Flexible 80/20 Diet for Beginners

The 80/20 diet lets you have your cake and eat it too!

You can still be healthy while enjoying your favorite guilty pleasures with the 80/20 diet. It’s simply about balancing the way you eat and eating sensible portions.

If you’re a foodie like I am then you definitely love food and trying out new dishes & ingredients whenever you get the chance, even if you find something that might not be he healthiest thing for you. It’s just part of the foodie experience!

Enjoying the colors, flavors, and textures you get from food is a part of experiencing life and I don’t deprive myself of that because it gives me so much joy.

But that doesn’t mean I eat whatever I want all the time.

80% of the time, I do my best to eat a healthy diet with clean, plant-based ingredients, and lean meats. The rest of the time I ‘reward’ myself for sticking to a healthy diet with sensible portions of “cheat meals and desserts’.

The 80/20 diet doesn’t restrict me for the little things I enjoy and it’s one of the reasons I’ve adopted this way of eating. I love my healthy meals but I do have my cravings for ice cream and potato chips.

With the 80/20 diet (or 80/20 rule) I can still have them so my taste buds don’t feel like they’re missing out which keeps me happy. In other words, it’s great for my mental health and I know it will be good for yours too!

What is the 80/20 Diet?

There’s no one size fits all diet and the approach to your eating plan should be individualized for you, but the basic premise of the 80/20 diet is this:

Healthy and nutritious foods should take up 80% of your meals and snacks while the other 20% gives you the flexibility to indulge in your guilty pleasures, such as pizza or a muffin. 

Yes, that’s right… you can have pizzas and muffins. You won’t have to give up your guilty pleasures! Hooray! That’s why the 80/20 works for many folks.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should binge on the less healthy options (or even on the healthy ones for that matter)! It’s all about balance and portion control.

With other diets you’ll usually find strict restrictions that deprive you of some things you enjoy.

That deprivation isn’t going to make it easy for you to stay on track if you can’t stop thinking about your favorite dish or feel guilty if you fall of the wagon. Feeling bad isn’t going to help your mental health either.

There’s a lot of flexibility with the 80/20 diet so you can incorporate any type of diet you’d like such as Paleo or Mediterranean but still have the option to try things outside of what’s healthy, and if you do mess up a bit you can still make adjustments to get you back on balance without the guilt.

What is Considered Healthy?

cauliflower, green onions, potatoes, celery, carrots, and onion

What you or I may consider healthy is open to a bit of interpretation to a point, but in general your healthy meals and snacks should consist mainly of the following:

  • Fresh fruits & vegetables – good source of fiber and key nutrients.
  • Whole grains like oatmeal & quinoa which are greats source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and carbs.
  • Whole wheat breads and pastas.
  • Nuts & seeds – a good source of protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Lean proteins – lean meats, wild fish & seafood, soy protein.
  • Low-fat dairy – high in calcium, vitamin A & D but with fewer calories and saturated fat than high-fat dairy.
salmon filets on parchment paper
  • Legumes – high in antioxidants, fiber, highly nutritious, & beneficial to the heart.
  • Natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup
  • Olive oil – promotes cardiovascular health, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory

Again, what each individual considers healthy is open to some interpretation. For example, a vegan diet wouldn’t consider any meat healthy, but lean meat is perfect for a Mediterranean diet.

thick crust pepperoni , mushrooms,and onion pizza

How to Implement the 80/20 Diet

Implementing an 80/20 approach to eating and better health isn’t difficult if you plan.

Planning is the key to succeeding.

Meal planning is going to be your friend and is going to streamline things for you. This way, you’ll be able to stay on track and avoid giving in to any last minute impulses.

Before you start implementing a meal plan you’ll want to take a peek at what you keep in your fridge and pantry. Take note of all the healthy stuff as well as the not so healthy things.

I think the easiest place to begin the 80/20 meal plan is to eliminate or replace processed ingredients with healthier options, and if you have a lot then make any changes one or two items at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself.

You don’t have to jump right into an 80/20 approach. You can start with a 50/50 approach if that’s where you are at, and eliminate or replace your processed foods with something healthy. Then, the following week you can move forward to a 55/45 plan, and so on until you find yourself at 80/20.

