The 80/20 Rule
Developing a handful of great habits during the first few weeks of our Simple 9© nutritional program is pretty easy—drink more water, eat a little fruit, load up on vegetables, walk a lot, get plenty of sleep, eat good meat, and do some hard strength training once a week. Most of our clients breeze through those first few weeks with an A+.
But the going gets a lot tougher in the later weeks of the program. Most people find it more difficult to cut the bad stuff out. Who really wants to stop eating grains and sugar? That means cutting out sugar cookies, coconut cream pie, and chocolate cake. Wait…what? You want me to pass on pie the next time I go to grandma’s house? Really????
Okay, life is short, and some things you just need/want/expect to experience. Everyone should get a taste of grandma’s coconut cream pie.
Enter the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule is based on our belief, and thousands of anecdotal experiences, that following our Simple 9© healthy habits 80% of the time will allow you to enjoy 100% of the benefits. In fact, you will achieve more success in the long run because you know you’ll have some opportunities to sensibly indulge in your favorite foods.
Remember, diets don’t work 95% of the time. One of the reasons for that—most dieters try to make a radical change by giving up the good-tasting foods they’ve always enjoyed. Then, when they go to grandma’s and have a piece of homemade pie, they feel guilty and blow the whole diet. The 80/20 rule gives you permission to intentionally enjoy some of the foods you like without feeling guilty.
Understand that the 80/20 rule comes with some guidelines. It’s not an excuse to go on a junk food binge. And it shouldn’t cause you to lose your footing and stop following your well-developed eating habits.
Here are some guidelines to help you sensibly enjoy some of modern life’s best vices.
1. Always choose homemade over “store-bought.” Brownies are one of my sensible vices. The ingredients list for a typical homemade brownie consists of:
- Cocoa powder
That’s it. About 6 simple household ingredients.
Or try the Fudge Brownie recipe our Food for Thought team shared not long ago. It contains a few more ingredients, but they’re still common in your household, and it follows our Simple 9© program.
Contrast those with the ingredients list for Little Debbie Brownies:
- Enriched wheat flour
- Corn syrup (sugar)
- Palm or soybean oils with TBHQ and citric acid to protect flavor
- Dextrose (sugar)
- Soy flour
- High fructose corn syrup (sugar)
- Soy lecithin
- Corn starch
- Sodium aluminum phosphate
- Baking soda
- Caramel color
- Natural and artificial flavors
- Red 40
- Soybean oil
- Egg whites
- Citric acid
- Sorbic acid
In case you didn’t count, that’s 24 ingredients, many of which are not common household items.
As a general rule, you’re always better off avoiding ultra-processed, store-bought foods. If the ingredients list is more than 9 items long, and you don’t know what some of the ingredients are, don’t eat it: it’s not food. Some things you should just never eat. If you attend a party and someone brings homemade cookies, go for it in the spirit of the 80/20 rule. But if those cookies arrived in a box and were bought in a store, don’t eat them.
2. Set a Window of Time for Your 80/20 Rule. If a sensible vice like ice cream is an option every day of the week, things could get out of hand very quickly. I recommend setting boundaries, so you know that 5 days a week you will stick to your simple eating habits. Then if your kid’s football team goes for ice cream after the game, you’re in because you ate simple whole foods all week. I typically set my window of time for using the 80/20 rule to start Friday at dinner and end Sunday at lunch. That doesn’t mean I go on a sugar binge for two days, but it does give me the freedom to have a piece of grandma’s homemade pie on Sunday without feeling guilty.
3. Be Sensible. The 80/20 rule doesn’t mean eating fast food every fifth meal or eating an entire pizza Saturday night because you’ve had a good week. It also doesn’t mean having a “cheat day” where you go on a 16-hour junk food binge. It means allowing yourself to have some pizza for dinner on Friday, a cocktail Saturday evening, and maybe some ice cream on Sunday. Then the rest of your meals and snacks follow the Simple 9© program.
4. Don’t feel guilty. Diets have a low success rate because they are usually a radical, abrupt change to the way a person eats. They are typically an all-or-nothing proposition where, once a person deviates from the plan, they feel guilty and fall off the diet. Being healthy is a lifelong process. It’s okay if you relax occasionally and have a beer or even a donut (as long as it’s from a local shop). Don’t feel guilty; just get back to your Simple 9© healthy habits.
By the way, my favorite brownies to make at home as part of the 80/20 rule are Simple Mills Almond Flour Brownie Baking Mix. The ingredients are almond flour, organic coconut sugar, chocolate chips, dutch cocoa powder, arrowroot, sea salt, and baking soda.