How do you follow the 80/20 rule for eating? Well to summarise quickly you choose to eat healthy foods for 80% of the time, which then gives you the opportunity to indulge in your favorite foods or treats for the remaining 20% of the time.
Here’s how we apply those basic principles to our lifestyle and a guide to help you do so as well.
This is a follow on from the “what is the 80/20 rule”? article I wrote last year, I’d encourage you to read that first before you read this "how to follow the 80/20 rule for eating".
It's referred to as the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s Principle) which when we apply it to food, is definitely more of an approach to eating healthily than a diet.
Why is it not a diet?
A diet is temporary. A person restricts himself or herself to eating special kinds, or particular kinds of food in order to specifically lose weight over a defined period of time.
In contrast, when you follow the 80/20 rule for eating, its a sensible guide to following a healthy balanced sustainable lifestyle for the rest of your life. Today I feel great thanks to the 80/20 eating rule. However, it wasn't always like that.
Back in 2009 I was almost much eating anything I liked, when I liked. I was drinking a bottle of wine most days too. At that time, I wasn’t feeling good about myself. I wasn’t happy with my life or where I was going. My poor diet was the major reason.
I did try a few diets. I did lose some weight but only to gain it back again.
It took me a while but I learnt that diets aren’t a sustainable way of living. Sure, they do work in the short-term but living a life of restriction and / or taking a weird concoction of powders and pills (as with some diets) isn’t natural, is it?
And then I read and learned how to follow the 80/20 rule for eating.
The 80/20 rule for eating is a perfectly sensible, all in moderation rule which can be applied to your weekly eating. It’s what Lynne and I have followed successfully and happily over the last six years.
At the start of learning how to follow the 80/20 rule for eating, I lost two stones initially and Lynne lost five. We now both maintain healthy weights.
The 80/20 rule for eating works because it’s NOT a diet.
If you’re on a diet and you suddenly have a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate cake, then you’re racked with guilt. You blaming yourself.
A diet is complete denial of certain food, in order to lose weight. It’s unrealistic and pretty depressing to think you can never enjoy a treat. You begin to question what’s the point of it all. But you CAN change all that, because if we were able to do it, you can too.
- Start out by properly planning.
Planning is key when learning how to follow the 80/20 rule for eating. I usually plan all our meals for the week ahead on a Friday morning, meaning I can shop for everything I need over the weekend. I also plan for when we’re going to use our 20% treats.
If you consider it, there are 21 main meals in total during the week. Thus, for the 80/20 rule for eating perhaps you’ll want to aim for 3 of those meals to be more “indulgent”. Maybe a glass of wine with your Friday dinner, a reward for working hard all week and abstaining from alcohol? Maybe you’ll save all your 20% up for the weekend and go out to dinner? Maybe you’ll treat yourself to a piece of cake on a Saturday if you’re out shopping. Or maybe you’ll make and have a pudding on a Sunday evening?
That’s the great thing about incorporating the 80/20 rule for eating into the 80/20 way. You decide when you’re having those 3 treats. It’s flexible and no one is dictating it to you. You are the master of your own.
- Eat 5 smaller meals per day, rather than three large portions.
Choose a healthy breakfast during the week and perhaps a more indulgent weekend breakfast / brunch for your weekends. Have a piece of fruit or a snack for your morning and afternoon snacks.
Take a packed lunch such as a soup or a salad to your work. Not only will this help you follow the 80/20 rule for eating, but also as you’re not going looking at all the lunch temptations in the shops, it’ll also save you money in the long term.
Have your evening dinner before 8pm, to allow your body time to digest your food.
At the start of following the 80/20 rule for eating, in order to become familiar with portion sizes and average calories you might want to weigh foods and use nutrition labels (I provide all of those details in my recipes).
Once you become more familiar with knowing what’s healthy and what’s not, you’ll soon start following the right way. It’s not much fun to track every mouthful of food constantly, but it can help at the start. As with anything new you’re starting, you’ve got to start somewhere until you become familiar with it.
- Don’t forget exercise.
