Is there such a thing as a part-time diet? Is the idea of eating whatever you like, at least part of the time, the answer to your weight loss problems? We’ll explain what the 80/20 rule diet is and who might benefit from following it.
What is the 80/20 Rule Diet?
The 80/20 diet is based on the Pareto Principle, an economic rule stating that 80% of consequences (or outputs) come from 20% of causes (or inputs). It suggests eating nutritious foods for 80% of the time and relaxing on the remaining 20%. This way of eating is not a diet plan but rather a mindset and is open to individual interpretation.
The Pareto Principle applies to many other facets of life as well, making it a well-known phenomenon. For example, research has shown that 20% of books account for 80% of all library lending.1 The founder of the principle, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, found that in 1906, 20% of Italians held 80% of the nation’s wealth. Applying this to an eating plan is one way to achieve good nutrition without depriving oneself of eating joyfully.
How does the 80/20 Rule Diet Work?
Followers adopt a healthy eating plan for 80% of the time, this should address personal nutritional needs whilst meeting nutritional guidelines. These guidelines typically include eating a daily minimum of five portions of vegetables and fruit, choosing wholegrains rather than refined versions, enjoying more fish, poultry, beans and pulses and less red meat, and opting for lower-fat dairy or dairy alternatives. No food groups are omitted from the plan, leaving it up to the follower to select the foods they most enjoy.
Eating this way promotes balance and moderation, whilst the flexible 20% of the diet allows followers to enjoy food without feeling deprived or driven to binging. The flexibility also provides reassurance because it acknowledges that slip-ups can and will happen but are accounted for in the plan. It’s reasons such as these that mean fewer participants of the 80/20 diet drop out when compared with more restrictive diet plans.
How do you Calculate the 80/20 Rule?
One of the advantages of the 80/20 rule diet is that it’s not a rigid, inflexible plan, this means you can adopt it in a way that works best for you and your lifestyle. This may mean including less healthy meals in a typical week – so if you eat three meals a day, 80% of them or 17 during the week would be healthy and the other four may include occasional foods or involve eating away from home.
Alternatively, you may wish to look at the plan on a daily basis – with 80% of your food intake for the day being healthy allowing 20% for that biscuit with your morning cuppa, a dessert after dinner or, if you prefer savoury treats, a few rashers of bacon with your breakfast. Whichever way you adopt the plan, you do need to keep in mind that 80% compliance to healthier options is needed to deliver the results you’ve set out to achieve and that portion control of the flexible element of your diet remains important.
The Good & Bad of the 80/20 Rule
It’s something you can do forever.
“It’s a more livable diet style, which allows you to enjoy a few special treats without feeling guilt,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D. and author of The Plant-Powered Life. When you feel guilty about eating something that doesn’t fit into the “healthy” category, it can lead to binging and disordered attitudes about eating and body image.
It’s not great for weight loss.
If you are eating large portions of even healthful foods, like whole grains, fruits, nuts, healthy fats, lean proteins, you can exceed your body’s energy needs (read: calories) and gain weight. Calories still count, even healthful sources of them. “The 80/20 rule is very loose guidance and could be applied to a diet lifestyle that’s already in balance when it comes to calorie needs,” says Palmer, meaning it may be best for weight maintenance rather than dropping lbs.
Who should Follow the 80/20 Rule Diet?
Moderation is at the heart of the 80/20 rule diet and this makes it a feasible approach for the majority of people because it allows for a varied, balanced diet as well as the occasional indulgence. The plan is less restrictive and easier to follow than many weight-loss diets and for this reason it fits seamlessly into most lifestyles.
If you dislike strict dieting rules, counting calories, carbs or points and you don’t want to work out how to balance macronutrients then this approach may be the one for you. Similarly, if you are not watching your weight but just want a balanced approach to eating then the 80/20 plan may be the answer.