Many of the women I work with want to have more energy and to lose weight so they can enjoy time with their families, balance work and home, and have it all. They want a clear, direct way to meet their goals that they can implement easily. They like knowing what to eat and what to avoid. Sound familiar?
The 80/20 Rule
I often see health websites refer to the 80/20 rule. I’ve even used the phrase myself, but I’ve realized it is problematic. While I agree with the general idea of the 80/20 rule – that if you make healthy choices most of the time, you can have flexibility in your diet and still meet your goals – I think it the concept is misunderstood and misused. The result is that women overeat, revert to old eating habits, crave what they know they shouldn’t eat and feel guilty for enjoying their favourite foods.
Good versus Evil
Here’s why. First, the 80/20 concept creates several opposites
- healthy food (80) versus fun food (20)
- what I have to eat or should eat (80) versus what I want to eat (20)
- boring, prescribed foods (80) versus tasty, appealing food (20)
- what keeps me healthy (80) versus what makes me happy (20)
- good food (80) versus bad food (20)
- punishment (80) versus reward (20)
What comes from these statements is that most of the time you need to boring, healthy food that doesn’t taste good or make you feel good. That’s not very encouraging! These divisions make it hard to change habits and to recognize that healthy food can also be tasty or that what keeps you body healthy can also make you happy. By separating what you should eat from what you want to eat, you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll always be wanting the fun, tasty and appealing food, and you’ll see healthy foods as a punishment.
These beliefs will interfere with making the changes necessary to meet your wellness goals. You’ll always want more of what you can’t have, which will keep you right where you are. Essentially, the 80/20 Rule encourages rewarding yourself with processed, high sugar, high fat foods that can make you tired and contribute to weight gain.
Too Many Rewards
Second, I see clients interpret this guideline as permission to reward themselves with less healthy choices, which can lead to overeating and binging on foods with more sugar and fat. I hear messages like
- “I had a green smoothie for breakfast so I can have a cheese burger and fries for lunch”
- “I followed my diet all week so I’m going to eat what I want on the weekend.”
- “I was binging on chocolate last night so now I have to eat vegetables all day.”
- “I get ice cream as a reward because I ate salad for dinner.”
- “I had skim milk in latte so I can have whipped cream on top.”
- “I ate gluten-free pasta so now I can have a donut.”
- “I was off my diet. Now I have to pay for it.”
Again, the idea is that eating healthy food is the hard, unpleasant work that will be rewarded with a treat, or that following the rules means the freedom to splurge. When you see you aren’t reaching your goals, these rewards make you feel guilty, but they are hard to resist since you want to be sure you get all of your fun food.
Over time, the shift changes from focusing on the healthier options to waiting for the reward. So, you’ll be constantly rewarding yourself for progress with food that conflict with your goals. You’ll still feel tired and overweight even though you are now eating the foods you think you should. When you don’t see progress, you’ll lose the motivation to continue.
Balance and Flexibility
Since many people misinterpret the idea between the 80/20 rule, I’ve stopped using it. Now, I talk about balance and flexibility. You can’t realistically be expected to make a dramatic shift in your eating habits without feeling you are missing out on something. Telling you that you can never have gluten again will only make it more desirable. You’ll be headed for the first bakery or pasta restaurant on your way home.
The difference between balance and flexibility and 80/20 rule is subtle by dramatic. Instead of seeking rewards for making the right choices, you be making gradual, sustainable changes, and recognizing the need for balance and flexibility can help with transitions. Over time, you’ll begin to notice the benefits of a new way of eating. Your body and mind will feel better, and you’ll choose to eat the foods that make you feel good. But, you can’t get to this point when you are constantly thinking about what you are missing.
Here’s how I see balance and flexibility working:
- “It is important to me that I celebrate my best friend’s birthday with her. I’m going to choose to have a small piece of cake – and I will enjoy it. There will be no guilt or regret.”
- “I know that I’ve been feeling better eating gluten-free, but I really want to have pasta tonight. I’m going to pay attention to how my body reacts so I know if pasta is a food that makes me feel good or not.”
- “Last time I had a chocolate bar, I felt really wired. I think I’ll choose to add cocoa nibs to a smoothie bowl so I can enjoy the taste of chocolate without the wired feeling.”
- “Wow. These high protein, low sugar muffins are really tasty. I can adapt the recipe to suit me, so I don’t need to sacrifice taste for health.”
- “I think I had too much diary over the last few days, so I’m going to choose a non-dairy option today. I’m learning that I can eat cheese once or twice a week, but when I have it every day, I don’t feel as good.”
- “I’ve got so used to eating foods without added sugar that I didn’t really enjoy that pop as much I expected. You know what, I’d rather have a glass of water instead.”
You’re in Control
You to have control over your choices, and you need to practice listening to your body when you make those choices. Food shouldn’t be a battle or a challenge; it should be an enjoyable way to nurture yourself. I encourage you to consider how you can create balance and flexibility in your food choices.
Contact me to find out how you can have more energy and balance in your life, without the rules that make you want to overeat leaving you feel tired and guilty, and prevent you from reaching your goals.
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