80/20 Nutrition Guideline
Updated: May 12
Tracking food long-term isn’t for everyone. It’s tedious, inhibiting, and simply not realistic for many on a continuous basis. For most of us, an exact science isn’t necessary and constantly re-calculating our nutrient needs is more work than it’s worth. However, once you understand portion sizes and can estimate calories, it is extremely important that you learn to be mindful of what you’re eating.
Now, how does one go about this?
There is merit to tracking your food. By counting what you’re eating, you’re keeping yourself to a quantifiable ceiling on your intake so that you don’t gain body fat. Now what would be the less stringent version of this? Because we all know that after a few weeks of trying to be really strict with yourself, one slice of cake turns into a couple. A burger turns into a burger, fries and a milkshake. And this is where things can get out of hand.
So we’ve established that while having a quantifiable metric to keep track of during the week helps, tracking your every bite is too much for most. This is where the 80/20 guideline comes in handy.
Generally speaking, about 80% of the food you eat should be “healthy.” Now this doesn’t mean 80% has to be chicken breast and broccoli. Not at all. But this 80% refers to good, wholesome, clean food. Eggs and whole wheat toast, stews, lean steak with a baked potato, sashimi, the list goes on and on. So still tasty foods, but nutrient packed without going overboard.
Burgers, pizza, fried foods, desserts, creamy soups, salty snacks. These would go into the 20% category. Enjoy them to their fullest. Don’t bother eating a slightly healthier version of ice cream. Get the real deal and savor them for what they are.
Okay so 80% “clean” food, 20% whatever your heart desires. So what does that look like from a weekly standpoint?
Well let’s say you eat 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. That gives us 21 meals. 80% of 21 is about 16. That leaves us with 5 remaining. Now this next part is key. Those 5 “cheats” you can have ARE NOT ENTIRE MEALS. If that were the case then you could sit down, have wings, pizza, soda, and 3 slices of cake and that would count as only 1 of the 5. No, no, no, my friend.
These 5 “cheats” mean 5 items throughout the week that you should hold yourself accountable to.
A burger would count as 1. A side of fries would count as let’s say ½. A milkshake would count as a ½. You get the idea.
Now, what this guideline does is help you be mindful of portion sizes as well. Just because you’re counting JUST pizza as “1” doesn't mean you can have as much as you like. 2-3 slices is a typical serving aka “1” of the 5. If you have the whole pizza then that’s more like 2-3 out of the 5.
Having half of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s is about a ½. Having the whole thing would count as 1. So just be honest with yourself about how much you’re having and don’t go overboard.
Eat Only the Good Stuff
A huge benefit of implementing this 80/20 business is that it really filters what is worth the calories and what isn’t. People bring goodies into the office all the time. If it’s the same old meh cookies and chips you could get anytime, then those probably aren’t worth it. If someone brings some divine pastries from this magical land, then go for it.
The idea is to allow you to make a calculated and conscious decision if something is worth the calories or not. Instead of thinking “oh no I shouldn’t eat that because it’s bad for me” you can instead think “eh I’m not dying to eat it so I won’t”.
If you know you’re going out to dinner with friends on Wednesday and your significant other on Saturday, then account for that starting on Monday. Most times people eat out at restaurants you’re going to have AT LEAST 1, if not 2 or more, “cheat” items. So if that’s the case, then you better make sure that for the rest of the week you’re eating pretty clean in anticipation of your two planned dinners.
This whole thing is to help to put things into perspective. You can indulge in the things you want, but to a degree. Don’t go crazy just because food is available. If you’re really craving something, eat it, enjoy it, count it towards your weekly “5”, and move on. If you don’t want it that badly or you know you’ll be eating a lot later, then hold off.
You’ll be surprised at how much excess calories you can cut out just by implementing this guideline. In today’s world, we eat due the high level of food availability. It’s everywhere. Trim down on some of the overflow and you’ll find yourself much more clear minded, food-aware, and maybe even leaner.