January is the month we all resolve to eat well. But that doesn’t mean our plates must always be filled with broccoli and Brussels sprouts or that we have to swear off the snacks, desserts and other foods we love, which may be, nutritionally speaking, not so good for us. Although we may need to taper the serving sizes, we can still eat the foods we enjoy by adopting “The 80-20 Rule.”
In 1906 Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, observed that 20% of the Italian people owned 80% of their country’s wealth. This observation over time and through application in a variety of environments has come to be called Pareto’s Principle and the “The 80-20 Rule.” The rule implies that the relationship between input and output is not balanced. In the management context, this principle is useful when there is a question of effectiveness versus diminishing returns on effort, expense or time. For example, if 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, then the secret to success would be to identify the 20% and focus on them.
Here’s how we might apply “The 80–20 Rule” to a program of healthy eating. Because it is a virtual given that we are not going to eat healthy food 100% of the time, let’s not set ourselves up for failure by making that our goal. Instead, let’s shoot for eating well 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time we can enjoy whatever it is that makes our taste buds zing.
Let’s do the “80-20” math so we are clear about the calories. Let’s say your target calorie consumption is 2000 calories per day. That means 1600 calories should come from foods that are nutrient dense, heart healthy, low in sodium and
saturated fat. And 400 calories can be from whatever foods you choose. Here are the “80-20” breakdowns for eating plans that contain 2000, 1800, 1500 and 1200 calories a day:
Total Healthy Your Choice
Calories Calories Calories
2000 1600 400
1800 1440 360
1500 1200 300
1200 960 240
You may be wondering, “If I eat properly only 80% of the time, does that mean I won’t reach my weight loss goal?” First, let’s remember the rule: input does not equal output. But, lets say, you reach 80% of your weight loss goal; that is still cause for celebration. If you lose 8 pounds instead of 10, 16 pounds instead of 20 or 80 pounds instead of 100, I would enthusiastically applaud your efforts and I hope you would too.
You can also adapt “The 80-20 Rule” on a monthly basis. For example, there are 28 days in February. If you focus your efforts on eating well for 22 days, the remaining 6 days – scattered throughout the month – you can indulge a little more. Or, you might also try eating 80% of your caloric intake before 7 pm and consume the remaining 20% later in the evening when you are less active.
The “Healthy 80” List
n Poultry without skin
n Fish, seafood cooked without breading or fat added
n Lean cuts of meats trimmed of fat
n Low-fat dairy products
n All beans, peas and lentils – cooked without meat fat
n Breads, bagels and English muffins made from whole wheat, rye, bran, and corn
n Flour or meal; whole grain or bran cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, bulgur
n All fruits and vegetables – eaten with limited sauce, cheese or butter
n Soy foods
The “Your Choice 20” List
— Cakes — Fast Foods
— Pies — Soft Drinks
— Donuts — Ice Cream
— Pastry — Mayonnaise
— Chips — Salad Dressings
— Cookies — Gravies, sauces
— Candy — Sugar
— Fried Foods — Fats high in saturated fat