Cameron Diaz, Olivia Munn and supermodel Miranda Kerr are just a few of the celebrities who have been associated with the 80/20 diet lately, crediting this “simple rule” for their slim figures.
Many insist this diet isn’t just another fad but rather an approach to a healthy lifestyle. We’ve all heard that before; you can eat the foods you like, lose the weight and keep it off— you know the promises.
Often, those promises lead to an all-or-nothing, do-or-die mindset that backfires, says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, director at The Nutrition Exercise Wellness (N.E.W.) Program. “It becomes an onerous, negative influence on your life, and you give up. This is not how life works, and it certainly is not how your health works,” Quebbeman says.
The upside of the 80/20 diet, he says, is that it allows you to avoid that failure-prone mindset and give yourself a little freedom to enjoy your diet more. The idea is that you eat healthfully 80 percent of the time, and indulge the other 20 percent of the time. Seems simple, but it’s easier to mess up than you might think.
If you’re considering the 80/20 approach to weight loss, read this first:
Think in terms of calories or servings, not entire meals
Eating healthy food 80 percent of the time with no other restrictions doesn’t guarantee weight loss on its own, so proceed with caution. “I’d fear that the 20 percent of the diet would be used as a free pass to eat without restriction,” says Debra Nessel, a registered dietitian at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
For example, if you eat healthy for three days, and then on the fourth day down a 3,000 calorie meal of pasta and cream sauce with dessert, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
“The idea is not to give yourself permission to destroy your health 20 percent of the time, and rebound 80 percent of the time,” Quebbemann says, adding that to lose weight and keep it off, you must maintain a calorie deficit, which occurs when you eat fewer calories than you expend.
Instead, track your calories for a week and try to get 80 percent of your calories from healthy foods, or make sure 80 percent of the servings you eat are from healthy sources. The remaining 20 percent of calories or servings would then come from indulgences.
Eat the right ‘80 percent’ foods
Unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, fish, low-fat dairy, and whole grains are nutritious foods to target most of the time. If cooking with oil, use olive or safflower and use it sparingly.
Nessel gives these additional tips for getting proper nutrition while limiting calories:
- Eat a high-protein, high-fiber breakfast within one hour of waking, like Greek yogurt and berries.
- Eat a high-protein, high-fiber snack midday.
- Always strive for more nonstarchy vegetables like leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli and peppers.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water and other sugar-free, non-caffeinated fluids helps you feel full, which can help you avoid confusing thirst for hunger. Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, but you may need more if you’re overweight, active, or live somewhere with a hot climate.
She also suggests you plan your meals ahead of time and record what you actually eat in a journal. “The forethought involved in the planning serves to keep folks on track,” Nessel says.
Don’t substitute the diet for exercise
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. In addition, you should get 30 minutes of strength training in, twice a week.
You can apply the 80/20 rule to the AHA guidelines by working out four out of every five days if you want a unifying principle, but that might not fit into your schedule. Instead, try to meet the minimum exercise requirements each week, to the best of your ability, thinking of diet and exercise separately.
There is no miracle method for weight loss. In reality, a healthy lifestyle takes practice and dedication, and its effects don’t show up overnight. “Take good advice as just that, good advice,” Quebbemann says, “and work gradually to see how you can incorporate it into your improved lifestyle.”