Proper physical exercise increases your chances for overall good health.
The 80/20 rule for eating doesn’t work unless you have a regular exercise routine of at least 30 minutes per day on a 5-day week. This could be two 30 minute runs at a gym, plus 30 minutes of fast walking, plus two 30 minute sessions of strength training. Don't forget to consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
Key Principles On How To Follow The 80/20 Rule For Eating
- Cut down on alcohol (maybe have a glass of wine with a more indulgent meal at the weekend)
- Choose wholemeal and wholegrain products (for example wholemeal bread and wholegrain rice)
- Cut out sugar (tea, coffee, fizzy drinks)
- Make every meal (no ready-made meals)
- Plan every week’s menu in advance
- Watch your portion sizes
- Cut down on caffeine
- Take packed lunches to work
- Eat a breakfast every day
- Eat slowly to allow your brain to register when you’re actually full.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
It works but only if you are honest with yourself. It won’t work only by doing a minimal amount of exercise and only eating healthy at lunchtimes. You’ve got to think of this as a lifestyle. Always follow it and it will become a healthy sustainable lifestyle and second nature.
You might be interested in my next article in this series, how we follow the 80/20 rule, in which I write details about how exactly, giving you a typical week of meals and exercise, Lynne and I live by the 80/20 rule for eating.
I hope you'll check back soon for that update!
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Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy
We follow the 80/20 rule too and it has always worked for us and we don't feel deprived too. We eat whole foods that majoirty of the time, and then we have a couple of induldent meals and a few drinks throughout the week and no damage is done.
Thank you Dannii.
If only everyone would embrace this healthy eating philosophy.
I'm still getting asked "what diet are you on" particularly now by guys my age who think it's some kind of miracle cure I'm on. When I explain what the 80/20 rule is, and how it works, they're generally disappointed as they want some kind of "quick fix" diet to solve everything. They're not willing to change for good to a sustainable and extremely enjoyable way of living. Unfortunately
Susie @ SuzLyfe
Hashtag mic drop. You know that I am so with you on this. As I eat chocolate and baby carrots at 6 in the morning.
Thanks Suz. And, I am of course delighted that you are starting to get your 5 a day so early on in the day! 😉
Amanda @ .running with spoons.
Ohhh yes! My 80/20 sometimes changes to 70/30 or 90/10, but the principles are always the same. At one point I was doing my best to eat 100% clean, and the irony was that I was probably the unhealthiest I've ever been... just because my mind was in a really bad place and the restriction was causing me a lot of unhappiness. It's all about that balance and finding a way of eating that works for you in the long term.
Absolutely Amanda. 🙂
I've been there with the restrictive eating, and like what you experienced, that caused me to be even more miserable than I was when I wasn't happy with my weight initially! It was a "no win" situation until I learned I could still have my treats and eat healthily too. 😀
Julie @ Running in a Skirt
This is exactly how I try to eat! It has worked for me for years!
Fantastic Julie. Thanks so much for emphasising how this works for you too, and that it has done so for years.
There's so many people out there that could embrace the 80/20 lifestyle and get off the continuous dieting loop for life. I hope this will inspire them to do so.
I do love the 80/20 rule. It's a great mental way of eating, and it has a lot of flexibility which is a blessing for me.
Flexibility is the key isn't it? Because it's you controlling when you have those 20% treats and not some diet regime dictating to you.
Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious
I couldn't agree more! Diets do not work. I tell people all the time if there is one thing they do to get healthy and lose weight it's to cut out the sugar. It makes such a huge difference. Great post!
Thanks so much for the feedback Megan. 🙂
Yes. Sugar. It's such a curse isn't it? People just don't realise the weight and health implications it involves.
You would think that after all the publicity of just how many teaspoons of sugar a can of fizzy drink actually contains, people would at least move to the diet variety. But no, sadly I see it in my work every day, people still drinking the full fat variety. 🙁
Great Topic. I look forward to reading more on the details of how the 80/20 rule works for you. This post was written very well - clearly, without "fluff," and without an underlying tone of judgment...almost scientific-style.. <3 (Not that you need my $.02 🙂 )
Thank you Jennifer. I really appreciate your kind words.
