I’ve been hearing a lot about this 80% diet 20% exercise. I was wondering if this is true, or is this just a myth? If so does this even work? And how do I do the whole 80/20 thing?
Thanks in advance!
Dear Just Wondering,
Ahhhhhh the 80/20 rule! First, did you know that this is actually based on something called the Pareto Principle? Basically, it came from an economist who said “80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of causes.” And if you really think about it, it actually works for a lot of situations! INTERESTING, right?!
Okay, but is the 80/20 rule legit for fitness, losing weight, etc. orrrr just a myth?
I like to look at it as a tool, or a guideline. There are two ways you can actually use the 80/20 mindset to get yourself from point A to point B when it comes to your fitness goals.
First is the specific idea you’re asking about: 80 percent diet, 20 percent exercise.
IDK about the specific numbers being necessary here, but the takeaway for me is that you have to do BOTH. If you want to lose weight, exercise alone isn’t enough to get a consistent calorie deficit unless you’re pushing really hard every day. And that’s not really ideal. On the flip side, trying to get a solid calorie deficit over a consistent period of time on diet alone would be difficult too. It really does take both.
The exact breakdown of 80/20 in this scenario isn’t an exact science. It just comes down to opportunity. We eat a lot more often than we exercise, right? I found a really interesting article that did the math:
“Let’s take percentages out of the equation for now and apply some logic to exercise and nutrition. The normal exerciser may perform three to four weight training sessions and three to four cardio workouts per week, totaling eight sessions per week.
This gives eight opportunities to make a positive change in your body through exercise. That same person eats three healthy meals per day. If knowledgeable in the value of meal spacing, these people may eat five to six times per day. Quick math shows 21 to 35 chances per week to directly and positively impact fat burning and muscle building goals through nutrition.”
So, that’s 8 chances for exercise and 21-35 chances for food per week. If we do the math, that DOES come out to be about 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise! But like I said, not an exact science. Just a way of showing that nutrition is super important!
The other way the 80/20 rule is used is to keep a diet more sustainable.
You stick to eating healthy 80 percent of the time, but relax and indulge a little the other 20 percent of the time. There have been studies that show this method works for more people than other methods! But like with everything, I think it realllllly depends on the person. For some, it’s a more approachable and sustainable method than trying to count calories or macros. It’s flexible and leaves room for all foods. BUT for some people, it can quickly turn negative. It’s easy to over restrict and punish yourself on “clean” eating days. And it’s just as easy to overindulge on your more relaxed days. So even though this guideline of 80/20 has its perks, a healthy lifestyle will always come down to moderation.
So that’s where I’ll leave you, and hopefully, it gave you some guidance!
The 80/20 rule isn’t exactly a myth, but it’s also not a perfect solution for everyone.
The best way to incorporate this principle into your own lifestyle is to eat whole, nutritious foods MOST of the time, while including your favorite foods in moderation too, even if they’re not “healthy.” And of course, find a way to move your body that brings you joy!
PS – If you have a burning question you want to ask me, leave your questions below! I may answer it in an upcoming Dear Cassey post!