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How To Lose Weight (And Keep It Off) With The 80/20 Approach

I’ve never ever heard someone say, “Man, I love this diet I’m on!” in my life.

Have you?

Diets exist to help people who are overweight or obese to pay much closer attention to eating habits with the intention of losing weight. Unfortunately, the diet industry has us HOOKED on the promise of a quick fix to weight loss.

You know, because rebuilding decades of unhealthy eating habits is often too overwhelming for most people.

It’s easier to stomach (no pun intended) a 10-day or 30-day program to get fast results. 

Lose a pound a week? Sure! Lose 10 pounds over six months? Hmm….

Before I get into how the 80/20 approach helped me do just that, I want to level with you about diets.

Most diets (especially fad diets) aren’t designed to be sustainable.

If you go ON a diet, it means eventually you’ll go OFF the diet. And that usually results in regaining the weight you lost — which is super frustrating and stressful. 

For example, can you really cut out grains, dairy and processed foods (like on the Paleo diet) forever? I guess… but it’s not easy. And why make your life so much harder if there’s an easier way?

My biggest issue with dieting and all the practices that come with it, like calorie counting, is that it forces us to think in extremes. Diets encourage a scarcity mentality. On a diet, we can’t indulge AND have our ideal waistlines.

When we do indulge while on a diet, we feel extremely guilty. Because we know better. 

Maybe diets are good for losing weight, but they’re terrible for our self-esteem, emotional health and mental health.

Have you ever taken a vacation while on a diet? Or have you ever tried to keep your diet up through the holidays or at parties? I have.

Diet GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

From the end high school all the way through graduating college, I consistently tried different fad diets and detoxes. I’ve been through it all. My weight yo-yo-ed between 115 and 130 pounds for years. 

I’ll never forget my friend’s birthday dinner where I felt like I couldn’t order anything off the menu. So I didn’t. And it’s not that there were no “diet-friendly” options, it’s that I was too scared to eat.

After I did Gwenyth Paltrow’s GOOP detox, I remember being reluctant to eat a whole apple. An APPLE!

The deeper issue is that I determined my own self-worth based on how well I could control myself around food. How screwed up is that? Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone.

I’ve talked to many of my readers about dieting, and some of them have mentioned a fear of eating after finding success on a cleanse, detox or diet.

Related: why cleanses aren’t a good move

It’s a ridiculous and dangerous way to live.

Is the damage to our body image and relationship with food worth it?

About two years ago, I took a hard look at what really mattered to me. It turns out that I wanted more in life than to look like a Victoria Secret model.

I realized that being happy and building a life that allowed me to be flexible was more important to me.

Realitytvgifs GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

So I stopped obsessing. I stopped being so hard on myself.

I found more productive ways to heal both my eating habits and my relationship with food.

Most importantly, I actively worked on accepting my physical “flaws.”

It wasn’t until I found the 80/20 approach that I found my happy weight (and balanced healthy lifestyle).

The silver lining to all my experimentation? It led me to my ideal “diet” solution that isn’t actually a diet at all. 

What is the 80/20 approach?

While using this approach, 80% of the time you eat healthy foods that are preferably whole (not processed) and nutrient dense. The other 20% of the time you can relax.

There are two ways to frame the 80/20 approach.

1. You can think about it on a weekly basis, as in 80% of your meals for the week are healthy and 20% are relaxed.

  • 80% of meals = 17 meals of the week
  • 20% of meals = 4 meals of the week

2. You can think about it on a daily basis, as in 80% of your daily intake is healthy and 20% is relaxed.

As you may have guessed, I‘m all about the former.

If 20% of your daily intake is Doritos, that will probably make you feel like crap. It’s also harder to track!

It’s important to note that 20% of meals with this approach are not “cheat” meals. They’re just relaxed. You can eat what you feel like, but that doesn’t mean go extreme.

The 80/20 approach healed my relationship with food and helped me lose 10 pounds (and keep it off).

Eating healthy isn’t a burden if I know every week I’m allowed to have a few relaxed, or what I call “prepper’s choice” meals.

It also helps me not get bored of my own cooking because the 20% of meals are just enough to break myself out of my weekly routine.

If anything, I look forward to eating out MUCH more with the 80/20 approach than I used to.

A common question I get asked is, “what do you eat for the 20% part of the week?”

My go-to prepper’s choice meals are:

  • Burger or mushroom burger from Shake Shack (once a month)
  • Chicken, cole slaw, chopped salad and pita bread from GRK
  • Sushi! (with lots of wasabi and ginger)
  • New restaurants I’ve always wanted to try
  • International food like Thai, Indian, Mexican and Korean

Prepper’s choice meals are an opportunity to be spontaneous, but that does not mean you have to go for the most unhealthy food you can find.

food on the 80/20 approach example of nachos
veggie nachos anyone?

Having this flexibility is KEY to my success with maintaining my weight. It’s one of the reasons why prepper’s choice meals and the 80/20 approach are built into my new 2-week meal plans, available for purchase soon if you’re on my email list.

Click here if you want to check them out (as well as free mini-meal plans I’m currently offering).

The middle ground no one talks about

Like I said before, diets are extreme.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have cheat meals which are also extreme.

What about the middle?

The 80/20 approach helps you stay in the comfort zone of healthy eating, somewhere between both extremes.

Instead of restricting yourself, you can enjoy a realistic ratio of whole, healthy cooked foods to purchased takeout or restaurant meals without tediously counting calories.

My biggest hope for you is that you find your balance — whatever that looks like.

I’ve always said there’s no one size fits all to health.

You have to experiment until you find your perfect system.

If you’re interested in trying the 80/20 approach but it sounds like a bit much, start with 70/30 and work your way up.

Keep in mind, with the 80/20 approach you won’t see the same results within two weeks like strict diets and cleanses. And that’s 100% okay.

Instead, you’ll build a habit you can keep for life. You’ll notice a shift in your attitude and mindset too.

How to put the 80/20 approach into practice today:

  • If you count calories and find it overwhelming, start a food diary. It helps you become more aware of what’s going in your mouth without the anxiety.
  • Plan and meal prep 80% of your meals (which is what my new meal plan does for you). That way, you’re much more likely to stay on track
  • Replace all the junk and sugary foods in your home with whole foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, etc) so at home, you can stick to your 80% more confidently. The key is to not only remove temptations but to replace them with healthier options.

What do you think? Does the 80/20 approach seem realistic to you? Why would (or wouldn’t) you try it?

Leave a comment below.

4 comments
  1. Lua

    I feel like it’s really dangerous for those people who don’t have much control over their appetite. They might use the 20% as an excuse to eat the world. But like you said, we gotta find balance, whatever that means 😀

    1. workweeklunch

      Thank you for the comment! Yes, people can go rampant with the 20%.. but people can also cheat on their diets or not log their calories properly. At the end of the day, it’s on us to keep ourselves in check no matter what method or approach we choose. The 80/20 approach is just the least restrictive and most realistic of any “diet” I’ve come across so far.

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