80/20 Eating: The No-Diet Lifestyle That Works

We are well into 2018, and – if you are like most of us – your New Year’s resolution to eat exclusively salads with fat-free dressing is long forgotten.

Well, don’t throw in the towel and head straight for the buffet. Instead, change the way you eat and think about food today and for years to come with the 80/20 rule. This is not a fad or deprivation diet. It’s a balanced approach to eating that can positively affect your weight, your heart, and your overall health—without eliminating your favorite foods or counting calories.

The idea is simple and sustainable, which is why it works.

“Eat the good stuff most of the time, and indulge occasionally so you don’t feel deprived,” said Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian with the University of Miami Health System. More specifically, this approach advises healthy eating 80 percent of the time with more indulgent foods accounting for the remaining 20 percent of your diet.

Let’s say you eat three meals a day. That’s 21 meals each week. Twenty percent of that is about four meals plus one snack per week.

What should you eat 80 percent of the time?

  • Fresh, whole foods instead of processed, refined and packaged products
  • Fresh/frozen vegetables in a rainbow of colors instead of canned or sugar-glazed veggie dishes
  • Lean plant and animal proteins instead of breaded, canned or fried dishes
  • Whole, fresh or frozen fruits instead of canned fruits in syrup
  • Whole grains instead of enriched-flour breads, pastas, and cereals
  • Heart-healthy cooking fats like olive oil instead of trans fats like vegetable shortening or saturated fats like butter
  • Good fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds instead of saturated fats found in animal products like cheese and red meat and trans fats found in baked goods
  • A serving of 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate instead of a milk chocolate candy bar
  • Water, coffee, and teas free of added sugars and sweeteners instead of sodas, fruit juices and alcohol

What can you eat for the remaining 20 percent?

If you treat your body right with un-processed, vitamin-rich foods low in added sugar and fat 80% of the time, you can indulge in whatever foods and drinks you crave to complete your well-balanced diet.

“Whether you choose to enjoy a cheeseburger with fries, a slice of birthday cake or your favorite cocktail, remember to keep your portions in balance with the 80/20 rule,” said Rarback. “Return to clean, healthy eating the next morning or keep each meal in balance by pairing your burger with a salad instead.

“And don’t think of this as ‘cheating,’” Rarback said. “If you eat a balanced diet with the 80/20 rule, you can maintain your weight without the sacrifice.”