The 80/20 Mindset: Eat Healthy Without Feeling Deprived

Blog, Food

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

The “80/20” style of eating has become a popular way to describe a healthy and balanced approach to eating.  As you explore more about the 80/20 rule, keep these tips in mind:

“Clean eating” refers to focusing more on what is nutritious, and less on what is not. This is the 80% portion of the the 80/20 rule! That means choosing more 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 20% of the 80/20 rule 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 slip up can be even worse than overeating itself.  Keeping a positive attitude is important!

  • All foods can fit – in balance. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods – just foods that are more nutritious, and foods that are less nutritious – we do not want to deprive ourselves of anything.

  • 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.

To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here. (And if there’s no one near you or you don’t feel comfortable visiting a doctor’s office because of COVID, don’t worry– most of the physicians on this list offer virtual visits.)

To sign up for our free online class that covers the basics of how to reach a healthier weight, click here.