I've been meaning to write more about the 80/20 rule for a while now and I spent a great deal of time on this post so that it was factual and not a ramble.
Your feedback justifies the time I spent getting this right. Thank you. 🙂
This is a great post and I agree with you. Diets don't work. I would agree completely that cutting out sugar is a great way but also don't add a lot of artificial sweetener in it's place!
Thanks Hollie! 🙂
And, I'm totally in agreement with you there regarding don't add a lot of artificial sweetener in sugar's place.
We should all just strive to eat only "natural" sugars such as those in fruit, as much as possible shouldn't we?
rachel @ athletic avocado
I think that deprivation is the main contributor to having diets be ineffective! WE are all human and we need to treat ourselves sometimes, that's why this rule is the best bet! Congrats on your success in weight loss and health!
That's absolutely it Rachel, thanks so much for your comment!
I couldn't agree with you more. We ARE all human, we're only here on this planet ONCE and we should allow ourselves the odd treat or two to celebrate just being alive! 🙂
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine
It's just the best thing to eat real food that we were made to eat and some other delicious things you truly want (like boxed cereals) 😉 All good when you feed yourself what you want and it makes you feel vibrant with life!
Real food. You've said it there Rebecca.
Real food just like the delicious recipes you do on your site. Cooking from scratch, with proper good, wholesome ingredients!
It's that real food that truly gives us that feeling that makes us feel full of life. Agreed. 🙂
Oh I believe in the 80/20 whole-heartedly..... However I definitely exercise a TONNNNNNN too !h aha!
80% diet 20% exercise I mean... Now when it comes to food solely... I think it should be more along the lines of 90/10! ha ha!
Now, don't get me started. I'm still giggling after what you said in your video! 😉
Ha ha! Sounds to me like you got it sorted too with the 80/20 Gigi! 🙂
Melanie @ Melanie Cooks
I agree that diets are not a good long-term solutions - I lost weight on them before, just to gain it all back (and then some!). So I've given up on diets and just try to eat everything in moderation. It's great that you put it into the system - 80/20 rule works for most areas of life, and food is no exception! And planning for those 3 "treats" is very smart - otherwise if it's not planned, it will happen randomly (and way more than 3 times).
I'm glad you agree there Melanie. Plus you've got the actual experience too, like myself, where you found that diets only work temporarily.
Ha ha, yeah, if I didn't plan my 3 "treats" I'd be living off cake. 😉
Shashi at RunninSrilankan
Awesome post, Neil! I am horrible with diets, but, I am down with making healthy eating a lifestyle - with room for a treat every now and then. I like your pointers on how to try and adopt the 80/20 rule - but I struggle with cutting out sugar completely - though I have reduced it immensely! I cannot wait to read about how you and lady Lynne follow the 80/20 rule. And BTW - congrats on y'alls weight loss and keeping it for 6 years!
I'm really glad you liked the post Shashi, thanks!
I think that's awesome that you've cut down on sugar immensely! Superb! 🙂
You know, with some recipes, I find it's just impossible to get the same taste and texture, if you remove / reduce the sugar or try and substitute for it. So I say, as long as I can reduce sugar in some of my recipes, it'll still have to stay in some of those other ones! C'est la vie eh? 😉
I cook very healthy but still most days I have to indulge in at least a bite or two of chocolate. Once you start eating fresh fruit, veggies, fish, lean meats, along with the occasional whole grains and nuts and then stray from that, you can definitely feel the affects on your body. It's almost as though it goes into shock, you feel lethargic, moody, you name it - nothing appealing.
I have to say though, if my body could handle it I think I'd be happy eating chocolate and cheese! Of course, that will never happen!
I too enjoy a little piece of chocolate most days Vicki. 🙂
Life would definitely be very boring if we couldn't have a little piece of what we fancy every now and then.
Thanks so much for you kind comments about my post Vicki. 😀