The MOST Important Diet Philosophy: The 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule got a lot of press last year. Surprisingly, it’s a very old idea called the Patero Principle. The original 80/20 rule was created in 1906 by an Italian economist by the name of Vilfredo Patero. He based the idea of observations from his garden and how 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas. He then applied this same thought to land ownership and wealth. It was then proven by the United Nations in 1922 that in fact, 20% of the world’s population controlled just over 80% of the wealth. From my personal career experience, I’d learned this principle for software development as well as business administration. I’d never thought of applying it to my diet.

In 2013 I started seeing articles popping up about the 80/20 rule and all the supermodels who used it to stay “runway ready”. I dismissed it for the most part. Runway ready is not my ideal; not enough muscle. Then I started seeing it pop up in legitimate food magazines as well as fitness magazines that are generally respected. After reading about it and putting in a little research on the internet I realized it was close to the way I was eating already (more 70/30). The 80/20 rule is simple, you eat perfectly healthy 80% of the time, and 20% of the time you eat what you want. That 80% has to be pretty clean and nutritionally dense. The 20% isn’t about bingeing, it’s about not beating yourself up for eating a piece of cake, a bowl of ice cream, or 3 pieces of fried chicken and a beer to wash it down.

For your 20%, you can look at it like this: 4-5 of your weekly meals can be somewhat naughty. You can have dessert every night or really relax on the weekends. I take my indulgences in 1-2 glasses of wine a week, a few squares of dark chocolate, the occasional vegan baked good, small packs of gummy bears, or maybe a pasta dish if we go out to eat. With my food allergies, I can’t indulge as decadently as some might be able to do. I’m also not a serial binge eater. I’ve had my moments, but for the most part, I’m happy with regular portions. My worst indulgences are the ones I know I shouldn’t eat, like cow dairy and something with egg in it, like a stolen bite of fresh pasta off my husband’s plate or eating a bit of mozzarella cheese. Not very exciting, I know. By taking smaller indulgences daily, I never feel deprived or heavy after a weekend of wild eating. If weekends are your gig, then have at it. Just be responsible for the portions: 3 pancakes not 10, a few ounces of cheese not a whole wheel, and a few pieces of pizza not the whole pie.

20% is also a lifesaver for those unplanned indulgences. Someone brought doughnuts to work.  No one but you brought anything even remotely healthy to this pot luck. Your grandmother surprised you with your favorite cookies. Your spouse bought you some ice cream because you told them you had a tough day. Any time you use your 20%, you just subtract it from your bank of 4-5 meals.

With this philosophy, it may take you more time to lose fat but you will not feel like you are starving or missing out on pleasurable eating. Letting go of the guilt and giving yourself some psychological wiggle room will make sure you stay on this healthier track. Combine this with a sensible activity schedule and you will see progress in your shape. It won’t be overnight but it will be a new way of living you can stick with.