect, even with respect to the 3 things I listed above. I’ve eaten at restaurants in the past year that I’m sure used seed oils to cook my food. And there have been days when I sat all day long.

So perfection – even within an 80/20 framework – isn’t necessary or often possible, but it should be the goal. At least by aiming for 80% of the results, we can hope to get a lot more than if we were aiming for just 20% of the results.

Images: Copyright (c) designer491 from Fotolia and flytoskyft11 from Fotolia

Editorial note: we deleted the first line of this post “I’m going to kick your dog. Hard.” This was never meant to be offensive in any way – it is a turn of phrase that has nothing to do with animal cruelty. Definition of the phrase can be found here.

What does the 80/20 rule look like?

Articles, Lifestyle | | By PrimalHub

Stop making meal time so hard! Get started with the best Paleo meal plans ever.

When you start to follow the Paleo lifestyle you may hear some common terms that you hadn’t heard before. One of these terms is the “80/20 rule”. You’ll hear conversations and statements such as “I don’t eat Paleo 100% of the time… more like 80 percent of the time”.

What does this mean exactly? Does someone somewhere have some formula we don’t know about? Something that can calculate exactly what you can and can’t eat and for how many days or hours? Or is 80/20 rule more linked to specific foods – where 80 percent of the foods you eat are Paleo and 20 percent of them are not?

How does one really know what 80/20 is?

While hearing about the 80/20 rule may be common… it’s clear that the meaning of the rule is not really known. While the exact definition of 80/20 isn’t really known there are some pretty strong opinions on the matter. You will hear from some people that going 80/20 is the only way to stick to the Paleo lifestyle, while others claim eating 80/20 while on the Paleo diet is a complete disaster.

How can people have such strong opinions about something that seems undefinable?

In the end I think it all comes down to you as an individual. What are your goals? What are you wanting this new food lifestyle to do to your life?

For some of us here at Primal Hub the 80/20 rule simply means to not stress the off days. Let’s face it, no one is perfect… and who really wants to be perfect? Perfect can be boring. 80/20 means trying your hardest to eat the right foods for your body and follow those Paleo guidelines whenever possible… but to also not stress so much about food that your relationship with food becomes unhealthy. When you are at a party with no Paleo options, or you want to go to your favorite restaurant with your friends you can do so.

If you want to decide if 80/20 is for you and what that exactly means, do your research, sit down and make your decision. Here are a few great articles to get you started.

Why We Are 20% Not So Paleo

Thinking the 80/20 rule sounds like the way you want to go? The Paleo Mama shares her’s and her family’s story on why they don’t go 100% Paleo and call themselves an 80/20 Paleo family. Read more here.

For those that the 80/20 Paleo rule doesn’t seem to make sense take a look at what The Paleo Living Magazine has to say about it and why they feel it’s not the right thing to do. Read more here.

What’s Your Paleo Percentage?

Not sure where you stand with this crazy 80/20 rule? Don’t worry – Robb Wolf isn’t sure about it either. Take a look at what he has to say on what your Paleo percentage really is? Read more here.

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My mom and I started following the 80/20 Diet back in 2006! While it’s been over a decade of eating this way, I still remember the sense of freedom I had grabbing Peanut M&M’s from the vending machine that first week. The only thing that topped it was seeing the scale drop 5 pounds in the first week.

Find out why it works, our favorite resources & snag a free meal plan below!

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So What is the 80/20 Diet?

The 80/20 diet is really all about moderation & potion control. You eat healthy, whole foods 80% of the time, and the other 20% can be whatever you want!

Does it work?

We aren’t alone in finding this type of eating to be beneficial both to our waistline and mindset. For me, it was all about not having to diet necessarily. I loved the way I felt eating healthy, and the 20% allowance still let me enjoy nights out with friends and date nights.

Celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Olivia Munn, and Miranda Kerr also have found the 80/20 Rule to be beneficial to them!!

Unlike some crazy diets like the 3 Day Military diet, this 80/20 Principle is dietitian approved too.

