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The 80/20 Rule for Weight Loss: What is it and How to Apply it?

When it comes to being in shape, there are many diet options. However, most are restrictive and deny the possibility of including foods that are usually eaten for pleasure on a regular basis. For this reason, many end up abandoning the regimen, which leads to continue gaining weight. Luckily, there are methods like the 80/20 rule whose implementation is more suited to a real lifestyle.

It is about eating in moderation, without neglecting the prohibited foods in any other diet. Thus, it falls into the category of “flexible diets”. Of course, for it to work you have to adhere to the rule of eating healthy 80% of the time and in moderation 20% of the remaining time. Do you want to know more about it?

What’s behind the 80/20 rule?

The 80/20 rule is based on the principle of effectiveness called the “Pareto Principle“, which comes from the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfedo Pareto. It is applied in any branch of the economic and social sciences, among other disciplines, such as nutrition and health.

Through the National Center for Biotechnology Information it was reported that improper diets have led to many diseases. Currently there are high rates of obesity, overweight and chronic diseases related to diet, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, among others.

Regarding this, Volker Pudel comments that flexible diets are gaining popularity due to their lack of rigid restrictions and because they focus on progress rather than perfection. This rule includes flexible controls and realistic and adaptable goals.

Appetite magazine also agrees, stating that flexibility has been cited as a successful dietary component. Specifically, this type of eating prevents people from having a bad relationship with food.

Thus, they help avoid falling into compulsive eating disorders, in which there are choking on “forbidden” foods. Overall, it eliminates the distress of eating non-diet foods.

In addition, this type of diet teaches the person to eat, since he must know the macronutrients of everything he eats. According to the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy, the 80/20 diet is of long duration in time, due to the high motivation of the participants to include restricted foods from time to time.

How does the 80/20 rule work?

The 80/20 rule is not a diet in the traditional sense, it is more of a lifestyle that needs a dose of moderation. Not following a diet 100% faithfully can help maintain it in the long term, which is important for weight loss.

80/20 means that 80% of the time you have to maintain a “clean” diet, that is, healthy food, without excluding any food group with high nutritional value. Meanwhile, the remaining 20% ​​are allowed some indulgences, that is, restrictive foods that were previously excluded, such as cakes and hamburgers.

It is important that 20% is distributed in foods with the best nutritional value and that they do not exceed the energy requirements recommended by the nutritionist. For example, a hamburger with meat, cheese, egg, ham, and vegetables is a better option than a cake that has flour, sugar, eggs, and saturated fat.

Applying the 80/20 rule, if you need to consume 1800 calories a day, then you will use 1440 calories for healthy meals and 360 calories for your weaknesses in the kitchen. It is important to plan for the 80/20, as the 20 is likely to become 30 or 40 percent. If so, you would be in real trouble.

Don’t blame the scale or your colleagues. Therefore, you should check your plans every week and think about what foods will be part of your 20 percent.

Which foods are 80% and which are 20%?

In this type of flexible diet, the suggested foods that can be part of the 80% are the following:

  • Whole grains.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Preferably eat them whole or in juices without straining to take advantage of the fiber
  • Seafood. Among these, the so-called blue fish are recommended for their richness in omega 3. Example, mackerel, tuna, bonito, salmon, prawn, shrimp, among others.
  • Skim milk and dairy products. In this group we find ricotta, cottage cheese, defatted soft white cheese, low- fat yogurt, probiotic drinks, among others.
  • Fat-free animal protein.
  • Vegetable protein such as legumes. These are sources of protein that when combined with cereals increase their quality, they also contain resistant starch and soluble and insoluble fiber.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Olive oil. This fat is a source of monounsaturated fatty acids such as oleic acid, which have recognized health benefits. They also contain omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids to keep you on good nutrition.

The foods that make up the 20 percent are as follows:

  • Processed foods. These are made by adding fats, oils, sugars, and salt. They include salty and cured meats, such as sausages, ham, salami, among others. They also group canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Ultra-processed foods. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) includes packaged potato chips, snacks , ice cream, chocolates, candies, pastries, breakfast cereals, energy bars, soft drinks, margarines, among many others made with industrial substances.
  • White sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  • Alcohol.

How to apply the 80/20 rule on a day-to-day basis?

The Rothberg doctor, specialist in weight management and professor at the University of Michigan Health, advised to take stock of daily and weekly caloric intake. The calories ingested during 2 days of a typical week – considering the weekend – should be recorded especially in terms of the consumption of alcohol and foods high in calories.

With this information the person can know their daily and weekly base caloric intake. Thus, you will be able to eat more or less quantity in some days, when comparing them with others. The specialist says that the 80/20 rule is not a rule in itself, but a way of thinking about food intake.

When the person knows his energy consumption, he can decide on its percentage distribution. For example, you can calculate how many meals and snacks make up the 80%. Everything that you eat and do not appear in this group, then it will be part of the 20%.

Remember that 20% refers to the amount of healthy foods versus calories, but it also relates to the number of calories you eat on a daily basis.

Some prefer the daily regimen of two healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, adding a food from the 20th. Others choose to eat healthy Monday through Friday to save the weekend for 20% food.

The key is moderation. That is, it is allowed to eat foods included in the group of 20, as long as 80% of healthy foods are maintained throughout the day. Either way, this type of flexible diet has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and disadvantages of the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule will work for some, but not for others . It is important to know its pros and cons in advance to evaluate how convenient it is to apply it.


  • Promotes healthy lifestyle changes. According to the magazine Eating behaviors, this type of diet allows you to adopt healthy cooking methods and select the best foods in a strategic way. In addition, the 20% available in calories is supported in moderation as a new dimension of weight self-regulation.
  • Forget counting calories and weighing food. What you have to be aware of is that the calories are well distributed within the 80/20.
  • Without any deprivation. The 80/20 diet does not require measuring the total amount of food you eat. Therefore, when you are hungry you have the freedom to eat to be satisfied. If you have a special outing, don’t hesitate to eat at a restaurant with a dessert included. The important thing is to realize when you complete your 20%.


  • The rule may not work with other diets. For example, eating high amounts of animal protein with a lot of fat, and cutting carbohydrates 20% of the time, may be difficult to lose weight. What can happen is the opposite.
  • It is not always for everyone. If you consume caloric foods daily and follow the 80/20 diet, it will most likely help you lose weight at first. On the other hand, if you are used to a healthy diet, the calorie deficit will not be so great as to lose weight. In this case, adjust your energy balance.
  • He is not aware of the calories ingested. It was noted in Appetite magazine that flexible diets can overestimate healthy food choices and underestimate caloric foods. Therefore, an 80/20 diet can be 60/40 and there will be no weight loss.
  • Label food. No food is entirely bad. What you have to watch out for is the frequency and quantity of its consumption. Even those labeled “good” can also cause harm if eaten in excess.

Following the 80/20 rule is a way to eat in a healthier and less restrictive way. If you are encouraged to start with this rule, consult a nutritionist to help you select the most nutritious foods. Also to develop healthy eating habits through small changes in your pantry.

Either way, the key is control, moderation, and never losing sight of the nutritionist. This type of diet can maintain well-being, but it must be implemented simultaneously with other good habits such as exercise.

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