Clean Eating: What Is the 80/20 Rule?

While eating clean, or choosing minimally processed, natural foods, can help you lose weight, boost energy, and improve performance, it can be a challenge to eat perfectly all the time. Many of us go days, weeks, months, or even years without even putting much thought into what we’re eating. By the time we do think about it, we’re often so overwhelmed that we go in the other direction and try to eat too perfectly, which is not sustainable. No one is perfect, and putting that kind of pressure on yourself can lead to unhealthy habits.

The solution: Adopt the 80/20 mindset. It’s pretty simple really. You eat “clean” 80 percent of the time by filling your meals with fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. The other 20 percent of the time, you indulge in foods that might not be the best for your body, but they satisfy your need for a sweet treat, your favorite takeout meal, or a cocktail with a friend. The root of the 80/20 rule is more about creating a sustainable balance and keeping a handle on your nutrition without overthinking it.

How to do it: Everyone asks when they should eat their 20 percent foods. Some people prefer to have one small treat a day, such as a piece of chocolate or a fancy coffee. Others prefer to have a meal or two on the weekend where they are indulging at a party, barbecue, or sporting event. In this case, though, it’s important not to make it an all-day binge fest. Try to still include some healthy options like a side salad in addition to your indulgence of pizza or a burger and fries. It’s also important to eat mindfully and enjoy your food. If you don’t truly savor the treat while you’re eating it, you won’t satisfy your craving and may end up overeating.

Remember, it’s all about moderation and balance. There is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather you must find what works best for your body, health and lifestyle and aim to follow those practices 80 percent of the time.

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