The 80:20 Approach to Healthy Eating

The 80:20 approach to healthy eating is a method that can lead to far greater success and sustainability of nutrition goals. This is compared to trying to do it 100% of the time. This means that if we focus on making healthy food choices 80% of the time, and indulge in what are considered ‘unhealthy’ the other 20% of the time. We then have a better chance at sticking to a nutrition plan, and as the old line goes; ‘the best plan is the one you can stick to’. Although we may reach our personal health/weight loss/muscle gain/performance goals that bit slower, it does mean that we are more likely to actually stick to a healthy eating strategy.
If we don’t have flexibility with our food and rigidly adhere to a meal plan we are at risk of feeling deprived and eventually giving into temptation and gorging on high calorie, unhealthy foods. Depriving yourself of all of your favourite foods simply isn’t maintainable and can create and exacerbate an unhealthy relationship with food. This is why fad diets don’t work in the long run. Anything that promises to ‘shed 7 pounds in 7 days!’ means that you are going to be seriously restricting food, and this just don’t work long term. Will you lose weight quickly – possibly. Will you put it all (and even more) back on – probably.
Let me give you an example;
You’ve been doing really well at eating healthy and making better food choices for a couple of weeks now. No sweets, chocolate, crisps, you’re eating salad for lunch every day, and you’ve even given up your cup of tea and biscuits that you loved to have in the evening! But it’s John from works birthday today – and there’s chocolate lava cake in the kitchen. Everyone’s having a slice and after about an hour of thinking about it non-stop you say ‘feck it’ and head down for a slice (or two). Back at your desk your miserable. The guilt is crippling and you feel like a complete failure. You think ‘what’s the point?’ and hit the vending machine and stock up on crisps and sweets.
The above example is usually what happens the majority of those who embark on a rigid diet change. If the 80:20 approach was taken the outcome may have been different. The cake could have been part of your 20%. You could have enjoyed the treat and made healthy food choices for the rest of the day, with no feelings of failure and guilt. You would literally have your cake and eat it too!
This method is incredibly effective due to its flexibility which is vital for consistency with healthy eating. Being consistent with a nutrition plan is the key driver for success. Following a personalised nutrition plan for 2 or 3 days a week won’t help you hit your goals. However, continuously making the right choices at least 80% of the time for an extended period will set you on the path to success. Enjoying the foods you like from time to time, eating a wide variety of nutrient dense foods most of the time, and staying within your calorie requirements, is far more likely going to make you happy – rather than feeling deprived and miserable 100% of the time.
Now for some people who have an unhealthy relationship with food, this may be a difficult method to adapt due to an ‘all or nothing’ approach to their nutrition. Others may view this a using food as a ‘reward’. This is only one approach of many to successfully following a healthy eating plan. By all means do what works for you, but for those who need more balance with their diets – the 80:20 approach is a great place to start.

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