Balancing Act: The 80-20 Guideline

Long-time readers of my past blogs may remember me discussing what I call my “80-20 guideline.” With warmer weather and longer days, I’m sure most people have summer clothes (and hopefully vacations!) on their mind. We have a tendency to try to make drastic changes all at once, in ways that are neither sustainable nor enjoyable. For example, cutting out an entire single food group (or food groups), vowing to exercise 5 days a week (after doing nothing for months), or cutting all “treats” will more than likely not be lifestyle changes you can sustain over the long haul. Especially with graduation parties, weddings, vacations, and summer BBQs on the horizon – so much temptation after a few months of denying yourself foods/drinks you find enjoyable.

The approach I’ve found to be the easiest, most sustainable is eating whole, healthy foods (foods that are as close to how you would find them in nature, untouched) 80% of the time, and allowing 20% of the time to be foods that I am not eating for nutritional value, but because I love eating them – “foods for the soul”, I call them.

You can break the ratio by day or by week, whatever fits best with your lifestyle and your personal preferences. I love dessert, I love chips/french fries, and I love my daily beer/wine with dinner, so I go by day – it feels more satisfying to me and is something I know I can stick with for the long-term. Remember, sustainable, daily habits are what ultimately make health – not feast or famine, crash-course cycles.

I find that eating this way has for the most part really eliminated any sort of chronic cravings for sweets or anything else we culturally consider “indulgent.” If anything, I now crave my daily giant salad, and, knowing I’ve gotten multiple servings of produce in that, I can order french fries as my side instead of a salad and still feel like I’m optimizing my daily nutrients. Balanced, healthy eating is about finding the intersection where you feel like you are eating both for fuel (nutrition) and for pleasure.

The other thing I like about this method is that it allows for a great amount of flexibility (and subjectivity). For example, if you have a wedding or vacation coming up that you want to get fit for, you can change the ratios to 90-10. Conversely, if it’s holiday season or you are on vacation and want to eat “mostly” healthy while still being able to enjoy all the local/seasonal treats, you can shift the ratio to 70-30.

A significant part of health is enjoying every day as much as possible, and part of that includes not feeling like you are depriving yourself of what you love, but coming to a place of balanced eating is not always easy. This simple trick of breaking down what you’re eating into easy to remember metrics may help and does not require you to give up any of the foods you love.

When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.

When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.

~Ayurvedic Proverb

Run on, my friends.


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