The 80/20 Rule Diet: Benefits, Side Effects, And Meal Plan

The ideal diet for those who have health goals as well as a sweet tooth.

Medically reviewed by Mary Sabat, RDN, LD Mary Sabat Mary SabatRDN, LD facebook_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , BSc (Life Sciences), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Himanshi Mahajan BSc (Life Sciences), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
Edited by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health linkedin_icon Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , BPharm, Certified Health & Wellness Coach Moksha Gandhi BPharm, Certified Health & Wellness Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
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The 80/20 rule diet can be a blessing for those who find it difficult to always stick to a healthy diet. The diet allows you to indulge 20% of the time if you can stick to healthy eating 80% of the time. Unlike other restrictive diets, it helps you stay consistent while allowing you some liberty to savor your favorite foods without feeling guilty. But that is not all – as the diet also has some important rules to follow.

Understanding these rules will help you get a better grip on your eating habits and achieve your health goals. Scroll down to learn more about the 80/20 rule diet, its benefits, and possible side effects, and what foods to eat.

protip_icon At A Glance: 80/20 Rule Diet
  • Principle: Intake of healthy foods 80% of the time with an allowance for indulgences 20% of the time
  • Purpose: To encourage healthy eating to maintain overall well-being and support weight loss
  • Who It Is For: Those who have busy or irregular lifestyles and are trying to adopt healthy eating habits
  • Duration: Long-term
  • Who Should Avoid: Those with metabolic health conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol levels
  • Cons: May not work for everyone and may lead to binge eating and weight gain

What Is The 80/20 Rule Diet?

The 80/20 rule diet is not strictly a diet plan. It, instead, is a way of eating and a lifestyle where you consume nutritious meals 80% of the time and relax food restrictions the remaining 20% of the time. This method helps you adopt healthier eating habits and balances your nutritional requirements.

While how it is to be practiced is open to individual interpretation, this diet is also called the weekend diet as you can eat your favorite foods for two days after eating healthy foods for five days in a row. This idea goes against the theory of dieting, which can often cause side effects. One study notes that, in some cases, dieting may backfire and lead to binge eating (1). However, the 80/20 rule diet can save you from such restrictions as it offers a diverse menu.

Mary Sabat, a Registered Dietitian, says, “It may be more suitable for weight maintenance as the 20% “cheats” will back fire for someone trying to lose weight.”

A carefully planned 80/20 rule diet can give you the best of both worlds. Read more to learn how this diet can help you in your health journey.

How Does The 80/20 Rule Diet Work?

Principles of the 80/20 rule diet
Image: Shutterstock
  • Balances Your Meals

The premise of the 80/20 rule diet is to welcome balanced and nutritious meals and snacks. It involves choosing unprocessed and whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats for the majority of your diet (80% of the time).

  • Focuses On Moderate Intake Of Treats

It does not fully eliminate the consumption of fatty, sugary, and processed foods. Instead, the diet gives you the freedom to enjoy occasional treats (20% of the time) so that you do not lose control or slip back into unhealthy eating patterns.

The 80/20 rule diet can be a favorable solution for individuals seeking sustainable healthy eating. But should you follow this diet? Keep reading to know more.

Who Should Follow The 80/20 Rule Diet?

The 80/20 eating practice is beneficial for individuals who are:

  • Looking for a realistic plan to stick to for the long term.
  • Seeking a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods with cheat days.
  • Dealing with busy lifestyles that include social gatherings and celebrations that may involve unhealthy eating.
  • Looking for ways to focus on mindful dietary choices.
  • Athletes and fitness enthusiasts who want to have cheat meals without feeling guilty.

This diet can cater to different requirements of people and can be modified as per one’s needs. Let us now look at some of its key benefits that make it sustainable.

Benefits Of The 80/20 Rule Diet

  • Is Easy To Follow

The 80/20 rule diet is a straightforward plan that does not involve calorie counting or strict rules. Its simplicity makes it easy to understand and incorporate into your life.

