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How to Indulge and Lose Weight: The 80/20 Rule


What does it mean to eat according to the 80/20 rule? Put simply, eating by the 80/20 rule means that 80 percent of the time you choose to eat healthy foods and the other 20 percent, you can indulge in your favorite treats. What's great about this approach is the flexibility and ease it promotes, making it much easier to stick to the plan, see results and develop healthier habits long term. It doesn't require cutting out entire food groups, counting calories or ignoring cravings.

Why Does the 80/20 Rule Work Better than Other Diets?
The 80/20 rule works because you don't have to be perfect. Yo-yo dieting happens when people go all out on a restrictive plan in the short term, only to relapse to old habits and fail to follow the plan. Since nothing is off limits with the 80/20 rule and there is no expiration date (unlike most diets) there is no pressure for perfection, which means you'll be less likely to feel deprived or guilty. Eating healthily 80 percent of the time for an entire year is better than lasting only 30 days following a diet 100 percent perfectly.

This works out to a happier and healthier you. When you focus on making healthier food choices instead of focusing on what isn't allowed on a diet, you end up improving nutrition habits over the long term. A healthier relationship with food is another side effect of this approach as you aren't obsessing over what you can and can't eat.

What Does It Look Like to Eat According to the 80/20 Rule?
The main goal in this approach is to find the right balance. The flexibility in the 80/20 rule is the main benefit, but it can also be a downfall if you don't apply it in a way that makes you happy and helps you reach your goals. Since you won't be counting calories, macronutrients or following a prescribed diet, let's take a look at how eating "80 percent healthy" and "20 percent treat" breaks down on a typical day or week:

Breaking it down by meal:

If you regularly eat 3 meals per day: 21 meals per week. 80/20 = 17 Healthy and 4 treat meals for the week.

If you regularly eat 5 small meals per day: 35 small meals per week. 80/20 = 28 Healthy and 7 small treat meals for the week.

Breaking it down by calories:

If you aim for 1500 calories average per day: 1500 calories. 80/20 = 1200 Healthy & 300 Treat cals/day.

If you aim for 1800 calories average per day: 1800 calories. 80/20 = 1440 Healthy & 360 Treat cals/day.

If you aim for 2100 calories average per day: 2100 calories. 80/20 = 1680 Healthy & 420 Treat cals/day.

Since most people find it easier to eat healthily during the week when our days are more structured, a popular way to incorporate this lifestyle is to use the 20 percent of "treat eating" on the weekend. Using the guideline above, if you normally eat 3 meals per day and wanted to have flexible weekends, your week might look like this: Monday through Friday all your meals consist of healthy choices (the 80 percent), and on Saturday you have a healthy breakfast, then enjoy a treat lunch with friends and a dinner date night out. On Sunday you have a treat brunch or tailgating lunch, while the other two meals are healthy choices.

Whether you choose to indulge on the weekends only or enjoy a small treat every day, is up to you and your lifestyle. Just remember that it's what you do most of the time that is most important: the 80 percent. Making healthy choices means eating a variety of fresh seasonal produce, lean proteins, unprocessed whole grains, healthy fats and limiting processed foods, sugar and junk.

Here Are My 3 Tips to Get the Best Results with 80/20 Eating:

1. No guilt or hard feelings allowed.
Eating cake at a wedding or enjoying a piece of chocolate after dinner is part of being flexible and practicing moderation on the 80/20 rule. So, if you catch yourself feeling guilty or beating yourself up, stop and remind yourself that it's OK to enjoy those treats because you make healthy choices most of the time and there are no "bad foods" in the 80/20 philosophy.

2. Focus on balance.
Just because you are eating healthy 80 percent of the time, doesn't mean you should go crazy 20 percent of the time. You should watch the portion sizes of your treats and indulgences. This approach is not an invitation to go all out on an unhealthy binge. Also, if you don't have any cravings, don't splurge. You will notice eating healthier foods will make you crave healthy foods; so if you don't feel like a sugary dessert — don't force it.

3. Be flexible within the framework.
The 80/20 way of eating is a guideline, not a scientifically proven method. Sometimes it may look like 90/10 and other times (vacation anyone?) it may look like 60/40. Remember to be flexible. Focus on achieving balance and be sure to adjust the ratio of healthy food to treat food as your lifestyle or weight loss goals require.

- Courtney

Readers - Had you heard about eating according to the the 80/20 rule before reading this post? Have you tried it? Does it work for you? What kinds of things do you eat when you're doing the 20 percent that is treat food? Leave us a comment below and let us know.

Courtney Prather is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, fitness and lifestyle writer, competitive athlete, model, spokeswoman, creator of, STRONGER.COM castmember and one of the fitness industry’s rising stars. Her experiences — from corporate America, to pursuing an international modeling career — inspired her to spread the word about being healthy and living adventurously. Courtney can be found writing about fitness, healthy habits and following your passion on her website:     

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