The 80/20 Rule, also known as the “Pareto Principle” is a shorthand term for a series of observations made by an Italian political economist in the 19th century, Vilfredo Pareto. He noted that 20% of Italy’s population owned 80% of its wealth. Tim Ferriss re-popularized the 80/20 Rule in his book The 4-Hour Workweek. The rule is thought to be universal. And there’s a lot of debate on which areas of life it can be applied. In our opinion, eating healthy is definitely one of them!
Applying the rule to your diet.
Many health practitioners use the 80/20 Rule with their clients. There are two primary ways to think about the 80/20 Rule when it comes to nutrition and diet:
80% healthy and 20% splurge
This means that the majority (80%) of the food you eat should be healthy (whole grains, veggies, lean meats, etc). The other 20% can be used to indulge in an unhealthier option. You can split the rule by the meals you eat or the total calories you consume, to the quantity of food or the quality of food. The most popular method is to do a weekday/weekend split which focuses on good habits during the workweek and loosening up on the weekend.
Eliminate the 20% unhealthiest foods in your diet
Consider all the foods most typically found in your diet. If you need to, keep a food journal for 1-2 weeks. Identify the 20% of foods that are likely causing health problems. For most Americans, the culprits are flour, sugar, salt and alcohol. Do your best to phase these foods out of your diet and keep the other 80%.
Don’t be so literal.
It’s important to note that the ratio should not be taken too literally. The 80/20 Rule is really just a fancy way of saying that a few elements have a lot more leverage than most elements in a set.
It’s a compromise.
The perfect diet would never allow pizza, cupcakes or gelato. But we’re not perfect. And who wants to be? We live in a modern society with unhealthy temptations. This is where the 80/20 Rule comes in: it’s a compromise that pays respect to the nutritional needs of our body without ignoring the desire to enjoy some of the opportunities presented by modern society.
80% adherence, 99% benefits!
The beauty of the 80/20 Rule is that “cheating” is built into the plan. In fact, only 4 out of 5 food choices need to be healthy ones. This means that you are likely to get 99% of the benefits of a healthy diet even though you only adhere to it 80% of the time. Simple as that. Want to share birthday cake with your friends, ring in the new year with some champagne, or a indulge in a bit of ice cream on a hot day? Go for it! Just don’t make a habit of it. Life is too short to not enjoy all it has to offer.
Some dietitians suggest that dieters follow the 80/20 rule to make dieting less restrictive. Consult your physician before starting a new diet or making any dietary changes.