  • Has A Variety Of Food Choices

The diet plan encourages the intake of a diverse range of foods and does not restrict anything. Nutrient-dense foods ensure one’s overall well-being while cheat meals keep the journey enjoyable.

  • Does Not Exclude Food Groups

Unlike some restrictive diets, the 80/20 rule diet does not exclude particular food groups. It instead encourages moderation and portion control. This helps one form a healthy relationship with food.

  • Is Highly Adaptable

You get to enjoy foods that are not a part of your regular diet (the 80%) when you are at social gatherings. You just have to remember to balance your upcoming meals accordingly to maintain the 80/20 ratio.

These features make this diet perfect for those who are new to dieting and want to start eating healthy. It can help kickstart your health journey and take you a step closer to your goal. That said, one of the most common goals of this diet is weight loss. But how well does it work for weight loss? We will discuss the same in the next section.

Does The 80/20 Rule Diet Work For Weight Loss?

The efficacy of the 80/20 rule diet plan for weight loss depends on various factors. A week-long healthy eating and abstinence from junk food may result in some weight loss, but there’s a catch – you may regain the lost weight over the weekend.

A study published in the journal Obesity (Silver Spring) observes that changes in lifestyle (diet or activity-related) during the weekend may prevent weight loss. It concludes that higher energy intake over a short period, such as on weekends, could lead to significant weight gain (2).

These findings may make the 80/20 rule diet seem a lot more appealing than effective. However, more research specific to its principles of healthy and balanced eating is warranted to arrive at any conclusion about its efficacy.

Nevertheless, this diet can still serve as a starting point for those who are trying to break free from unhealthy eating patterns. Keep reading to discover ways to make the right calculations with respect to this diet.

How To Calculate The 80/20 Rule Diet

Calculating one’s calorie intake in the 80/20 rule diet
Image: Shutterstock

Remember that the 80/20 rule diet is not set in stone. You can modify it as per your requirements while eating nutritious meals 80% of the time and relaxing the restrictions the remaining 20% of the time. You can follow any of the following approaches.

  • Weekdays Versus Weekends

Eat foods rich in healthy fats, fiber, and minerals for five days of the week and your other favorite foods in the next two days. However, this approach may be counterproductive for some as it may lead to heavy calorie intake on weekends. You may prevent this by setting a few boundaries to keep yourself from binge eating in that short window.

  • Counting Total Number Of Meals Per Week

Divide the total number of meals in a 7-day week and distribute them in an 80/20 ratio. For example, breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner make for 4 meals a day and 28 meals a week. So, you can have 22 healthy meals and 6 indulgent ones throughout the week.

  • Mixed Approach

Instead of eating a lot of junk food at a time, you may have it with every meal, and in moderation. Divide your daily calorie intake as per an 80/20 ratio. For example, if your daily caloric requirement is 1,600 calories, take 1,280 calories from healthy foods and the remaining 320 calories from other foods. You may also bend the rules and make it 90/10 to satisfy your cravings while limiting the intake of junk foods.

protip_icon StyleCraze Trivia
The 80/20 rule diet is based on the Pareto Principle, which states that roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of your causes. It is called so since the idea was derived from the works of Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian polymath.

The main idea is to keep your meals as healthy as possible 80% of the time so that you get to indulge the remaining 20% of the time without any guilt. However, you need to be aware of the differences between healthy and unhealthy or “indulgent” foods to make better choices. For example, while white bread is healthier than chips, it is less healthy than whole wheat bread as it has less fiber (3). Hence, your aim is to make your diet as healthy as possible by selecting more nutritious food options. Dive into the next section to learn about the right foods you can include in your 80/20 rule diet.

Foods To Eat On The 80/20 Rule Diet

Lady with a bowl of salad as part of the 80/20 rule diet
Image: Shutterstock

Healthy foods refer to fruits and vegetables with minimal or no additives like sugars, fats, or salt (4), (5). These foods are rich in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for overall health. They also include whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and lean meats. However, do watch your calorie intake to ensure you don’t overconsume calories even if they are coming from healthy foods.

protip_icon Quick Tip
When trying to balance calories, pick a low-calorie healthy alternative. For example, have an apple instead of a banana.

