The 80-20 Rule – How choosing to indulge is making you healthier

Many of my clients come in to our first session with an all-or-nothing approach, which makes me a bit worried. They can be strict about eating balanced meals all day, never break their healthy eating pattern and exercise religiously. Or, they eat every meal out, and admit to having no awareness to calories, portions of the quality of their food choices. The latter is a concern for obvious reasons… The reason the former is also problematic is that I know for a fact that being 100% on target all the time is completely unrealistic when it comes to healthy eating. The plethora of temptations around us combined with our food-obsessed society just make “eating perfection” too hard to attain.  And, if you ask me, being perfect is never a good goal to begin with, especially when it comes to health.Being so strict almost always backfires; it can lead to disordered eating patterns, feelings of deprivation and food obsession and even binging.So, when I hear that a client is struggling with over-restriction or over-indulging, I begin discussing their rationale and work to develop a more moderate approach, such as the 80-20 rule. I emphasize however, that this concept works best as a mindset as opposed to a specific plan to follow. In other words, eating in the “spirit” of 80-20 and not getting bogged down with calculating 80% of every single meal or dish is the best way to go… This often means that we think of food with the most tried and true approach – moderation. When thinking the 80-20 way, you allow yourself just enough freedom to indulge without derailing your healthy eating efforts. Read on for specific guidelines to practice this method

Case In Point

If you’ve decided to give 80-20 a try, you have to keep in mind one key concept: applying this method to 80% of your FOOD not 80% of the TIME. This makes a huge difference. Consider these two scenarios:

You eat well and healthy 6 days out of your week (80% of the time). On day 7, you go all out. You eat a bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel for breakfast, a donut mid-morning, some burger and fries for lunch and a large bowl of pasta with meatballs for dinner. Oh, then you add a couple drinks, a dessert and maybe some nachos as a late night snack. Sounds excessive? Yes, it is. This is probably a 4000-5000 calorie day, easily. You’re still following a version of the 80/20 rule though. The main problem with this, other than the huge calorie overload, is that you’re giving yourself permission to indulge without restraint for an entire day. Then, you’ll be asking yourself to get right back on track the next day, which may be very hard to do. Applying the 80-20 rule in this way is likely going to be ineffective and unsustainable for long term weight management as it is too taxying on both your mind and body.

Here is a better way to 80-20: You eat a yogurt with fruit for breakfast, and sprinkle a few chocolate chips in for extra sweetness. Then enjoy a large salad for lunch topped with grilled shrimp and some crumbled feta cheese, with a side of some pita chips (gotta have some extra crunch!). Dinner is a grilled chicken breast, sautéed broccoli and a baked sweet potato, as well as one glass of wine. You end with a ½ cup of your favorite vanilla ice cream. This version is totaling around half the calories of the previous example. Here, we’ve added a portion-controlled indulgence to everymeal without smashing the calorie bank and completely erasing any of the benefits you reaped from the nutritious component of your meals. It’s also much easier to continue eating this way consistently day after day as opposed to jumping back to a very strict routine following an “all-out” day. You’re mentally and physically satisfied.

 See the difference?!? Ready to give this a try?

How-To Tips:

ü  Start by having the right food items on hand so your 80% is nice and healthy. Plan ahead before navigating through the grocery store and make a list of staple foods that you know will fit into your diet. While at the grocery store:

  • Ever. Shop. Hungry. If you feel like you need to eat, purchase a protein bar and/or apple and pay for them first. Eat these items before starting to place things from your list in the cart and finish with 4-5 large sips of water. When you’re feeling more comfortable, go ahead and start filling your cart.
  • Place fresh foods in your cart first. Choose at least 5 seasonal vegetables (including at least 2 types dark leafy greens), 2-3 fruits (including at least one type of berry), followed by lean proteins like salmon, shrimp and chicken, fiber-rich foods like chia seeds, sweet potatoes and whole grains like quinoa. Don’t forget eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and some healthy fats like almonds and avocado.
  • Dedicate 20-30 minutes on Sunday (or any less-busy day) to plan the next week’s dinners. In the same vein, what foods are going to be your indulgences? Map out your treats for the week.
  • Portion control is of paramount importance here. If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to dust it off. Measuring cups and the palm of your hand are also helpful. Most fists equal a cup, your thumb is about a tablespoon and a cupped hand is about ½ cup. Your palms are always with you, which is a bonus for using them when dining out!
  • If you’re just getting started with healthy eating, logging your food can really help too. Using a smartphone app like My Fitness Pal, Lose It or Fooducate can set you up to a great start. Tracking can really keep you aware and ensure that you’re not getting too carried away with your 20% food freedom.

Contact me for more tips and suggestions, including meal plans that follow the 80-20 rule, recipes and 100% motivational support. Leave your thoughts and comments below!