Following the 80/20 Diet is a healthy, less restrictive eating option that doesn’t feel like a regimen. Eating 80/20 is more real-life and easier to follow than other eating plans because it allows us to enjoy our favorite foods in moderation. But does it work for weight loss?
Some celebrities, like Nicole Kidman, claim to have an enviable physique thanks to this diet. However, not everything is perfect and may have some contraindications.
What is the 80/20 diet?
In The 80/20 Diet, Australian nutritionist, chef, and personal trainer Teresa Cutter writes that we can lose weight by eating nutritious food 80% of the time and indulging in less healthy foods the remaining 20% of meals.
By nutritious, the creator of this diet refers to whole foods, unprocessed or minimally processed, lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, plus plenty of water. Her book contains over 130 recipes to help you eat healthy and lose weight. Keep in mind that the definition of less healthy foods may not fit yours.
We were probably envisioning sticking with good-for-you meals Monday through Friday and enjoying pizza and beer on the weekend. Not so fast. This diet does not give permission to binge eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week equals 21 meals, so 80 percent would be 17 healthy meals.
That leaves four opportunities to eat whatever we like best, though if we gorge ourselves on pizza, fries, and cheeseburgers at those four meals, we can undo all of the 80 percent good work. I mean, we can have that cheeseburger, but not a Big Mac with fries and ice cream.
How is it calculated?
The most effective way to determine what 20% of the time looks like for us is to calculate 20% of the daily calorie goal. For example, if the daily calorie limit is 1,500 calories, 20% would represent 300 calories (1,500 x 0.20 = 300).
This means we have 300 calories to spend on whatever we want, which could be 1 cup of vanilla ice cream, a slice of regular crust pizza, or a Starbucks blended iced coffee.
If we don’t know our calorie goal for weight loss, we can use an online calorie calculator to get an estimate of maintenance calories – the number of calories we need to maintain body weight. Then we’ll subtract 300-500 calories to get our calorie goal for weight loss.
For example, if the online calculator estimated maintenance calories to be 2,000, our calorie goal for weight loss would be 1,500 to 1,700 calories a day.
For many people, the 80/20 diet frees them from restrictive eating habits. Plus, it contains a flexible frame to help balance nourishing and pleasurable foods.
At the moment, there is no research on the effectiveness of the 80/20 diet for weight loss. However, one of its advantages is the emphasis on eating healthy most of the time, rather than all of the time. Taking this approach to losing weight can be very effective and sustainable.
In fact, researchers continue to find that diet plans that are less restrictive are more likely to help us lose weight and keep it off.
Easy to follow
Unlike many weight-loss plans, the 80/20 diet doesn’t require you to keep track of calories, weigh food, or buy any special products.
Also, it doesn’t have a long list of rules to follow. Keeping things simple makes it easier for 80/20 dieters to stay consistent with their eating plan.
better overall health
When it comes to being healthy, not all diets are created equal. Fortunately, the 80/20 covers all the basics of a nutritious diet. Eating a diet rich in whole foods has many benefits beyond losing weight.
That said, we may notice improvements in general health, such as better digestion, better mood, more energy, and healthier-looking skin.
Here is a list of foods to eat 80% of the time and another list of foods to eat the other 20%.
Foods to eat 80% of the time
The majority of the diet should consist of nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods. Some examples are:
- Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, plums, kiwis, mangoes, melons, oranges, pears, etc.
- Non-starchy vegetables: arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green beans, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: corn, peas, potatoes, or squash
- Whole grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, quinoa, rice and brown rice, pasta and bread
- Legumes: beans, peanuts, chickpeas and lentils
- Seeds and nuts: almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, etc.
- Dairy and dairy alternatives: milk and milk alternatives, cottage cheese and yogurt
- Poultry: eggs, duck, skinless chicken, turkey, and quail
- Lean meats: Lean cuts of beef and pork, such as tenderloin
- Seafood: all fish and shellfish
- Oils: avocado and extra virgin olive oil
- Beverages: black coffee, green tea, water, and other calorie-free beverages
Foods to eat 20% of the time
On the other hand, it is recommended to limit ultra-processed foods, fried foods and processed meats to 20% of the diet. For example:
- Sugary drinks, such as specialty coffee drinks and regular soda and energy drinks
- chocolate and sweets
- Ice cream and other frozen desserts
- Fast food, such as fries, hamburgers, and tacos
- Frozen entrees, such as pasta dishes and pizza
- Bakery products, such as rolls, cakes, rolls, and muffins
- Processed meats, such as sausages, cold cuts, and hot dogs
- Packaged snacks, such as chips, cookies, and other treats
- sweetened breakfast cereals
There are patients that willpower alone doesn’t work, it just makes people want the foods they are giving up even more. So indulging in a few whims here and there may not be such a bad thing.
Well-balanced menus based on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains will help us feel full and, due to the fiber and water content, keep the system going. However, since weight loss is about burning more calories than we take in, we still need to practice portion control.
Restrictive eating rarely makes anyone happy because it’s so hard. Some control is good, but when we set too many rules, we often find ourselves back where we started.
Preparing and planning the 80/20 diet takes a lot of time and effort, but having nutritious foods always available helps keep us on the 80/20 path. Another positive aspect of the 80/20 diet is that it eliminates the angst we often feel when we indulge in non-diet foods like cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, and the like. Losing the embarrassment of having a favorite food once in a while can derail an entire binge.
Time and money can be a negative factor in following the 80/20 diet. Since fresh foods and good cuts of lean protein can be more expensive than fast food, frozen, canned and boxed options, we may need to stretch our budget a bit.
We will also need to be organized and able to spend time preparing meals. Not doing the calculations correctly could also be a drawback. If 20 percent becomes 40 percent and healthy items are only estimated to be in the 60 percent range, we’re in trouble. If starting small turns into larger portions and unhealthy foods, this is not our proper diet.
Diets that promise quick and painless weight loss may work initially, but rarely hold up long-term. What does work is making lifestyle changes and readjusting the way you think about food. The 80/20 Diet addresses both the physical and mental aspects of weight loss and could be a sensible and sustainable method for losing weight and staying healthy.
Also, it may not work for everyone . If we currently eat high-fat, high-calorie foods every day, the 80/20 diet is likely to help us lose weight, at least initially. We will need to eat low-calorie foods most of the time. The result should be that you consume significantly fewer calories overall and lose weight. However, if the diet is fairly healthy, we are not likely to see a large enough calorie deficit to cause weight loss.