You may include the following healthy, low-calorie foods in your shopping list 80% of the time.

Sample Shopping List For The 80/20 Rule Diet

Foods to buy as per the 80/20 rule diet
Image: Shutterstock

Fruits

  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Watermelon
  • Green grapes
  • Cherries
  • Berries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Grapefruit

Vegetables

  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Green cabbage
  • Celery
  • Tomato
  • Sweet Corn
  • Onion
  • Cucumber (with peel)
  • Broccoli
  • Carrot

Whole Grains

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat

Lean Proteins

  • Skinless chicken breast
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Lean beef
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Eggs (especially egg whites)
  • Greek yogurt

Your Favorite Treats

  • Candies
  • Cakes
  • Pastries
  • Patties
  • Burger
  • Pizza
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream

You might be tempted to gorge on your favorite foods once you finish 80% of your diet. But bear in mind that uncontrolled calorie intake during a short period may lead to unwanted weight gain. You can prevent that by following a proper meal plan. Check out the next section.

7-Day 80/20 Rule Diet Meal Plan

The following diet plan follows a mixed approach. You can eat any of your favorite foods as long as they do not exceed 300-350 calories (or any number of calories that constitute up to 20% of your daily intake). Also, make sure that 80% of your meals are super-nutritious and filling so that you don’t end up overindulging later.

 BreakfastLunch SnackDinner Eat What You Want
Day11 bowl of oats with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 1 cup of  almond milk6 ounces of grilled chicken breast with 2 cups of side salad of mixed greens and 1 cup of diced cherry tomatoes and cucumbers12 almonds6 ounces of baked salmon with a lemon and herb garnish and 1 cup of steamed broccoli with ½ cup of quinoa1 cup of ice cream sundae with 1 tablespoon of Hershey’s chocolate syrup
Day21 cup of Greek yogurt with 1 sliced pear and 1 tablespoon of honey1 turkey and avocado wrap in a whole-grain tortilla and 1 cup of baby carrots1 apple6 ounces of stir-fried tofu with 2 cups of mixed vegetables in a ginger soy sauce and 1 cup of brown rice1 chocolate chip pancake with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
Day32 scrambled eggs with ½ cup of diced bell peppers and 1 slice of wholewheat toast1 bowl of lentil and vegetable soup with 2 cups of salad with mixed greens1 cup of diced carrots with 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing6 ounces of grilled shrimp with 1 cup of oats and 1 cup of steamed asparagus1 cup of hot chocolate cake with sprinkles
Day42 cups of smoothie with spinach, ½ cup of strawberries, 1 cup of almond milk, and 1 scoop of protein powder2 cups of quinoa salad with 1 cup of boiled chickpeas and 1 cup of diced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes10 walnuts5 ounces of baked chicken breast with 1 cup of roasted sweet potatoes and 1 cup of sautéed kale1 slice of cheese pizza
Day51 bowl of oatmeal with ½ cup of fresh berries and 6 chopped and sprinkled almonds2 bell peppers stuffed with spinach and feta with 1 cup of steamed green beans1 pear5 ounces of grilled sirloin steak with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of side salad of roasted Brussels sprouts1 small piece of butterscotch-flavored cheesecake
Day62 whole-grain waffles with ½ a cup Greek yogurt and 1 cup of mixed berries4 ounces of caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and 2 diced tomatoes, ½ cup of basil leaves1 cup of cucumber and peanut salad6 ounces of baked cod with a lemon herb crust and 1 cup of brown rice1 glazed donut with cinnamon
Day72 scrambled eggs with ½ cup of diced tomatoes and 1 cup of sautéed spinach1 tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread with 1 cup of diced lettuce, tomato, and cucumber2 brown rice cakes6 ounces of baked haddock with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of sautéed asparagus½ of a double cheeseburger

Every diet has pros and cons. While the benefits of the 80/20 rule diet grab all the attention, its side effects should not be overlooked. Let us now explore the potential downsides of this diet.