Rachael Hartley, RD, a dietitian at Avocado A Day Nutrition LLC and co-founder of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program, says,

“Being healthy doesn’t require eating ‘perfectly’—whatever that might be…If 80% of your diet consists of nutritious whole foods, there’s room for the other 20% to come from fun foods without compromising health,” she says.

Get Our Free 5 Day 80/20 Diet Meal Plan

  • Simple to follow
  • Increased energy
  • Lost Weight
  • No food group is off limits
  • You can enjoy your favorite foods without guilt
  • It’s a lifestyle versus a rigid diet.

What does 20% look like?

As we researched this, there are different approaches out there. Some people look at the 80/20 Diet in meals whereas we look at it in calories. You can really do it either way.

Meal Examples:

Say you eat 3 meals per day

3 meals per day = 21 meals per week
So 20% of 21 meals is a little over 4 meals.
This would mean you could indulge 4 times per week.

Say you eat 6 small meals per day

6 meals per day = 42 meals per week
20% of 42 meals is about 8 1/2 meals.
This would mean you could indulge up to 8 meals and maybe a couple of snacks per week.

We personally struggle with this concept because – what do those 4 or 8 meals look like? Adding in a small fry instead of veggies or pairing dinner with a glass of wine – you are probably right on track with your weight loss goals. However, if your 4 to 8 meals looks like a drive-thru combo run, that’s another story completely.

20% of meals just feels too vague for us.

So what do we do?

20% of Calories Per Day

The downside to this is you do have to track your calories at least at first to learn how much you’re eating per day. We eat a lot of the same foods each week so now it’s second nature without counting. Joy Bauer’s 90/10 Diet also includes a 2 week sample meal plan so that if you followed it – you don’t have to count calories either.

The plus side to the 20% of Your Calories Madness is that you KNOW you’re staying on track with your weight loss or weight maintenance goals. It comes down to calories in and calories out.

Calorie Example:

If you eat 1400 calories per day, that leaves you to have 280 calories of anything you want.

If you have 1600 calories per day, that leaves you to have 320 calories of anything you want.

Just take your total calories and multiply by .2 to find your 20%.

This is all outlined in our free meal plan and Joy’s meal plan in her book.

What foods are allowed?

Anything you want!

We eat about 1400 calories per day, so that means we could have a whole Birthday Cake Halo Top ice cream, a Snickers bar, or whatever we want.

We also could take our 20% allotment and add it to dinner. For example, we may normally eat about 450 calories for dinner, but we really want pizza. We could get 2 slices and be in our caloric budget for the day with that extra 20%.

What do you eat 80% of the time?

It’s always fun to munch on a chocolate chip cookie at a party or grab a slice of pizza, but the reality is we eat clean 80% of the time.

80% of the time we’re eating:

  • Fresh fruits & veggies
  • Lean meats like chicken breast or fish
  • Healthy fats like nuts & avocado
  • Dairy products like Greek yogurt & kefir

Tips to Seeing Results with the 80/20 Diet

  • Watch your portions
  • Track your food (We love My Fitness Pal)
  • Choose Fresh (not boxed) foods 80%

Another tip is to know your bigger cheat days. We love wine festivals, and we go to about 3 a year. Those days we usually enjoy our wine, snacks and then have a nice dinner. There is no telling what our calories are for that 1 day. So instead of having 20% of each day of the week, we’ll go 100% (or as close as we can) during the week to budget for that special outing.

Do you have to exercise on the 80/20 Diet?

You don’t have to exercise with any diet. It just helps you see results, feel better and improves your overall health. We’re all about feeling and looking our best, so we do workout 5 days a week. Ironically, our workout days break down to about 80% of our week as well.

Working out doesn’t have to be miserable or extreme though. We love the 21 Day Fix, 3 Week Yoga Retreat and Beachbody on Demand to mix things up!

Balanced Eating Books

Our favorite diet book that we recommend on a weekly – if not daily – basis is Joy Bauer’s 90/10 Diet.

It’s SERIOUSLY a game-changer! It includes 2 weeks of meal plans, recipes, and WHY the plan works. She really knows her stuff!

