It is common to have personal health goals, especially at the start of a new year. Whether it’s losing weight, disease prevention or management, or just maintaining your overall health. It is no surprise that the way you feed yourself will contribute to your accomplishments toward achieving your goals. 

Often starting a new diet is, at least in part, the means to success. By definition, diet is officially the word used to described the variety of foods that you eat. This would be like, “hey, you know Jane eats a lot of fish in her diet.” 

 In our modern culture the word has a different meaning. In diet culture, the word diet is defined as a temporary restriction from specific food groups or a caloric limitation. Restriction and limitation, for the long term are words that are hard to choke down (pun intended). Especially if you feel like it needs to be perfect all the time, which diet culture would lead you to believe.. 

There are times when restriction and limitation are necessary forever. Such as if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, elimination of gluten is absolutely necessary. Or if you have allergies, complete abstinence is necessary.

Luckily there is a more sustainable way to keep yourself on track with your health journey: The 80/20 Rule.

Aiming for balance

Creating perfection in your food choices day after day, meal after meal is exhausting. As a side note, not only is it exhausting, but the obsessive compulsion to perfecting your diet has coined its own eating disorder called orthorexia. 

Creating sustainable eating habits is not about eating the most nutritious foods all the time. It is about finding balance between what will support your wellness goals (80%) and the deviation that provides you with flexibility (20%). In other words, eighty percent of the time is spent eating nutritious foods that move you in the direction you desire. Then twenty percent allows you to deviate from your wellness journey. Splurge! The 20% is when you are celebrating with family or friends, or when you want to change up your routine a bit. You can’t have the yin without the yang, right? 

80/20 ruleBreakdown of the 80/20 Rule

To be a little more clear let’s break the rule down into a week. Assuming you are eating three times daily you have twenty one eating opportunities per week. Your 20% allows for three to four meals to be flexible. By flexible it means making choices that may not necessarily support your wellness goal. 

Spread those meals out during the week, they can be any day of your choice. Maybe having a flex meal on a hectic weeknight works for you. Or perhaps you are having a get together with friends on a Saturday and you choose to make different food options for that meal.

There are two ways that this concept can go sideways… 

  1. The first is when your entire weekend is a deviation from your goals. If you are working hard to stay “on track” during the week but then your eating habits weekends fall apart. In this case you may need to be a little more strategic about how you are planning your weekend eats. 
  2. Recognize that your 20% provides you with flexibility. It’s not a “cheat meal” (why would you want to cheat on yourself). It is less controlled, and flexible from your wellness routine. When this involves eating a whole pizza and pint of ice cream you may be overdoing it. Check in with yourself. 

So the 80/20 rule is more of a “lifestyle change” than a temporary dietary restriction (diet). It is a way of living, a conscious daily decision to bring about balance and moderation in your eating habits. In turn, you may also feel you are in more control when you are no longer stressed out about making “healthy choices” all of the time!