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What is the 80/20 rule diet?

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What is the 80/20 rule diet?

Long-term weight loss is challenging and associated with a high risk of failure. The 80/20 rule diet recognises that many of us find sticking to a diet 100% of the time unrealistic and an impossible goal for the longer term. With this in mind the 80/20 rule diet encourages followers to eat a healthy, balanced diet designed to meet their goals and nutritional needs for 80% of the time while allowing themselves to enjoy some of their favourite foods, in moderation, for the remaining 20%. Being more a food philosophy than a formal diet, the 80:20 rule diet focuses on eating healthily for the majority of the time.

If you are considering any form of diet please consult your GP first to ensure you can do so without risk to health.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and read more about other popular diets. If you’re interested in following a healthy, balanced diet check out our healthy diet plans.

How does the 80/20 rule diet work?

Followers adopt a healthy eating plan for 80% of the time, this should address personal nutritional needs whilst meeting nutritional guidelines. These guidelines typically include eating a daily minimum of five portions of vegetables and fruit, choosing wholegrains rather than refined versions, enjoying more fish, poultry, beans and pulses and less red meat, and opting for lower-fat dairy or dairy alternatives. No food groups are omitted from the plan, leaving it up to the follower to select the foods they most enjoy.

Eating this way promotes balance and moderation, whilst the flexible 20% of the diet allows followers to enjoy food without feeling deprived or driven to binging. The flexibility also provides reassurance because it acknowledges that slip-ups can and will happen but are accounted for in the plan. It’s reasons such as these that mean fewer participants of the 80/20 diet drop out when compared with more restrictive diet plans.

How do you calculate the 80/20 rule?

One of the advantages of the 80/20 rule diet is that it’s not a rigid, inflexible plan, this means you can adopt it in a way that works best for you and your lifestyle. This may mean including less healthy meals in a typical week – so if you eat three meals a day, 80% of them or 17 during the week would be healthy and the other four may include occasional foods or involve eating away from home.

Alternatively, you may wish to look at the plan on a daily basis – with 80% of your food intake for the day being healthy allowing 20% for that biscuit with your morning cuppa, a dessert after dinner or, if you prefer savoury treats, a few rashers of bacon with your breakfast. Whichever way you adopt the plan, you do need to keep in mind that 80% compliance to healthier options is needed to deliver the results you’ve set out to achieve and that portion control of the flexible element of your diet remains important.

Does the 80/20 rule diet lead to weight loss?

Whether you lose weight on the 80/20 diet will depend on your starting point and how you adapt your existing eating patterns. It’s important to emphasise that the plan is not technically a weight-loss plan but some weight loss may be experienced if you adopt sustained healthy eating changes.

The 80/20 rule diet is a useful long-term strategy for dieters who have already reached their weight-loss goal and need help with maintenance. This is because by adopting an eating plan that includes a majority of healthy options yet allows scope for some flexibility you will be following a realistic and effective long-term strategy for weight maintenance. One of the main advantages of this approach is that the 20% relaxation allows followers permission to enjoy some less healthy options without those feelings of guilt and failure, that are so typical of ‘dieting’.

Who should follow the 80/20 rule diet?

Moderation is at the heart of the 80/20 rule diet and this makes it a feasible approach for the majority of people because it allows for a varied, balanced diet as well as the occasional indulgence. The plan is less restrictive and easier to follow than many weight-loss diets and for this reason it fits seamlessly into most lifestyles.

If you dislike strict dieting rules, counting calories, carbs or points and you don’t want to work out how to balance macronutrients then this approach may be the one for you. Similarly, if you are not watching your weight but just want a balanced approach to eating then the 80/20 plan may be the answer.

Want to give 80/20 eating a go?

We’ve designed some sample menus for you to try:

Meat eater 80/20

Breakfast

Full English potato cakes

Mid-morning

Two peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies in a glass jar

Lunch

Spicy chicken and avocado wrap

Spicy chicken and avocado wraps on a wooden board

Dinner

Lamb and squash biryani with cucumber raita

Lamb & squash biryani with cucumber raita

Vegetarian 80/20

Breakfast

Breakfast egg wraps

Breakfast egg wraps filled with mushrooms

Lunch

Feta & clementine lunch bowl

One easy blueberry muffin

Healthy blueberry muffins on a wooden boardHealthy blueberry muffins on a wooden board

Dinner

Double bean and roasted pepper chilli

Double bean chilli in a large pot

Have you tried the 80/20 rule diet? What did you think? Share your experience in the comments below.

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This article was updated in August 2022 by registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post-graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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