The 80/20 Mindset: Eat Healthy Without Feeling Deprived

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

The “80/20” style of eating has become a popular way to describe a healthy and balanced approach to food. With the 80/20 approach, you eat nutritious, less-processed foods 80-90% of the time (choosing foods that come in their natural, whole, unprocessed forms), and enjoy less nutrient-dense foods & treats 10-20% of the time.

The 80/20 approach works because an important part of adopting a healthy approach to food is to eliminate strict rules, “forbidden” foods, and guilt. Here are some guidelines for food choices in the “80%” category:

  • Eat more fruits and veggies – aim to have a fruit or veggie at every meal and snack.
  • Eat more whole grains – in addition to whole wheat and brown rice, try other grains such as farro or quinoa.
  • Eat more legumes, nuts, and seeds – these can be great as snacks, or as a meat substitute for meatless meals, as they contain protein and heart-healthy fats.
  • Drink more zero-sugar beverages – for example, water, seltzers, and unsweetened tea.
  • Eat less added salt and sugar – check the label and avoid these, as well as other additives.
  • Eat less processed foods – whenever possible, eat fewer foods that have a list of ingredients full of words you can’t pronounce!

Adopt a healthy attitude towards eating and exercise. Set small, realistic goals, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that small steps in the right direction can make a big difference, and beating yourself up when you slip up can be even worse than overeating itself. Keeping a positive attitude is important!

  • All foods can fit – in moderation. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods – just foods that are more nutritious, and foods that are less nutritious. We do not want to deprive ourselves of anything.
  • Be mindful – enjoy your food. This means being very intentional with how you eat so it is a planned, enjoyable experience. Eat when you’re hungry. Avoid distractions (like snacking in front of the TV, or while on your phone) and eat slowly to savor the flavors. Keep a food journal so you can learn more about your usual food habits.
  • Make physical activity a planned part of each day. Incorporate something you enjoy into your daily routine. Walking is great – but you can also try something new! You might find that water aerobics or a dance class is really fun.
  • Seek support. Making long-term lifestyle changes can be hard. Ask for the help you need from your family and friends. Talk with your doctor about weight management programs, or a dietitian that can help. Participate in online communities with others who can provide support.

Here are a few ways to think about putting the 80/20 approach into practice:

  • 80/20 Day-by-Day Plan: During a typical 7 day week – one day can feature some special treats, perhaps enjoying nachos at a restaurant meal with friends or birthday cake at an office party.
  • 80/20 Meal-by-Meal Plan: If you have 3 meals a day (21 per week), aim for 16-17 to follow your meal plan – and 4-5 to be a little “off” your ideal plan.
  • 80/20 Snack Plan: If you snack twice a day (14 snacks/week) plan for 11-12 of them to be healthy choices such as fruit, nuts, & yogurt, and 2-3 times a week make room for the cookies, ice cream, or other favorite treats.

The medical information on Diabetes – What To Know’s website is provided as an information resource only. The content is not in any way intended to be nor should you rely on it as a substitute for professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, advice and treatment.

Get the support you need!

We interview diabetes experts and answer your questions.