The 80/20 Rule: Getting Started

Hi, my name is Erin, I’m a nutritional consultant and I don’t eat perfectly all of the time.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about nutrition and eating a balanced diet; I eat real food, I shop local, I eat organic and I do my very best to make the best possible food choices whenever I can. However, there are moments when I throw a little caution to the wind. Why? Because I know I eat well. I like chocolate, pizza, and I want to live my life.

When I really began to consider my food choices and put my dietary decisions under scrutiny I discovered a little something call the “80/20 Rule” and it was a game changer. I often say that I don’t like the word “diet”, I find it associates itself with deprivation and short-term changes. Eating well and living well, is about making a commitment to yourself  that you deserve better. Realizing that you only get one body, so it’s in your best interest, and nobody else’s, to take the best care of it you can. There is a faulty perception around a healthy lifestyle, that attaining it is difficult because it means giving up everything you love and never enjoying it again. The truth is, that’s not true. Eating well does not mean that you can never indulge, have cake at the party or a cocktail on a Saturday night. Starting your nutrition journey is simply about making a commitment to yourself that you want to know and do better, and are committed to making consistent sustainable changes to get there.

Enter, the 80/20 Rule.

The rule is pretty simple. 80% of the time you eat clean: lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, quality proteins and healthy fats. 20% of the time you can indulge in a slice of life. Wether it’s cocktail with friends, a slice of cake at a party or popcorn at the movies.

The reason that this rule applies to any diet, is that it eliminates the need to “go on  a diet”. Trying to go from zero to hero is setting yourself up for failure. News flash; real life does not go away! The root of the 80/20 rule is more about creating a sustainable lifestyle that helps you keep a handle on your nutrition without overthinking the entire thing and falling off course.

Consider that if you are eating 5 times per day, that’s 35 times per week, which means 7 of those meals or snacks can fall into that 20% while the other 28 meals need to be clean, lean and green. Here are four simple things to consider when adopting the rule:

1. Consider your weak spots.

Think about what you like and where you want to treat yourself. Is it an afternoon vanilla latte, or cocktails with the ladies on the weekend? If you can plan your 20% ahead a little, keeping the other 80% clean won’t be as hard knowing something is coming.

2. Not all indulgences are created equal.

For instance, if you want to have 7 indulgences per week, that doesn’t mean that you can have an entire pizza for dinner 7 nights of the week. The size, quantity and quality of your indulgences are going to make a huge difference as to how much they impact your 20%. For example, having an afternoon latte would qualify as something like 4% of your weekly indulgence, while pizza for dinner with ice cream for dessert is going to dig into about 15% of that 20% in just one meal. Consider the number of calories in you treat and how over the top you are taking it.

3. Try to avoid the cheat day, or all-day binge-fest.

Try and limit yourself to a beer at the cottage or a hot dog at the ballpark instead of stuffing your face for breakfast, lunch and dinner followed by a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on the couch. It’s about balance day-to-day, not a free-for-all day followed by 6 days of making up for it.

4. Think about it as a lifestyle, not a diet.

You’re never going to eat perfectly 100% of the time. Rather, think about this rule as a great first step to get you going in the right direction, but also a mantra or lifestyle that you can adopt for the long haul.

Eating well is about make small sustainable changes that you can maintain, and if you are beginning your health journey the 80/20 rule is a great place to start. You’ll be shocked to see how well is works, and how you can push yourself along to a 85/15 or 90/10 balance. You’ll be amazed to see how your cravings and taste buds adapt, and how eventually your body will really start craving that 80%.