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Is the 80/20 Diet Right For You?

Is sticking to a strict diet driving you bananas? Are you trying for that eat-healthy-all-the-time-and-kiss-your-favorites goodbye thing and it’s just not working?

Why not try something that allows you to eat the best foods possible, but that also leaves room for the stuff you just can’t seem to give up?

Introducing: The 80/20 rule. No, I didn’t invent it, but I just remembered it and then read up on it and thought I’d share in case it’s something that sounds appealing to you.

Basically, 80% of the time you eat the way you’re supposed to (the healthy way you strive for), and 20% of the time you can have a little of this or a little of that (you know, treats and extra cheese).

Here’s how it breaks down: If you’re a three-squares-a-day kind of person, then four of your meals each week will make up that 20% of fun foods, when you can eat something that you’re really craving. If you normally eat six small meals each day, you’ll “cheat” about eight times a week with things that might not be 100% on your plan.

Sounds good, right? Mostly health food with some chocolate mixed in? Here’s how to make the most of it:

  1. Make sure your healthcare team is in on it. Obviously you’ll want to stay on track with what your doctor and/or dietitian recommends, but knowing that you have some wiggle room will really help you eat well and make the healthiest choices most of the time.
  2. Make sure 20% is really just 20%. You know how I said if you eat three squares a day you get four meals that are a little bit off plan? That does not, I repeat, not mean that you should eat a six-course meal at a restaurant, complete with pre-dinner rolls, a glass of wine, and dessert, four times in one week. If you do that, your 20% is going to end up being more like 40% (or more!) of your total weekly calories.
  3. Try consciously counting at first. Even though keeping track of how many times you’ve eaten something indulgent each week might seem a little annoying, it’s way, way simpler than counting every single calorie. If you know you’ve got eight little indulgences set up throughout the week, make a little chart on your fridge or a note in your phone so you can check off each time you have a cookie.
  4. Plan and enjoy. Try not to use your 20% on the fly when you’re not going to enjoy it. In other words, instead of running late and ordering lunch from a drive through, then eating it while you speed to your next meeting (meanwhile not tasting anything), plan your indulgence for when you can really sit down and enjoy it.
  5. Practice, practice. All dietary changes take some adjustment. The great thing about eating this way is that you still get to eat foods you really enjoy, but there’s no guilt or need to beat yourself up about indulgences. Also, you always have a treat to look forward to, as this isn’t about restriction, it’s about balance.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.