For example, start by replacing your pop tarts for healthy granola bars. Next week, try using maple syrup or honey instead of refined sugar. The following week start eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread.

Again, the 80/20 diet isn’t about completely saying good-bye to the foods you love so you don’t necessarily need to throw everything out, but the majority of your ingredients and foods within your reach should be on the healthy side so you’re not tempted.

How to Plan 80/20 Meals

As you eliminate or replace the less healthy things in your kitchen you’ll want to start planning out your meals to stay on track.

To have the best chance of success your meals should be planned out a week ahead of time. This allows you to make any necessary adjustments & get your shopping done in time without feeling rushed.

meal plan written in a notebook

Te formula below is a simple way to figure out how to split your meals and snacks into 80% and 20%. This is just a guide that can be adjusted so you can choose to be a little more lenient if you prefer. Perhaps 85/15 or 90/20 is better suited for your lifestyle.

Here are the steps:

  • Figure out how often you eat each week. Include meals and snacks. For my example, I’m eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily for a total of 5.
    • 5 x 7 days = 35 meals and snacks a week
  • Multiply 35 by .80 to figure out what 80% is:
    • 35 x .80 = 28 healthy meals & snacks.
  • So 35 minus 28 leaves you with 7 times you can ‘cheat’.

Once you have that figured out, plan out each meal & snack for the following week. Simply write them down on a piece of paper or use my free downloadable meal planner. 

Once you have that figured out, plan out each meal & snack for the following week. 

Simply write them down on a piece of paper or use my free downloadable meal planner. 

Next, go through that meal plan to create a shopping list and be sure to get those ingredients shortly before you start your week. This way your ingredients will be as fresh as possible.

But don’t wait til the very last minute either in case the grocery store is out of something you need and you have to find someplace else to get it.

80/20 Diet Tips for Success

Now that you know how to start the 80/20 diet, here are some useful tips to help you along:

  • Keep it simple & don’t overthink things.
  • Changes don’t have to happen overnight. Replace processed foods and sugary drinks with healthier options, one at a time to prevent overwhelm.
  • Eat a variety of healthy ingredients and dishes to make sure you are receiving all of your necessary nutrients.
  • Meal prepping can streamline things. Ingredients for specific meals can be prepped ahead of time, labeled, and stored until you need them. 
  • Learn how to read labels (where applicable) so you can become more familiar with what an appropriate portion size might be and just how many calories, sugar, salt, & fat you’re consuming.
  • Save time by making extra servings that can be stored in the freezer for the following week.
  • Eat slowly and savor your delicious eats, especially your desserts!
  • Eat sensible portions. This also goes for drinks such as wine. If you have trouble with this use smaller dishes, bowls, & glasses.
  • Don’t leave any temptations within reach or plain sight.
  • Take inventory of what is already in your pantry, fridge, and freezer to give you some ideas of what you can or would like to include in your plans, and what you may or may not need to purchase for your meals.
  • Keep your meal plan where you’ll see it such as on your fridge, or in your planner if you use it regularly.
  • Be flexible with your plans if you need to. If friends want to go out for dinner but it’s not your cheat meal, you can switch it around. It’s totally okay but I’d recommend not making it too much of a habit. 
  • Keep fallback foods on hand, just in case a meal or snack you’ve planned doesn’t work out… if you burn your meal, for example, you’ll be glad you have other options. Frozen veggies and fruit, frozen leftovers from the week before, canned low-sodium beans, and oats, for example.

Final Notes

As with any diet it’s always a good idea to consult your physician first before starting, in case you have any health issues or concerns that need to be addressed.

It’s easy to incorporate other diets into the 80/20 diet so meals can be modified to include them, and remember, the 80/20 diet is flexible and shouldn’t stress you out. 

I hope this introduction to the 80/20 diet helps you make healthier choices, makes you healthier, and happier!

Be sure to take a peek at my recipes! You just might find some goodies to add to your future meal plans.

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80/20 Diet for Beginners and a circle with 80% fruits and veggies. The other 20% is a pepperoni pizza close up.

ps. I’m not a nutritionist so be sure to read the Disclaimer

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