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The 80/20 Diet: What It Is, And Does It Work?

There’s no way around it – dieting to shred and stay lean is not always smooth sailing.

When you’re trying to lose weight, there are so many different things that you constantly need to be thinking about (“Is this healthy? Am I getting too few or too many calories?  Where am I at on macros for today?”) that it’s really easy to just want to throw in the towel before you get to where you want to be.

That’s where the 80/20 Diet comes in. Instead of having to stay strict around the clock, the 80/20 diet gives you a little breathing room so that you don’t have to feel too restricted even while you’re trying to lose weight.

So can you actually lose weight on a diet that actively lets you eat some of your favorite “cheats” every once in a while?

What Is The 80/20 Diet?

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The 80/20 Diet basically takes the saying “everything in moderation” and turns it into an actual, measurable eating pattern.

It essentially divides your eating into two different parts:

• 80% of the time, you’re eating the clean, nutrient-dense foods that make up a healthy diet (you know: the leafy greens, lean proteins, and fibrous veggies)

• The other 20% can be a little more relaxed, and you don’t have to impose super-strict eating rules on yourself during this time

So essentially, following the 80/20 Diet is kind of like having your cake and eating it too – you can be focused on getting healthy the majority of the time, while still having a moderate amount of wiggle room and freedom throughout the week.

As it turns out, there are some pretty cool benefits to following a diet like this:

• Balance – if you’ve ever tried to follow a really restrictive diet, you know how hard it can be to feel like you’re depriving yourself of your favorite foods. In fact, plenty of people fail their diets because they approach it with an “all-or-nothing” mindset and completely throw in the towel once they allow themselves to have one off-the-table meal or snack.

The 80/20 actually gives you room to indulge responsibly in your favorites … and enjoying your diet is a surefire way to make sure that you stick with it for longer.

• Nutritious – When you’re focusing on eating healthy foods the majority of the time, you’re probably going to get a lot closer to hitting your nutrition requirements. If you do it right, the 80% should be full of all the nutrient-dense, “good-for-you” foods like vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats that you need to hit all of your daily nutrition needs, and that nutrition won’t get canceled out by a couple of select indulgent meals.

• Mindfulness – Since your 20% is a small amount of time compared to the 80%, you might find that you become more choosy with the “treats” you choose, and that’s a good thing! A lot of us tend to eat high-calorie foods without really thinking about it, just because it’s there or because we get a short-term craving. When you know you have an allotted 20% of the time to actually indulge in the good stuff, you’re probably going to pick and choose the things that are really worth the 20%.

Can The 80/20 Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

Now you might be wondering what the catch is. The 80/20 Diet actually allows you to have more freedom and enjoy the foods that you want, so how can that equate to weight loss?

Once again, it all comes down to moderation.

That 20% shouldn’t be a complete free-for-all where you eat huge portions for every meal and have a ton of processed and inflammatory foods – in fact, that’s a good way to cancel out a lot of the progress you made the rest of the week. Instead, you can use it as a good time to indulge in a serving of that dessert you haven’t been able to stop thinking about, or as an excuse to pour yourself a glass of wine at the end of the day.

This way, you can really keep your 20% to a relatively small portion of your time that your overall diet is still plenty healthy.

And when done right, the best thing about the 80/20 Diet is how sustainable of a lifestyle it can be for weight loss.

Since you aren’t completely restricting yourself from eating all the good stuff, it might keep you on track for longer than more severe and restrictive diets. Some studies have even proven that taking a “break” from a restrictive diet gives you a little relief and might be a more effective weight loss strategy than powering through. [*]

Tips For Success

• Measure out that 20%. The 80/20 Diet gets its popularity from allowing you a little bit of freedom, but if you’re looking to lose weight that means that you shouldn’t take too loose of an interpretation with the 20%.

A lot of people hear “80/20” and decide that means that you can “cheat” for Saturday and Sunday, but allowing yourself to go too off the rails for a whole weekend might actually cancel out your progress during the weekdays. If you’re regularly three meals and three snacks every day, 20% would actually be about 8 of those eating times, or a day and a half. Spread it out for the best results, or just use plenty of caution if you want to have it all at once.

• Pay attention to your calories if you’re looking to lose weight. Just because you’re eating healthy foods doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose weight unless you’re also watching your portions and calories.Don’t forget that weight loss is all about being at a calorie deficit at the end of the day, so pay attention to just how many calories you’re eating for the best results, and make sure that 20% doesn’t put you back into a maintenance or surplus calorie level.

• Stay active, especially on your 20% days. Diet and exercise go hand in hand if you want to be healthy and/or get a handle on your weight, and this is no exception.

The 80/20 is actually a great eating pattern for those with a consistent exercise routine: it works really well to plan your more intense exercise sessions (like HIIT or heavy lifting) around the times that you’re enjoying your 20% to help bring your net calories down for the day.

The Bottom Line

The 80/20 Diet really is a good strategy for maximizing your satisfaction while still living an overall-healthy lifestyle. So yes, you can have your cake and eat it too – just don’t go overboard!


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