Side Effects Of The 80/20 Rule Diet

The 80/20 rule diet lacks a strict structure which may lead to overindulgence
Image: Shutterstock
  • May Not Work For Everyone

The 80/20 rule diet is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It may not work for those who need to lose weight and have metabolic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, etc. This is because processed foods pose dangers to human health (6).

  • Lacks Structure

The 80/20 rule diet can be too flexible as it lacks any fixed form or structure. This can make one end up overeating before they realize it.

  • May Lead To Binge Eating

A long, stressful week, staying too hungry, or the mere sight of your favorite foods can make you overeat. Binge-eating fatty and sugary foods, even just on the weekends, may make you gain weight and set back all the progress you may have made (2).

Infographic: Pros Of Following The 80/20 Rule Diet

The 80/20 rule diet offers great flexibility for those who are trying to improve their eating habits amid a busy schedule. It can be followed without any strict restrictions or adherence to stringent rules. One needs to simply consume healthy foods 80% of the time and save their favorite foods for the remaining 20%. Check out the following infographic to learn about some of the major benefits of this diet.

pros of following the 80/20 rule diet (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

The 80/20 rule diet offers a flexible approach to nutrition. It allows individuals to enjoy their favorite indulgences while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It brings variety to meals but does not feel restrictive. However, its effectiveness for weight loss remains inconclusive. Also, the diet may not suit everyone, especially those with specific health conditions. That said, the 80/20 rule diet can be a valuable tool for improving eating habits and finding a sustainable path toward better health when accompanied by portion control and exercise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to track my meals to follow the 80/20 rule diet?

Typically, no meal tracking is involved in the 80/20 rule diet. However, you may need to count your number of meals, portions, and/or calories if you wish to nail the 80/20 ratio.

Can the 80/20 rule diet lead to overindulgence?

Yes, suppressing the urge to indulge in not-so-healthy foods for too long may lead to overindulgence. So, you may have at least one of your favorite foods every day to avoid this.

Will I still get all the necessary nutrients with this approach?

Yes. The 80/20 rule diet focuses on eating healthy through the majority of your meals. These healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and animal products that can offer essential nutrients.

How can I make the 80/20 rule diet a sustainable habit?

You can make the 80/20 rule diet a sustainable habit by:

• Planning your meals

• Controlling your portions

• Enjoying its flexibility (as opposed to an all-or-none approach)

Key Takeaways

  • The 80/20 rule diet balances healthy eating with occasional indulgences in an 80/20 ratio.
  • It’s suitable for busy individuals who want to make mindful dietary choices for long-term health benefits.
  • Its major characteristics include simplicity, diverse food options, and flexibility.
  • Its effectiveness for weight loss is uncertain, and it may not be suitable for people with health conditions such as diabetes.
80/20 rule diet

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

The 80/20 rule diet is popular because of its adaptability! All you have to do is distribute your healthy foods and indulgences in an 80/20 ratio, respectively. Quite simple, isn’t it? Watch the following video to learn how to work it out practically.

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Which dieters are at risk for the onset of binge-eating? A prospective study of adolescents and young adults
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3383602/
  2. Influence of weekend lifestyle patterns on body weight
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3740215/
  3. Microstructure of whole wheat versus white flour and wheat-chickpea flour blends and dough: impact on the glycemic response of pan bread
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7557900/
  4. Actions for healthy eating – local government actions to prevent childhood obesity
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK219682/
  5. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649719/
  6. The hidden dangers of fast and processed food
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6146358/
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Mary Sabat

Mary SabatRDN, LD

Mary Sabat is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer with over 30 years of experience. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in Human Nutrition (with an emphasis on Exercise Science) from Rutger’s University. Mary's extensive experience in nutrition counseling enables her to craft customized lifestyle diet...read full bio

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