Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your diet. This is simply what works for me, and everyone is different!
“The 80/20 rule.” You’ve probably heard this phrase before in passing. Perhaps a friend at the gym said it as she ordered pancakes at brunch after spin class. Perhaps you said it as you dug into a slice of decadent chocolate mousse cake after enjoying grilled fish at a dinner out with your husband.
We shouldn’t need a disclaimer to indulge in moderation, yet SO many of us feel the need to justify why we’re eating what we do when we do. We think we need a reason to enjoy a treat after a salad or to opt for the french toast instead of the egg white omelet. Or vise versa: we justify eating one too many desserts or even one too many salads.
I’m by no means perfect—I’ve fallen into some of these same traps before, too. It can be way too easy to fall off the healthy eating bandwagon and go all in on desserts, or to get so obsessed with clean eating that you never touch a granule of sugar again. Neither of these scenarios is where you want to live. It’s all about striking a happy medium where you can have your cake and eat your carrots, too (yes, I said carrots, not cake, sorry). And that’s why I wholeheartedly believe in the 80/20 rule with the right balanced mindset in place. Here’s why.
It’s designed to be flexible. The 80/20 rule was never designed to be all or nothing. It literally means that you aim to eat healthy, nutritious foods approximately 80% of the time (sometimes more, sometimes less) and treats or less nutritious foods the other 20% of the time. By the way, you can also pick a ratio that works best for you say (90/10, 85/15, 80/20, etc). Personally, this gives me just enough flexibility to keep me happy, healthy, and most importantly, sane.
I like knowing that I’m fueling my body with plenty of lean produce, protein, and vegetables the majority of the time so when I really want to grab a pumpkin spice cupcake from the bakery that will onlybe available for a few months each year or split a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with my husband on a Friday night after a particularly rough week at work, it’s okay. It’ll count toward my 20% and I’ll move on and get back on track the next day.
You’re more likely to make changes for good. Will you really be able to stick to just grilled chicken and steamed broccoli for lunch and dinner for the rest of your life today and the next day and the day after that? Let me answer that for you: no. You’ll end up overeating or worse, abandoning your plan to make healthy changes altogether. It’s important to be realistic when revamping your diet and to eat a little bit of everything from all food groups unless you have dietary or medical restrictions.
A healthcare professional or dietitian can give you personalized direction if you’re struggling to figure out what’s best for you. My advice: do whatever works to come up with options that will excite you and keep you on track for the long haul.
Rigidity isn’t healthy. When most people think of optimal health, they might not immediately picture a diet that includes things like scrambled eggs AND slices of chocolate cake. However, I can say from personal experience that fixation on eating ONLY healthy foods is usually overly restrictive and leads to trouble. If you ever experience anxiety over food, it’s not healthy! A balanced mindset is always best, and that includes eating mostly good-for-you foods (because yes, salad is always going to be more nutritious than cookies) plus some not-so-good for you foods in moderation.
You’ll renew your motivation. If you know that your diet is flexible enough to include treats, you’re more likely to a) stay motivated to eat well 80% of the time and b) savor the indulgences you DO enjoy more because they’re not as commonplace. Maybe it’s the inner lover of competition in me, but I also enjoy challenging myself to put my health first throughout the week. If I succeed, the treats feel like even more of a reward.
Balance is key in life (and in food). Like all things in life, too much of any one thing is never a recipe for success. It’s not healthy to eat just romaine lettuce over and over again on repeat. Your body needs other nutrients from carrots, chicken, garlic, onions, tomatoes, brown rice, and the list goes on. Likewise, dessert or a few handfuls of chips or popcorn are okay in moderation, too. I know I feel most balanced (both mentally and physically) knowing that I have no restrictions and can listen intuitively to what my body needs at any given time.