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Eating Well

It’s all about balance – managing your weight with the 80/20 rule

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There are many different diets that promote great results but the key is to find the one that works best for you.

This will partly come down to your lifestyle – how much time you have to prepare meals, whether you have others to cook for in your household, and whether you have any particular dietary requirements – are you vegetarian or flexitarian, for example. It will also be determined by your individual goals though – and sometimes, even how you’re feeling. The key is ensuring your body is still getting the right nutrients it needs to function properly. With the various diet choices available, there is something for everyone but one you might like to consider though, the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that 80% of consequences comes from just 20% of our actions. This rule can be applied to almost anything in life and works on the notion that two out of every ten things we do will be worth more than the other eight combined. What does this have to do with managing your weight though?

Applying the 80/20 rule to your weight goals

It would be wrong to assume that everyone wants to lose weight. We all have different bodies and different goals, and while many of us would like to lose a few pounds, there are others who find it difficult to put weight on, or who are happy with their weight already and want to maintain. Whatever your weight goals though, the 80/20 rule can help.

Is nutrition really more important than exercise?

The 80/20 rule assumes that your weight is 80% a result of your diet, and 20% a result of exercise. 

It’s been said that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, but is that really true? Surely if you’ve just gone for a long run you can justify the extra calories, right? Well, no. If you are looking to lose weight – it takes running around 35 miles to burn 3,500 calories and lose just one pound of bodyweight.1

If you’re craving chocolate though then there is a proviso! Did you know that after an intense workout, looking for the ideal ratio of protein and carbohydrates is what you need to help rebuild and refuel your muscles after exercise?2

Applying the 80/20 rule to your diet

It’s not easy to stick to a healthy diet all the time, so if you’re struggling, try not to be too hard on yourself. You’re only human! Aside from the fact that many foods that aren’t as nutritionally beneficial for you taste good, there’s temptation everywhere, from supermarkets, to dinners with friends and colleagues offering you a biscuit with a cup of tea. By focusing on eating healthily 80% of the time though, you are still allowing yourself to eat the things you enjoy, but you are also making sure that you are eating healthier, balanced foods that will help you reach your weight goals.

When you are eating well you will be getting the nutrients your body needs, giving you more energy and keeping your appetite in check. Rather than divide up your eating into days, consider breaking things down into weeks. If you eat three meals a day, then that’s 21 meals in a week. 80% of this comes to about 17 meals, so make sure those are healthy. That gives you 4 spare meals to eat the less-healthy treats you enjoy. This is a far better idea than giving yourself 1 day in every 5 to eat whatever you want, as you’re more likely to gorge on unhealthy foods on this day than on healthy foods on the other days, which could end up seeing you eat more than your true 20% and consuming too many calories still. Spreading your less healthy meals out will also allow you to look forward to them and not feel like you are missing out on anything.

What foods can you enjoy with which meals?

The 80/20 rule is all about moderation. So you can have refined carbohydrates and sugar, as well as processed food and alcohol, but only 20% of the time. The rest of the time you should base your diet around whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.

It’s important to remember portion control. 20% of the time doesn’t mean 20% of ALL time, it means 20% of the time you would be eating your meals normally. You can enjoy a plate of sweet potato fries for dinner for example, but not five plates of them when you wouldn’t be doing the same with something like a salad, for example.

Why is the 80/20 rule more effective if combined with exercise?

If you take part in a balanced exercise programme and are physically active most of the time, this can help to balance out the extra calories you are consuming during your 20% of ‘less healthy’ meals. If you are not physically active though, then depending on how much you consume, you may still find that you maintain or even put weight on with this approach. 

The important thing is to test the principle and find out what works for you and your weight goal. You can modify the plan to include more exercise, pay greater attention to your portion sizes or move to a different ratio of, say 85/15 if you are looking to lose weight or 75/25 if you are looking to put weight on. Everyone is different but the overriding principle is the same for all of us – we should aim to eat healthily at least 80% of the time.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2016/nov/02/why-dont-people-always-lose-weight-when-they-run []
  2. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20100604/chocolate-milk-refuels-muscles-after-workout []