The 80 20 Rule for Healthy Eating

Enjoy Your Favorite Foods and Maintain a Healthy Weight


You’ve probably heard celebrities and fitness pros mention the “80 20 rule” as their diet of choice to maintain their healthy bodies. So why is the program so popular? The 80 20 diet is one of the easiest ways to practice clean eating and maintain a healthy weight.

What Is the 80 20 Rule?

The best thing about the 80 20 rule is its simplicity. To follow the program, you eat a clean diet 80 percent of the time and then allow yourself to enjoy a few indulgences 20 percent of the time. For many people, this means that they eat well during the week and relax a bit on the weekend.

Sounds easy, right? It is. But in order to benefit fully from the plan, you need to make sure that your 80 percent is really clean. For most people, this means building meals around lean sources of protein, fruits, and vegetables. You eat whole grains instead of processed white starch, avoid trans fats, drink plenty of water and avoid added sugars.

When you relax your diet during the 20 percent, portion control and moderation are still important. For example, during your clean eating days, you might avoid alcohol altogether. Then, during your more relaxed days, you might enjoy a beer with friends. During your clean eating days, you might opt for chopped veggies or fresh fruit as a snack. During the relaxed days, you might indulge in a reasonable serving of guacamole and chips.

80 20 Rule Benefits

People who use the 80 20 rule of eating enjoy a wide range of benefits.

  • Moderation is easy. This is not a harsh feast or famine plan. All of your days – whether you are in the 80% or the 20% are moderate eating days. The only thing that changes is the laxity of your choices.  
  • No calorie counting. There is no need to use food intake apps or food diaries.
  • No food is off limits. You can enjoy the foods you like, just not all the time. 
  • You never feel deprived. If you have a party or a special night out, you can still enjoy indulgences like a special restaurant meal or birthday cake and ice cream. 
  • Encourages healthy lifestyle habits. Most of the time you are eating clean. So you learn to adopt healthy cooking methods and healthy grocery shopping strategies

80 20 Diet Pitfalls

Of course, the 80 20 plan won’t work for everyone. For example, if you are trying to slim down, you may need to make small adjustments to lose weight. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid if you choose to adopt the eating plan to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Don’t overindulge on your relaxed days. Remember that even your 20 percent days should be enjoyed in moderation. If you overdo it on your days “off” you can gain weight. So, for example, you can enjoy a slice of cake, but not the whole cake.
  • Avoid starving yourself on your clean eating days. If you “white-knuckle” your way through the week, you will be more likely to overindulge on the weekend. In addition, the program won’t be sustainable. Diet fatigue will cause you to quit, or worse, to binge.
  • Overestimating the relaxed days. If your version of the 80 20 rule is to eat clean during the week and relax your choices on the weekend, it’s important to remember that the weekend can’t extend from Friday through Sunday. That’s more of a 60 40 plan. Choose a day during the weekend instead, or a few meals when you want to indulge.
  • Ignoring portion control. Eating a clean diet still means that you eat a portion-controlled diet. Remember, if you overeat any food, even a healthy food, you are likely to gain weight. 

    A Word From Verywell

    If you are looking for a way to maintain healthy eating habits in your home and with your family, consider the 80 20 rule. For many healthy eaters, it is the diet of choice because it allows for balance and indulgence. However, if you want to lose weight, you may need to adjust the 80 20 rule to a 91/10 diet to see real results. And the 80 20 rule may provide too many calories to reach the deficit needed to see real results.

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