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The 80/20 diet

Are you looking for a sustainable approach to weight loss? The 80/20 diet is a flexible meal plan to help you lose weight and still enjoy your favorite foods. 

The diet’s primary goal is to eat nutritious, wholesome foods 80% of the time, leaving 20% for less nutrient-dense, “fun” foods. 

The 80/20 approach is more of a lifestyle change than a fad diet. I have seen my nutrition clients lose weight while following the 80/20 rule without having to count calories.

In today’s post, I will be going over what the 80/20 diet is, its pros and cons, and how it can help you sustainably lose weight.

What is the 80/20 Diet?

The 80/20 rule originated from an economic theory called the Pareto Principle that states roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.

Overall, this concept highlights that what you do a majority of the time will have the most significant impact on your results. That makes sense, right? 

When applied as an eating style, the 80/20 diet is relatively simple: eat healthy, nutritious foods 80% of the time. 

The other 20% allows for flexibility in your diet. You have the freedom to eat your favorite foods and treats, even if they aren’t nutrient-dense. 

Since you’re not restricting yourself completely and allow yourself to eat the foods you want in moderation, the 80/20 diet is a sustainable way of eating for many people. You don’t have to give up going out to eat with your friends or having pizza on a Friday night!

What Can You Eat?

There are technically no rules on what you “can” and “can’t” eat on the 80/20 diet. Any food is fair game as long as you stick with the 80/20 rule and consume mainly nutrient-dense foods. 

Nutrient-dense foods have a high nutritional value and tend to be whole foods over processed ones. 

To gain the most benefits from the diet, I recommend having a balance of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.  

Lean protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient for overall health and weight management. It keeps you full for longer and promotes muscle growth. 

Examples of lean proteins:

  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Soy protein (tofu, tempeh)
  • Dairy products, including Greek yogurt
  • Legumes


Whole grains give your body more energy and fiber than refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and flour. 

Examples of whole grains:

  • Whole-wheat (bread, bagels, pasta)
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Barley and buckwheat

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are full of micronutrients and fiber that your body needs while being low in calories. I encourage my clients to have both fresh and frozen varieties on hand. 

There are tons of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to choose from. Try heading to your local farmer’s market and seeing what is in season near you!  

Healthy fats

Not all fats are equal regarding your health and weight loss. Healthy fat sources are typically high in heart-healthy unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. 

Examples of healthy fats:

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish 

You also want to be mindful of your portion size and eat fats in moderation since they’re higher in calories.

Off-limit foods

While no foods are off-limit with the 80/20 diet, you should still be cautious of your food choices. 

Less nutrient-dense options that are in the 20 percent category include:

  • Fried foods
  • Refined carbs like white bread, regular pasta, and pastries
  • High-fat meat and dairy

Foods high in added sugar, such as juice, soda, and sweets Alcohol – This is another empty source of calories you may want to limit and save for celebrations and special occasions. 


The 80/20 diet

Next, let’s go over a few pros of the 80/20 diet. 


One of the best parts about this diet is its overall sustainability. Many of my clients follow this way of eating  for extended periods since it doesn’t involve tracking or counting calories and is simple to follow. 

No restrictions

There are no restrictions or feelings of deprivation with the 80/20 rule. You can still enjoy your favorite meals and go out to eat with loved ones. You don’t have to give up anything, as with many other diets! 

Flexibility with dietary preferences

The flexibility of this diet is ideal for anyone with dietary allergies and preferences. It’s easy to omit gluten if you have Celiac disease or dairy if you’re lactose intolerant since you choose your own meals. 

Promotes healthy eating habits

Especially if you’re new to healthy eating, the 80/20 approach can help promote healthy eating habits. It teaches you how to choose nutrient-rich, whole foods most of the time and cut back on less healthy choices.

Over time, you start to crave the unhealthier foods less and less, which can keep you on track to lose unwanted body fat


No diet or eating style is perfect, and the 80/20 diet still has drawbacks and may not be for everyone. 

Easy to go overboard

One con of the 80/20 rule is that since you aren’t tracking what you’re eating, it is easier than you think to go over the 20% of unhealthy foods guideline.

People who have a history of emotional or binge eating may find this diet too flexible. You’ll still need to have some amount of self-control to say “no” to less healthy choices the majority of the time. 

Limited structure 

Some people thrive off structure and specific meal guidelines. They want to know exactly what to eat and when to eat it. 

The 80/20 approach is more flexible and leaves room for interpretation with food choices. If you enjoy following a meal plan with set rules, this eating style may not be structured enough for you. 

Does the 80/20 Diet Help You Lose Weight?

The 80/20 diet

The 80/20 diet can help you achieve permanent weight loss if you stay within the 80/20 parameters. You will likely eat a reasonably balanced diet since you focus mainly on nutrient-rich, whole foods that are naturally lower in calories. 

Additionally, some research highlights the idea that not restricting your food intake can actually promote healthy weight loss. 

However, the key is ensuring you’re not consistently going over 20% if you want long-term results. The 20% rule can easily turn into 50% if you aren’t being strategic with your eating. 

As always, working with a registered dietitian is the best way to ensure your diet and eating plan are the right fit for you. 

My Bottom Line Advice As a Weight Loss Dietitian

The 80/20 diet can be a sustainable eating style for many people. It allows for flexibility and food freedom while promoting overall healthy eating habits. 

If you’re looking for a way to lose weight without restricting food or counting calories, the 80/20 approach may be an excellent fit for you. 

However, if you prefer a more structured routine with less room for error, you may benefit more from another weight loss plan. 

Are you seeking extra guidance on the best sustainable diet for you? Book your free call today to learn more about my sustainable weight loss counseling services! There is no better time to invest in your health.