80-20-principle As an RD, I have received various forms of judgement and pre-conceived notions about my lifestyle and eating habits. “I bet you don’t eat that.” “How do you eat that and stay thin?” “Don’t judge me for eating these chips – I had a craving.” The truth is that I don’t have a perfect diet. I have a sweet tooth, I eat out, and even indulge in ‘junk food’ when I’m out such as pizza. Do I feel guilty about indulging in sweets and junk food? Not one bit. Why? I follow the 80/20 rule.

  • This means I eat ‘good’ 80% of the time – I plan my meals around colorful fruits and vegetables, I choose whole grains, I reach for legumes, dairy products and eggs for proteins. I cook many of meals myself from scratch.
  • 20% of the time? I have fun. I allow myself a small portion of candy with my lunch. I have a piece of a pie for dessert.

Why does this 80/20 rule work? It allows room for indulgence every day.   It keeps you from being too restrictive. It prevents you from obsessive and unhealthy thoughts about food that could potentially lead to dangerous eating behaviors such as disordered eating. The way that I view it, is that it seems unreasonable to avoid all unhealthy behaviours. It might be possible, but it seems to make for a rather dull existence. I try to make a conscious decision to only engage in as much of these behaviours as I need to be happy. That is what I would advocate that others do as well, as it seems like the most realistic method of living a (generally) healthy lifestyle for the long term.

During interactions with patients who are dieting in the past, I have observed this perfectionist behaviour of trying to make good choices 100% of the time. One slip up – they would write their diet off for the day and state they would try again tomorrow. This one slip up would create a downwards spiral of indulgence:

“I was hungry and had no energy to make dinner when I got home so I ordered a pizza. After I ate two slices, I realized that I had slipped off of my diet. I then proceeded to eat 4 more slices and had indulged in some leftover birthday cake for dessert that I had been avoiding having. I then consumed half a bag of chips while watching t.v because I was upset  that my will power wasn’t strong enough to keep on my diet for the day.”

Don’t expect to be perfect. Perfection is what leads people off course. It’s what makes you down that entire bag of chips and pint of ice cream because all you’ve eaten is carrots and boiled chicken for days.

It’s not about willpower. It’s about balance and being realistic. Work actively to reduce guilty feelings around eating.

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