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.
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!