The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 Rule (or Pareto’s Principle) was the brainchild of Vifredo Pareto, an Italian economist, who discovered that out of 100% of the work we do, 20% will produce 80% of our income. On wealth he worked out that 80% of the money was controlled by 20% of the population. And so it goes on…

But his business example evolves into all walks of life – we only wear 20% of our clothes; we only appreciate 20% of our leisure time, we only enjoy 20% of our food, etc. In other words, we are inefficient 80% of the time at work, with money, relationships and our enjoyment!

The perfect diet
We would obviously all like to eat the perfect diet, to keep us healthy, slim and fit. But how many times do we fall at the first hurdle and then forget about it until the next round of New Year resolutions! This is when the 80/20 Rule can swing into action, allowing you to be realistic with your diet, and eating your favourite foods in moderation. The idea is to eat healthily for around 80% of the time, and then to feel free to eat the foods of your choice for the other 20% of time.

Although not quite a true 80:20 split in terms of diet, it is more convenient to think of weekdays versus the weekend (nearer a ratio of 70:30). The weekdays for eating healthily, and the weekends for those special treats.

But you shouldn’t go overboard on those treats (you will be tempted at first). Think of a treat as splitting a dessert with a friend, having some chips and dips at a party, ordering a take-away, eating that piece of chocolate, or eating a ready-made meal. Perhaps even a drink or two! The key to staying healthy and in shape is moderation - it's fine to treat yourself, just don't overdo it! Simply make a point to eat healthily 80% of the time, and the other 20% feel free to indulge yourself a little. Remember there are 21 meals in a week, so aim for treating yourself around 4 to 6 of them.

Many people enthusiastically start out with their new resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles for weight loss: lots of exercise, no fatty foods or sweets, no alcohol, etc. But within a few weeks, they give up and go back to their old ways. The problem is that any resolution to ‘give up’ a particular food or ‘always’ exercise is unrealistic. What I tell my clients, and what I do myself, is try to exercise and eat healthily most of the time. More specifically, eat correctly and exercise five days a week, then relax at the weekends.

If you do fall off the wagon during the week just be careful on Saturday or Sunday instead. Or if you miss a couple of exercise sessions during the week, have an extra exercise session at the weekend. It is all a question of balance.

The Rule applied to the way we eat
Even eating too much healthy food can still make us feel bloated, listless and weaken our digestive system. The answer is to give your stomach room to digest by only filling it to 80% of capacity, leaving 20% of space to help with digestion. So listen to your body and eat slowly so that you are aware when you feel full (no second helpings!). You'll feel healthier after each meal and your body will thank you for it!

So what kind of food should you eat to be healthy? For optimal health or weight loss, meals should ideally consist of 60% fresh vegetables and 20% protein and 20% carbohydrate. This ensures that your body gets the vitamins, minerals and fibre it needs.

Start by eating healthily on a Monday, carrying through to Friday night. Saturdays and Sundays then become treat days, when you can eat out, or enjoy those roast potatoes, or that naughty dessert. But then it’s back to the healthy diet on Monday, and easy on the alcohol. Many people just can’t eat as much as they did at weekends after they follow the 80/20 Rule for a month or two – the 5 days rule starts to extend into the weekend out of choice!

Children can always follow a similar programme with sweets and fizzy drinks (not good for their diet or teeth). Keep a tight rein on their consumption during the week and then allow them special treats at the weekend, which will then become far more special to them.

After years of fad diets, it all comes back to what your Granny probably said: eat a little of everything, eat your greens, eat in moderation, chew your food, and get outside and play! And when it comes to getting rid of those extra pounds, stick to the 80/20 Rule to make the healthy eating work for you.

Some fruit and vegetables have a higher nutritional value than others. The best vegetables are broccoli, carrots, asparagus, curly kale and spinach. But don’t over-cook them, steaming is best to retain their precious nutrients. The top nutritional fruits are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, oranges and red grapes. Make sure these are staple foods in your healthy 80% diet.

So now you can invite your friends round at the weekend with a clear conscience!

Be 'good' 80% of the time by:
Cutting down on alcohol
Cutting out 'white bread' (anything with refined flour)
Cutting out potatoes - apart from jackets (or new)
Cutting out sugar (also hidden sugar)
Cutting out bad fats (solid fats)
Cutting out ready-made meals
Cutting out caffeine
Cutting out 'refined' carbohydrates
Cutting out fizzy drinks

Eat healthily
Cook heathily (cut out bad fats)
Eat a healthy breakfast every day
Eat slowly and allow time - stop when 80% full
Exercise every day - or at least 4-5 times a week (half an hour)
Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg daily
Only 'snack' on fruit or veg
Monitor your actions and weight
Drink at least 6 glasses of water a day