How to Follow the 80-20 Rule for Weight Loss

Make Simple Adjustments to Lose Weight More Effectively

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Many dieters successfully lose weight with the 80-20 rule. It's not technically a full-scale weight loss plan, but the 80-20 diet works. If you hate following strict food guidelines, you don't want to count calories or carbohydrates, and you simply can't find the time to balance complicated macronutrients, then the 80-20 diet might be right for you.

What It Is

The 80-20 principle for healthy eating is one of the easiest ways to reach and maintain a lean body. The simple plan requires that you eat a clean diet 80% of the time and then allow for a few more “fun foods” 20% of the time. The plan allows you to enjoy indulgences on regular basis without feeling the kind of guilt that people often feel when they “cheat” on a strict food plan. For many people, this is the most balanced approach to a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle.


While the ease and simplicity of this plan make it a great diet for weight maintenance, the 80-20 plan may not provide the calorie deficit necessary for weight loss for everyone. Whether or not you lose weight on the plan depends on a few factors:

  • Your starting point. If your current diet involves indulging on high fat, high-calorie foods every day, then the 80-20 diet is likely to help you lose weight, at least initially. The clean eating (80%) days will require you to eat lower calorie foods most of the time. You’ll replace high-calorie snacks with healthier options and make better choices at mealtime. The result should be that you eat consume significantly fewer calories overall and slim down. However, if your current diet is fairly healthy, you’re not likely to see a calorie deficit large enough to produce weight loss. You may need to evaluate your caloric intake and adjust your energy balance to lose weight.
  • Whether or not you practice moderation. The 80-20 rule is not an excuse to overeat or overindulge. On your relaxed 20% days, you should still practice moderation. The only change is that you are not as rigid about your food choices. For example, on one of your 20% days, you might choose to have a slice of chocolate cake after dinner. That’s reasonable. But if you eat three slices of cake, you’re not really following the 80-20 principle and you won’t really see any change in your weight.
  • Your activity level. The 80 20 rule is perfect for people who participate in a balanced exercise program and are physically active most (if not all) days of the week. The exercise helps to balance out the extra calories that you consume on your 20% days. If you are not physically active and you don’t exercise, then the calorie deficit created by the diet may not be significant enough to create a change in the scale.
  • Your schedule. Many people who practice this eating plan consume a clean diet during the week and relax their food choices on the weekends. But if your weekend starts on Friday and ends on Monday, you’re not really practicing the 80-20 diet. To lose weight you must make sure that your 20% is really only 20%. That equals 1½ days per week or about 4 meals in seven days.

Tips to ​Help You Get Results

In order to lose weight at a moderate rate of one pound per week, you must create a calorie deficit of about 3500 calories. If the 80-20 diet does not help you lose weight, make these adjustments to create a calorie deficit and see results:

  • Exercise every day. Anyone who is trying to lose weight should get some physical activity every day. But daily exercise is especially important if you are on an eating plan, like the 80-20 plan, that includes some higher fat and higher calorie foods.
  • Count calories if necessary. If the 80-20 diet doesn’t work within the first few weeks, then keep a food journal for at least seven days. Evaluate your caloric intake and compare it to your caloric needs. Make adjustments to your eating plan or to your activity level to create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day.
  • Practice portion control. The best way to create your calorie deficit is to practice portion control. On your clean eating days, you might be making great food choices but if you eat too much of any food you gain weight or prevent weight loss. Portion control becomes even more important on your 20% days when you eat higher calorie foods.
  • Adjust to a 90-10 plan. If you practice portion control and exercise regularly and you still cannot create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight, then adjust the 80-20 diet to a 90-10 plan. You still get a “break” during the week, but instead of relaxing your foods choices for 4 meals, you eat two meals that allow for a few indulgences.

    The 80-20 rule doesn’t work for everyone, especially people who are trying to lose weight. If the diet doesn’t work even after you make the adjustments, you may need a weight loss program with more structure. Explore other eating programs to find the best diet for you.

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