Get the 90/10 Diet Book

She also has several cookbooks that aren’t cardboard-food either.

  • Cooking With Joy: The 90/10 Cookbook

  • The 90/10 Weight Loss Cookbook: 100-Plus Slimming Recipes for the Whole Family

The best part? You could get all 3 BOOKS used for under $10 on Amazon right now!

You may also like The 80/20 Diet by Teresa Cutter for additional recipes.

“Often 80/20 leaves too much leeway for indulgences, whereas 90/10 is pretty strict but does allow for a few,” she says. You can look forward to two freebie meals per week, and this method reduces the risk of overeating. “You can easily consume hundreds of calories in a few minutes, which can negate all of your hard work,” she says.

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Fad diets can spread like a virus. Only instead of operating via germ-based transfer properties, diets spawn by way of disbelief.

“Wait, you can’t eat any sugar on Whole30?”

“How much fat are you supposed to eat on keto? Really?”

“Is the Carnivore Diet for real?”

The trend seems to go something like this: The wilder the “rules” of the diet, the more people talk about those wild rules, and the stickier the diet becomes. (That is, until people try the diet, fail, and then don’t talk about it anymore.)

Unfortunately, the fervor of fad diets also makes it difficult for easy, common-sense eating strategies to surface and sustain.

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That might be why something like the 80/20 approach to eating well, though a lifestyle strategy championed by dietitians, has been unsung for so long.

There are no wild rules to 80/20. There are no complex detox periods or “acclimation” stages. There’s nothing you can’t eat. It’s more of a guiding principle of better eating.

And the 80/20 approach to eating may do wonders for your waistline too.

What is the 80/20 approach to eating?


The 80/20 eating strategy is where you devote 80 percent of your efforts toward eating healthfully and the other 20 percent toward not worrying about eating healthfully.

Here’s how that breaks down.

Eat 80 percent of your diet in whole and minimally processed foods that you like.

“Whole” foods are foods that haven’t undergone a ton of processing and largely have one ingredient on their ingredients list. Examples: beef, salmon, eggs, milk, peanuts, sunflower seeds, apples, corn on the cob, potatoes, and black beans.

Thomas Barwick

With packaged foods, each additional ingredient signals an extra step in processing, which may have stripped away some of the good stuff. And often, to make up for lost flavor, food manufacturers pump processed foods with sugar and fat. These foods also tend to be higher in calories. Eat too many calories and you’ll likely gain weight.

Note the important clause “that you like.” Eating in accordance to 80/20 doesn’t mean that you have to eat healthful foods you hate.

Eat 20 percent of whatever you want.

Michael Berman

Consider this your breathing room; your gut-check for unattainable dietary “perfectionism.” But whatever you call it, don’t call it your reward. This isn’t the slice of cake you’re allowed to enjoy after suffering through mixed greens salads all week.

This 20 percent merely helps you keep your sanity intact by allowing you to continue to enjoy the foods you enjoy—without making them a significant part of your diet.

You can choose to disperse this 20 percent however you see fit. It can be in the form of small indulgences every day, or you can save up for a bigger meal.

Why does the 80/20 approach to eating work?

Tara Moore

Simply put, it’s realistic. And flexible to how you actually live.

“The results you get from what you put in your body don’t come from what you do some of the time, but rather what you do most of the time,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., co-owner of Mohr Results, a health and nutrition consulting company.

In fact, Mohr applies the 80/20 approach to his own life.

“And ‘most’ of the time for me is about 80 percent of the time, allowing 20 percent for what I call a ‘conscious indulgence,'” he says. For Mohr, that could be a night out with friends with a couple drinks or ordering a dessert.

“The key is to not allow these conscious indulgences to bleed into the rest of the day or the next day, but rather enjoy them occasionally and then get back to fueling your body with quality nutrition,” he says.

“Nothing else in your life is all-or-nothing—and nutrition doesn’t have to be either.”

Paul Kita Paul is the Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health.

80 20 20 diet

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