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My 80/20 Rule Explained

Something I hear all the time when I tell people I am studying to be a dietitian is, "you must have a perfect diet and never eat junk food." Absolutely not! For one thing, there is no such thing as the "perfect diet." For another, I believe depriving yourself of the foods you love is not consistent with having a healthy, balanced diet.

Annie with lemons

My philosophy and approach to health and nutrition is not about "dieting" at all... it is about creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle... not something you try for a couple of weeks, but something you maintain throughout your life. It has to be sustainable. I have found both personally and professionally that depriving yourself of something you like is simply not sustainable.

When you deprive yourself of something, you start craving it even more. It's human nature. Then, when you eventually do cave in and have it, you end up overeating it because you have felt so deprived, and then you feel guilty about indulging and start restricting again. Eventually you end up in a viscous cycle of restricting, binging, guilt, then right back to restricting, leading to a very unhealthy relationship with food. Sound familiar? Ironically, you often end up eating more of these "restricted" foods than if you had just allowed yourself to have them in the first place.

I try to take an 80/20 approach: eating healthy, nourishing foods 80% of the time and allowing for my more indulgent treats 20% of the time. By following the 80/20 approach, you allow yourself to have those "unhealthy" foods when you want them, but in moderation. For example, if you want chocolate, have a piece or two. Just don't have the whole bar! For me, it really all comes down to listening to my body. I know that when I fill my body with nutritious, whole foods I will feel much more energized and ready to tackle my day. Does that mean that I can't order pizza at an Italian restaurant? Absolutely not! It's all about moderation and balance.

These are a few of my favorite treats:

  • Pizza, pasta, bread, and pretty much every other kind of Italian food

  • Cappuccinos with 1/2 a packet of sugar

  • Salt and vinegar potato chips

  • Pistachio gelato

  • Dark chocolate

  • Homemade apple pie

  • Crackers with cheese and jam

Really embracing the 80/20 rule means not feeling guilty when you indulge in a treat and allowing yourself to really enjoy it because you know your body is still getting the nutrients it needs. After all, food is something that should be enjoyed, not dreaded!

There are also so many delicious healthier versions of your favorite treats - for example, my Blueberry Crumble and Chocolate and Goji Berry Protein Balls are two of my absolute favorite things to make when I am wanting something a little sweet that is still packed with nutrients.

While I obviously support making healthy choices and focusing on nutrition, it should not rule your entire life; you have to be flexible and have balance. In fact, obsessively only eating "healthy/pure" foods is actually an eating disorder called orthorexia! Click the link at the bottom of this post in the resource section for more information on orthorexia.

I encourage each of you to try and adopt the 80/20 approach in your life. It may take some time to really get the hang of it and take away the feeling of guilt because our culture pounds the diet mentality into us and says that certain foods are "bad" and you are a "failure" if you eat them. You have to let go of that mentality and learn to trust and respect your body. I think you will find that you feel a lot less stressed about eating and are able to really enjoy your favorite treats in moderation without overeating and without worrying about how you will make up for being more indulgent.

Please feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment below if you have any questions about the 80/20 rule or how to incorporate it into your life!


"Orthorexia." National Eating Disorder Association, NEDA, 2018,


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