Eating well can be tricky as hell. But the 80-20 diet is a little less complicated and more flexible than other diet plans.
Maybe you’ve heard of the 80-20 diet and want to know more about this relatively flexible eating plan that doesn’t require you to *never* eat anything dripping in cheese ever again.
We spoke with Ilana Kersch, RD, a clinical nutritionist specializing in digestive diseases at New York University Irving Medical Center – Presbyterian/Columbia, to learn about the 80-20 diet.
Although the rule is in its name, this diet plan is not obsessive about rules and restrictions like many, if not most, diet plans.
The 80-20 weight loss strategy isn’t a strict eating pattern, but rather a basic philosophy for eating healthy most of the time while allowing for the occasional treat, Kersh tells us.
According to Kersh, moderation is key to the 80-20 rule.
Aim to eat healthy, nutrient-dense, high-fiber, high-protein foods about 80% of the time, then allow yourself cheat meals and treats like high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods the other 20% of the time, she says.
Kersh explains that for a healthy 80% of the week, that means mostly picking:
Then, says Kersh, for the other 20%, allow foods with a less intact nutritional profile that you enjoy. You know, those foods that make your soul warm and cozy.
They are different for everyone, but Kersch points out that in general they are:
The goal is often to de-prioritize the role of calorie counting, eliminating entire food groups and other rigid dietary goals, and instead focus on making mostly healthy food choices while allowing for flexibility, Kersh says.
Although this rule is generally easy to understand and flexible, it should not be said that it is easy to implement. Putting together healthy meals can be time-consuming, as you may need to do more meal planning or preparation.
PSA: The 80-20 rule does not equate to eating less healthy food during the 20% period.
Psst. Here are some hot meal prep tips and recipes.
According to Kersh, following the 80-20 rule can help with weight loss, especially for people who have tried very rigid or structured diet plans in the past and find it difficult to stick to them long-term.
All weight loss plans have the potential to be successful in the short term as long as they promote an overall calorie deficit, she says. However, many of these diets, especially fad diets, are too restrictive and very challenging to follow for months or years, both physically and emotionally.
Kersh points out that most people can lose weight temporarily on a strict weight loss plan, but then regain some or all of the weight when they return to a more varied, less structured eating pattern.
The main advantage of the 80-20 rule is its flexibility, which makes it a more viable long-term option for many people, she says.
Kersh tells us that the 80-20 diet doesn’t include specific calorie goals or guidelines and can fit into any calorie range.
Note that it is generally recommended (on average) that a woman eat 2,000 (kcal) per day to maintain weight or 1,500 or less per day to lose one pound per week.
For men, daily calories for weight maintenance are 2,500 kcal, or 2,000 kcal per day to lose one pound per week.
If you want to use the 80-20 diet to lose weight, consider using a calorie tracker.
Kersch explains that the 80-20 diet is safe as long as your 80% includes:
- enough calories
- a variety of nutrient-dense foods
- a good mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates
Who is not in favor of the 80-20 rule?
While the 80-20 rule is a safe diet for most, it’s not the perfect approach for everyone.
For people with a history of disordered eating, Kersh says that following any diet that focuses on good and bad foods could be harmful.
The 80-20 rule is an approach to balanced eating that is often much more sustainable than other diet plans because it doesn’t force you to give up your favorite things and allows you to live small.
While it’s generally safe for most, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.
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