Let’s cut right to the chase: Chronic dieting is unhealthy. It wreaks havoc on your metabolism and your mindset. It’s a short-term solution with an external focus, and once the word “diet” enters your brain, deprivation takes over.
“I want to lose 5 pounds for a wedding, so I can’t eat any bread.” Sound familiar? It’s day one of your diet. So, we throw out all the junk food from our pantry, which is great. Then, we stay laser-focused for a few weeks and avoid typical dieting no-nos like sugar and alcohol. This is also great, as we could all stand to lower our sugar intake. However, the main difference with dieting is how we feel mentally.
As soon as your brain receives the message that it can’t have something, it’s all you can focus on. Think back to when you were a kid at the county fair. You wait in line for 30 minutes with all of your friends, only to be told that you’re too short to ride the roller coaster. What’s the one thing you would focus on the rest of the night? That stupid roller coaster. In general, it’s not fun being told no, and that same principle applies when we significantly restrict ourselves with food.
That’s where the power of the 80/20 rule comes into play. This rule creates a sustainable, consistent relationship with food so that healthy eating feels doable in the long run, not just for a few weeks at a time.
Let’s face it: We like to eat. No, we love to eat. Food is a huge part of our lives, and in our culture, it is something to be enjoyed and celebrated.
Being the person who says no to a fresh, out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie because “we’re on a diet” every other week sucks. But, we also realize we can’t eat cookies every day because that’s clearly not healthy, either.
So, here’s how the 80/20 rule works. Eighty percent of the time, you should focus on eating clean, good-for-you foods. Think of foods as close to their natural state as possible. We want to stay away from artificial ingredients, added sugar and preservatives, and we want to focus on farm-fresh produce, grass-fed protein and wild-caught seafood. The basic rule of thumb is if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s not something you want to eat.
We want to focus on eating seasonally and shop the local farmers markets where food is at its ripest and most nutrient dense. Build your plate with high-quality proteins and lots of green leafy vegetables. Then, continue to make healthy choices each day.
However, 20 percent of the time you have the freedom to indulge as you please. It’s that simple. So, when hot chocolate chip cookies are presented, you don’t have to say no and you don’t have to eat the whole tray, either. But, if you have been following the 80/20 rule, you don’t feel deprived and you start to realize that those cookies will always be there. That panicked need to stuff your face actually starts to subside.
Now, just because you have room to eat a treat 20 percent of the time doesn’t mean you have to take it. But, it’s really nice knowing it’s there, and when you have a true craving, you can indulge without the guilt and negative self-talk that you went “off your diet.” You consciously made a decision to eat a cookie, and that is OK.
You should also know that the 80/20 rule looks a little different for each person. Some people choose to have a square of 70 percent dark chocolate each night, while others might find it more enjoyable to make good choices all week but then have one relaxed meal out with friends. Don’t get caught up on the exact math. Just focus on making good choices most of the time so that when the cookie shows up, which it always will, it won’t break you.
So here’s to carrots and cookies, because we believe that you can have your cookie and eat it, too.