Let's get real: Most healthy eating plans are super limited and require not only immense commitment with food prep but also willpower some of us just can't (or don't) want to maintain day in and day out. Although my first foray into a Whole 30 last year proved to me that I can do just about anything for 30 days—including giving up cheese—I'm convinced that something like the 80/20 diet might be more manageable when it comes to long-term sustainability. But what exactly is this eating plan that celebrities from Olivia Munn to Miranda Kerr have chosen for themselves?
The 80/20 diet lets you focus on eating healthy whole foods 80% of the time and then allows you to splurge 20% of the time (within moderation, of course). "Being healthy doesn't require eating 'perfectly'—whatever that might be," says Rachael Hartley, RD, a dietitian and co-founder of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program. "If 80% of your diet consists of nutritious whole foods, there's room for the other 20% to come from fun foods without compromising health." As with adopting any new way of eating, there are serious pros and cons as well as some tips and tricks you'll want to familiarize yourself with.
Go on, keep reading to see if the 80/20 diet might be right for you.
It's more sustainable than some plans
When you think about it, the 80/20 diet is more of a lifestyle shift than just a way of eating. Since it doesn't say that you can never eat certain foods, you won't be as restricted (or feel like you're deprived of the things you enjoy). Do you love ice cream? Great, you can indulge once in a while and not have to go the nice-cream route (if it's not your thing). "While the 20% may not be contributing much nutritiously, these foods can be nourishing in other ways," says Hartley.
Your social life isn't as limited
Being on a restrictive diet can make it hard to meet up with friends, go on dates, and participate fully in work functions (it's a fact of life). Since the rule of thumb is that you can sort of "indulge" four meals a week if you're consuming three meals a day, then all you need to do is a little planning when it comes to dinners out or events. Quick trick: Use a day planner or your cell phone to pre-plan those days you will be splurging a bit on your food choices, and then plan other meals accordingly.
It leads to healthier habits
According to dietician Christine Palumbo, occasionally allowing yourself dietary indulgences keeps you accountable for other healthy habits. It's really all about teaching yourself to have balance and then finding other ways to make up for your "treats"—like eating clean the rest of the time and fitting in an extra workout. A healthy lifestyle does not mean you never indulge—and that's key.
It's easy to overestimate 20%
I mean come on, you're not going to break out a scale to measure each treat you eat, are you? And since this plan lets you "cheat" when you want rather than just saying go for it all weekend, it can be a bit more of a challenge to realize how often you're splurging. "We are notoriously terrible at counting calories, estimating portions, and assessing how much we really eat," says Samantha Heller, RDN, and author of The Only Cleanse. "So it makes sense that we wouldn't be very good at estimating what 20% of our diet is."
It can be hard to stop indulging
For some, eating the exact treat they want can be sort of a like a gateway drug, in food form. While some feel satisfied when they have a slice of cake, a cookie, or other favorite treat, others take a bite and then cannot stop. This type of food plan can be especially hard for those who are prone to binge-eating. You shouldn't use your 20% to binge, says Talia Koren, a blogger who follows the popular new diet. "That doesn't mean you're going to an extreme opposite like you're just going to eat pizza 20 percent of the time," she says.
"It just means caring a little less."
It involves sigificant food prep
Or at least a massive trip to the grocery store. The only way to be able to stay vigilant on a healthier diet is to always have food on hand that's ready to be consumed. (It's when we're not prepared and we have hunger pains that we tend to reach for something that's not so good for us.) "You want to beat your brain to the punch and just have the healthy meal in front of you, so you don't even have to think about a decision—it's just there," says Koren, who preps her food on Sundays and Wednesdays.
- If you're not one for physically counting calories, opt for trying to follow a 90/10 rule instead (that means even if you go over a bit, you'll still be closer to 80/20).
- Learn to listen to your body and stop eating when you're full.
- If you're not sure how to categorize a food, put it in the 20%.
- For more exact measurement, add up snacks and meals and divide that number by 1/5. That number is how many "cheat" meals you can have per week.
- Write things down and plan, plan, plan.
- Meal prep is your friend.
- Exercise at least three days a week (five is ideal).
- Remember to be mindful of portion sizes.
- Don't use all 20% each week if you don't have to.
Now that you know the pros and cons of the 80/20 diet, you likely have an idea of whether it will be effective for you. If you have any specific questions, be sure to consult with your doctor or nutritionist first.