The 80/20 Principle of Nutrition

By: Dana Yarn, RDLD

The number one reason why people cannot stick with a healthy eating plan is because they feel restricted and deprived.  It can be difficult to lose weight if you feel like you are missing some of your favorite treats.  Willpower is great but when it runs out, especially after a restrictive diet you can be in trouble and face binge eating and possible weight gain.   The 80/20 diet rule allows you to indulge once in a while still focusing on your goals. This strategy teaches you more than just how to manage your weight; it helps you to better understand moderation and balance.

Definition of 80/20 Principle

The 80/20 principle is more than temporary mindset — it is an approach to healthy eating habits that can be used forever. The principle encourages, choosing healthy foods 80 percent of the time. Because you eat healthy the majority of the time, you are allowed to indulge in a few favorite treats 20 percent of the time. For example, if you eat three meals a day, four meals per week can be your 20 percent treat meals. This does not mean those treat meals are to gorge and feel so stuffed and sick that you undo all of your other healthy eating, it just means that if you want to have a cookie, or glass of wine or handful of chips it’s okay.  These treats should help you feel satisfied while exercising moderation.

What foods are recommended in the 80 percent?

Aim to eat 6-11 servings of vegetables and some fruits per day, a variety of lean proteins, such as fish and chicken; unprocessed whole grains like steel cut oats, quinoa, wild rice; etc. dairy (or dairy like) products including Greek yogurt, almond milk, coconut milk, etc. Manage your portion sizes by reading nutrition labels and limiting yourself to the recommended serving. Steam, poach, grill or roast your food instead of frying it. Eat slowly, avoid eating while multi-tasking and stop when your body feels full. Eating slower will also aid with digestion.

Strategies for Success

Recognize your weaknesses and plan your treats around those times, whether it be at parties, on the weekends, at the pool, game, etc.  Try to also find healthy alternatives to your treats, if you like ice cream have a frozen Greek yogurt bar, if you like chocolate, go for 70% dark chocolate, if you like French fries bake them instead of frying them.  This will prevent any weight gain from excessive treats.  If you feel like you are not seeing any progress with the 80/20 principle track your food and nutrients and see if you are going over the 20%.

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