The 80/20 Rule: Eat Healthy Without Feeling Deprived

Blog, Food

by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE

“Clean eating” or the “80/20” style of eating have become a popular way to describe a healthy approach to food – particularly if you’re focusing on losing weight.  As you explore how to adapt this approach to be right for you, keep these three tips in mind:

Enjoy more “clean” eating: “Clean eating” doesn’t mean making sure you’ve carefully washed your fresh produce. It refers to focusing more on what is healthy and good-for-you and less on what is not. That means choosing more of the foods that come in their natural, whole, unprocessed forms – and less of those that are processed with additives, preservatives and extra ingredients we don’t need. 

  • More fruits and veggies – aim to have a fruit or veggie at every meal and snack

  • More whole grains – in addition to whole wheat and brown rice, try other grains such as farro or quinoa

  • More legumes, nuts and seeds – adding more of these to your diet can be great as snacks or as a meat substitute for meatless meal days as they contain protein and heart-healthy fats

  • More no-calorie beverages – drink more water. Except for milk, it’s not recommended to drink your calories.

  • Less added salt and sugar – check the label and avoid these as well as other additives

  • Less processed foods – wherever possible, eat fewer foods that have a list of ingredients full of words you can’t pronounce!

Eat clean most of the time – but allow room for other foods: This is where the guide of “80/20” comes in. An important part of adopting a healthy approach to food is to eliminate strict rules, forbidden foods, and guilt.  Have a plan where you can enjoy healthy, clean food most of the time (aim for 80% of the time)– and allow for special treats ~20% of the time. Here are a few ways to think about the 80/20 guide:

  • 80/20 Day-by-Day Plan: During a typical 7 day week – one day can feature some special treats, perhaps enjoying nachos at a restaurant meal with friends or birthday cake at an office party.

  • 80/20 Meal-by-Meal Plan: If you have 3 meals a day (21/week) – aim for 16-17 to follow your meal plan – and 4-5 to be a little “off” your ideal plan.

  • 80/20 Snack Plan: If you snack twice a day (14 snacks/week) plan for 11-12 of them to be healthy choices such as fruit, nuts, low-fat cheese sticks or yogurt, and 2-3 times a week make room for cookies, ice cream or another favorite treat.

Adopt a Healthy Attitude towards Eating and Exercise: Set small realistic goals and don’t be too hard on yourself.  Know that small steps in the right direction can make a big difference, and beating yourself up if you have a slip or set back can be even worse than overeating itself.  Keeping a positive attitude is important.

  • All foods can fit – in the right balance. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods – just foods that are healthier for you and foods that you want to eat less of, without depriving yourself.

  • Be mindful – enjoy your food. This means being very intentional with how you eat so it is a planned, enjoyable experience.  Eat when you’re hungry.  Avoid distractions (like snacking in front of the TV or while on your phone) and eat slowly to savor the flavors.   Keep a food journal so you can learn more about your usual food habits.

  • Make physical activity a planned part of each day. Incorporate something you enjoy into your daily routine.  Walking is great – but try something new!  You might find that water aerobics or a dance class is really fun!

  • Seek support. Making long-term lifestyle changes can be hard.  Ask for the help you need from your family and friends.  Talk with your doctor about weight management programs or a dietitian that can help.  Participate in online communities with others who can provide support.

If you would like more information, click here for our dietitian’s review on popular diets.

To find a weight management physician in Canada near you, click here.

To sign up for our free online email program to learn the science of weight management, click here.

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