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Why I follow the 80-20 Rule

By Rachael Attard, Updated Jun 26, 2021
Why I follow the 80:20 rule in my diet

If you’ve been around my site for a while, you might have heard me talk about the 80-20 rule. It’s a nutrition guideline that I like to follow because of the flexibility and balance that it offers. Lots of celebrities and models also like to follow this guideline. In general, Victoria’s Secret models follow it, as do some actresses like Nicole Kidman.

In this article, I’ll be explaining more about what the 80:20 rule is in-depth, some pros and cons of it, how you can incorporate it into your life, and my thoughts about it. :)

What Is the 80-20 Rule?

A lot of us want to eat healthy most of the time, but we also want opportunities to eat some of the less-healthy meals, drinks, and desserts. The 80-20 rule helps people follow through with these intentions.

This rule is pretty straightforward. You eat healthy, nutritious foods about 80 percent of the time, and you eat treats or less-healthy options the rest of the time.

How to Apply the 80-20 Rule to Your Diet

This rule is pretty flexible, and people are able to adapt it to fit their lifestyle and fitness needs. I’ve been eating this way for a long time, and these are some of my suggestions for people who want to try it out:

Consider Weekly vs Daily

Different people follow the diet in different ways. Some people like to focus on this rule on a daily basis, but others like to follow a weekly schedule. You can do what works best for you, but people seem to gravitate toward the weekly plan more often.

If you do this weekly, that means that 17 of your 21 meals per week (if you eat three meals a day) should be healthy meals, and 4 are what’s considered less healthy meals or treats. Many people like the flexibility this offers them to eat out with friends, bake at home, or enjoy other treats throughout their week. Some people like to save their treats for the weekend, but others like to spread them out throughout the week.

People who follow this plan on a daily basis focus on picking healthy choices 80% of the time every day, and they can eat treats the remaining time. However, you do need to be careful about this if you want to lose weight. Remember, the 80-20 rule applies to the ratio of the types of food you’re eating, but it should also apply to the calorie content of the foods you’re eating, especially if you’re doing this on a day-to-day basis. :)

If you choose the daily approach, your 20 percent treat could be something like chocolate in the afternoon, dessert after lunch, bag of chips after dinner.

RELATED POST: Top 7 Healthy and Easy Snacks

how to apply the 80:20 rule

Prepare Your Meals in Advance

When I talk to people about making healthy food choices, one of the biggest hurdles they tell me they face is eating healthy while having a busy schedule. I get it! When you’re rushed and hungry, it is much easier to grab a processed snack or fast food than having a nutritious meal with whole ingredients.

That’s why I recommend meal-prepping as much as possible. I love planning out my meals and keeping healthy snacks at home and in my bag. I can eat these if I’m feeling extra hungry one day, without stopping for a candy bar or chips!

Planning out and preparing your meals in advance will help you stay on track with the 80-20 rule. :)

Don’t Forget Exercise

The 80:20 rule is really good for people who exercise regularly and who are burning extra calories through their workouts. Working out helps burn off the extra calories consumed from the 20 percent portion of the diet.

People who follow this rule but don’t exercise might not experience as much weight loss if that is your goal.

Modify If You Need

Don’t be afraid to modify this plan as you need! I eat like this but my goal isn’t to lose weight, I want to maintain it. So this rule can be followed by anyone, whether you want to lose or maintain weight. :)

When modifying the 80-20 rule, consider trying to:

  • Exercise 3 times a week for a healthy lifestyle
  • Keep portion control in mind
  • Follow a 90-10 plan or a 70-30 plan instead, as this might be the ratio that works best for you

RELATED POST: Why Portion Control Matters and How to Do It Right

Recommended Foods to Eat on the 80-20 Diet

What counts as “healthy” will vary for different people depending on their health and fitness needs, and some people like to talk to a doctor or nutritionist to figure out what’s best for them.

However, in general, foods that you should eat about 80 percent of the time include:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables (most adults should get at least 2.5 cups of veggies a day)
  • Lean protein
  • Seafood products
  • Monosaturated fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil
  • Some dairy products, especially lower-fat varieties
  • Milk alternatives, like soy

Foods and drinks that you should save for the remaining 20 percent of your diet include:

  • Refined carbohydrates and sugar, especially in excess
  • Saturated fats
  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods
Benefits of the 80-20 rule

The Benefits of the 80-20 Rule

It’s Relatively Easy and Not Overly Restricting

Following the 80-20 rule does not require significant deprivation. You have to have some self-control about what you eat, how much, and when. However, compared to many other nutrition plans, it’s very moderate. I like that the 80-20 rule promotes moderation. I find that that makes it a sustainable, long-term approach to healthy eating. :)

RELATED POST: How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food

It Becomes Second Nature

Over time, following the 80-20 rule becomes very natural and simply part of your everyday lifestyle. It impacts the way I shop for groceries, how I cook, what I pick at restaurants, and how I make everyday food choices.

This makes it a good system for people who are busy and don’t have time with really complicated programs.

No Calorie Counting

Counting calories can help you see how many calories are actually in the food you’re eating on a regular basis, and some people have excellent success with counting calories.

However, for many people, counting calories is too much work to be sustainable. In addition to this, some people struggle with the mental health side of calorie counting. Some might find that it is too restrictive or that it triggers some disordered thinking surrounding food.

Although you can count calories on the 80-20 diet, I choose not to.

drwabacks of the 80-20 diet

The Downsides of the 80-20 Rule

It Doesn’t Work With Some Other Diets

This rule might not work for everybody, especially for people who are trying to follow other diets in addition to the 80-20 rule. For example, people on keto would likely gain a lot of weight if they followed keto 80 percent of the time, and then indulged in sugary carbs the remaining time.

In addition to this, some people follow diets to manage their health concerns, such as diabetes, and this rule might not accommodate their needs appropriately. As with any diet, people with health problems should consult their doctor about their dietary needs. :)

RELATED POST: Is the Keto Diet Good For You?

Some Struggle With Guilt

Labeling foods as “good” and “healthy” vs “bad” or “unhealthy” can lead some people to feel anxiety or guilt over what they eat. People who struggle with eating disorders or body images might have a hard time eating “unhealthy” food without having negative feelings about it.

People who follow this plan need to remember that there’s no such things as good or bad food.. We’re human, and it isn’t healthy to completely restrict ourselves!

RELATED POST: How to Conquer Food Guilt

My Thoughts

I like the flexibility that the 80-20 rule offers. I like that I don’t see any food as forbidden or bad anymore.

I used to be much stricter with my diet and that lead me to binge eating. I would avoid any food that is usually considered bad or unhealthy during the week and then end up overeating and binge eating on those foods during the weekend.

This kind of mindset is not healthy at all which is why I want to emphasise how important it is to find a right healthy diet that works for your body. And the 80-20 rule works best for me. :)

In fact, I’ve actually found that I tend to eat healthier meals ever since I started following the 80-20 rule. If I’m really craving something like pasta for dinner, I eat it without stress. Not thinking of these foods as forbidden has actually made me crave them less and less over time!

The 80-20 rule has been a sustainable approach to eating for me, and I see why so many celebrities and models like to follow it too! It provides a really excellent balance of health without sacrificing the fun parts of life. :)

Love Rachael Xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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