I recently came across yet another statistics on our (read women’s) constant love affair with diets. If the study outcomes are to believed, the 2012 study from Diet Chef reveals that an average woman spends 17 years on diets in her lifetime . Nearly two-thirds (68%) of all the participants reported either their love of food or a lack of willpower to stick with a diet. The thought of never enjoying a favorite dessert ever can definitely put a big dent in our resolve to stick with a healthy eating plan. If you can relate to not sticking to eating healthy for any reason, and I certainly do many times, then “80/20” is an easy-to-follow concept.
The 80/20 concept in the context of a healthy diet entails eating healthy foods 80% of the time and enjoying your favorite not-so-energizing, indulgent foods that your body doesn’t like as much, 20% of the time. If you have crossed 40–yes, 40 years of age– I would highly recommend following this concept with 90/10 ratio. In my experience, the energy you gain by increasing the ratio of healthy foods would motivate you to bring the healthy food proportion close to 100%.
The origin of 80/20 and what does it mean in the context of eating healthy
in 1896, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, first made the observation that for many events, around 80% of the outcomes result from 20% of the causes . Although Pareto observed this principle in the context of the distribution of wealth and income among the population, the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, has been applied to a number of fields, particularly business. The 80/20 concept in the context of eating healthy primarily retains the ratio of 80/20 without its intended definition. This concept entails eating healthy foods 80% of the time and indulging in less healthy foods 20% of the time.
How to follow 80/20 concept?
STEP 1: The most important task in following the 80/20 concept is differentiating between healthy and unhealthy foods.
Healthy foods: are filled with nutrition. Our bodies thrive on healthy foods. The most obvious manifestation of eating healthy is an abundance of physical energy. Unprocessed, whole foods count toward choosing healthy foods. Some examples would include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lentils and beans (more on this later).
Non-energizing (less healthy) foods: are those if consumed in excess show up as unwanted fat on our body or plaque in our arteries or metabolic imbalance (diabetes). More importantly, if unhealthy foods make up the majority of our diet, we are likely to feel sluggish and tired, unable to liberate the physical energy trapped inside our bodies for the lack of nutrition. Foods rich in processed grains (white flour, white rice), sugar, caffeine, unhealthy fats often rank high on the list of foods that our body doesn’t like. In short, most processed foods go on the list of foods that you want to eat 20% of the time. Count a piece of cake/pastry, a piece of pizza, sugary soda, cookies, etc., toward eating 20% non-energizing foods.
Some foods should not even make it to the list of less healthy: some foods that wear the garb of less healthy may actually be dangerous for you. It is best to banish these foods from your diet forever. Some of the examples include trans fats, corn syrup, etc. For the list of the “DIRTY DOZEN” download the TLC guide The Dirty Dozen: Are these twelve toxins in your food making you sick?
STEP 2: The most important query in following the 80/20 rule is how to divide your diet into 80% and 20% proportions of healthy and less healthy. First decide if you want to apply the 80/20 rule on a daily basis or weekly basis?
On a daily basis: it is kind of harder to follow the 80/20 concept, but it is totally doable. If you want to do it the hard way, you can figure out how many calories you eat every day and then divide the total number of calories into 80/20 proportion by healthy/less healthy. For example, if you typically eat 1,500 calories, you could allocate 300 calories to toward the indulgent foods you crave. A more crude method would be just allocate one snack toward eating unhealthy.
On a weekly basis: it is easier to divide total meals and snacks into 80/20 ratio of healthy/less healthy. For example if you eat 21 meals and 14 snacks in a week, you can put about four of your meals and 3 of your snacks in a less healthy category. However, be cautious not to choose super unhealthy foods in big portions. For example,
- pair a slice or two of pizza with a salad.
- Definitely enjoy your favorite dessert, but keep the portion size small.
Tips on making 80/20 concept successful
- Remember the 80/20 concept is only as good as you make it. Although you don’t need to create the exact ratio, keeping it close is a good idea, especially for healthy foods. You can surely reduce the proportion of less healthy foods without hesitation, but be sure not to feel deprived. Deprivation often results in binge eating unhealthy foods.
- Keep portion size in mind and listen to your body cues as to when your stomach is full. Overeating consistently, even healthy foods, can pile up pounds. (Stay tuned for a blogpost dedicated to this topic).
- Avoid eating super unhealthy foods too frequently and in large portion, even if it falls in the quota of 20%. For example, drinking a large soda, eating multiple slices of pizza, on one occasion.
- Make your own meals to keep the meals truly healthy.
- I often keep the less healthy meal options for either when I am planning to eat out or attending a social event. On those occasions, you are less likely to have control on the food choices you get.
If you try this concept, do please let me know if it worked for you.