The 80/20 Rule and How To Use It

The 80/20 rule is a popular dieting principle that involves eating healthily 80 percent of the time while indulging in your favorite foods for the remaining 20 percent. The idea behind this rule is to promote balance, sustainability, and flexibility in your diet rather than strict, all-or-nothing approaches that often lead to burnout and failure. Here’s a closer look at how the 80/20 rule works and how to apply it to your own diet.

The basics of the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule is all about moderation and flexibility. It doesn’t require you to cut out any particular food groups or follow strict calorie or macronutrient counts. Instead, it encourages you to make healthy choices most of the time while still allowing room for indulgences and treats.

The rule suggests that 80 percent of your diet should consist of whole, nutrient-dense foods such as:

  • Lean proteins like chicken, fish, and beans
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Fruits and vegetables of all colors and types
  • Healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and olive oil

The remaining 20 percent of your diet can come from foods you enjoy but are less nutritious, such as:

  • Processed snacks like chips and cookies
  • Fast food or takeout meals
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Sugary treats like candy and ice cream

By sticking to a diet that’s mostly composed of healthy, whole foods, you’ll get plenty of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein while still leaving some room for flexibility and enjoyment.

How to apply the 80/20 rule to your diet

If you’re interested in trying out the 80/20 rule for yourself, here are some tips for incorporating it into your diet:

  1. Focus on nutrient-dense foods first

When planning your meals and snacks, start by choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods that will nourish your body and keep you feeling satisfied. This might include lean proteins like grilled chicken or tofu, colorful veggies like roasted sweet potatoes or sautéed kale, and healthy fats like avocado or nuts.

  1. Plan your indulgences

To make sure you don’t overdo it on less healthy foods, plan out your indulgences ahead of time. For example, you might decide to enjoy a slice of pizza on Friday night or treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream after dinner twice a week. This can help you avoid mindless snacking or overindulging in less healthy foods.

  1. Practice mindful eating

When you do decide to indulge in less healthy foods, practice mindful eating to savor each bite and tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. This can help you avoid overeating and feel more satisfied with smaller portions.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up

Remember that the 80/20 rule is all about balance and flexibility. If you slip up and indulge in more treats than you planned, don’t beat yourself up or throw in the towel. Simply get back on track with your healthy eating habits the next day and focus on making the best choices you can in the moment.

In summary, the 80/20 rule can be a useful tool for promoting balance and flexibility in your diet. By focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods most of the time while still allowing room for indulgences and treats, you can enjoy a sustainable, enjoyable approach to healthy eating.


In Good Health,

Dan, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist 


Life’s complicated. Your Health Shouldn’t Be.

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