How to stop falling off the healthy eating bandwagon: 80/20 rule

Want consistency with healthy eating and exercise to be second nature? Follow this system.

Since starting at Google three years ago, efficiency has been the focus. Because of this emphasis on productivity, every time I start a new project, I ask myself the same question: how can I optimize for the 80%?

Why does this matter?

Optimizing for the straightforward 80% frees us to focus on the more challenging (and impactful) 20%. 

[Source: The Pareto Principle]

In any given problem, about 80% of cases will be standard. If we can identify that simple 80% and automate a process around them, we no longer have to work on them. As an example, maybe you work in customer service and you get 100 requests per day. If 80 of them are on the same topic, you can very easily automate a response or create a help center article to answer the question. Once you resolve the 80 simple requests, you can spend time working on the more complicated ones in your inbox. Win win.

On the other hand, because the remaining requests are more complex, they’ll make up the majority of your efforts and outputs. You’ll need to focus more intensely and come up with customized solutions for each one.

By the end of the day, 20% of your requests generate 80% of your work. And if you can automate that 80%, your day becomes a heck of a lot easier…and more efficient.

This sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Because we all want to focus our energies on the things that really matter, the 80/20 rule (or Pareto’s Principle) can be applied to so many areas of our lives. And as a nutrition coach, I’ve realized the importance of using the 80/20 rule in my coaching to help women get even more consistent with their nutrition.

Why apply the 80/20 rule to nutrition?

The 80/20 rule makes us more consistent with food and nutrition.

About two years ago, I signed up for my first online bootcamp. After battling with anorexia for 8 years at that time, I really wanted to change my physique: more muscles and less belly fat (don’t we all?).

I was SO excited. I took my initial progress pictures, gathered all my equipment, and got ready for week 1. But as soon as I opened the nutrition guidelines, my stomach sank. The portion suggestions, calorie counts, and macro breakdowns were incredibly overwhelming.

As I cooked my chicken breast with vegetables on Wednesday of week 1, all I wanted was a glass of wine. In that moment, I was overcome with a feeling of failure and sunk to the floor in tears. All of the counting and measuring made me so obsessive that I again was battling with my ED.  As I leaned against the cabinets in my tiny kitchen, tears streaming down my face, I realized I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t make myself abide by crazy restrictive guidelines without slipping back into ED. So by the next week, I stopped following all of the bootcamp nutrition guidelines to keep myself from getting overly obsessive, restrictive, or super guilty.

If we struggle with ED tendencies or food obsession, the 80/20 rule is the answer. It allows us to focus on the things that really matter, while automating the rest.

Let’s break it down.

Struggling to be consistent with food? Apply the 80/20 rule to your nutrition and get consistent once and for all.

In order to use the 80/20 rule, we’ve got to consider two things: the 80% and the 20%.

Handling the 80: #automatethatshit

When it comes to the standard 80%, we’ve gotta automate. To automate our eating, we create behaviors that are SO automatic that we don’t even have to think about them.

My first suggestion to start automating your nutrition is to be BASIC and focus on the essentials of good nutrition. Instead of counting anything, we focus on just two things: protein and veggies. Every single time we eat, grab a portion of protein and some vegetables.

This super simple strategy makes all the difference, because we’ll be eating lots of nutrient dense and non-calorie dense foods. This will allow us to eat more AND make we you aren’t missing out on any key nutrients. In layman’s terms, low calorie density = large portion size. And large portion sizes keep our bellies happy.

After doing this for a few weeks, we stop thinking about it and the behavior becomes automatic.

We can all use a little help making our eating more automatic, especially in tough eating situations.

Consistency with healthy eating and exercise is really tough. As a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I have women emailing me almost every single day who just can’t seem to stay consistent with healthy eating and exercise. They know that eating healthy and exercising are “good for them” but have a hard time implementing what they “should” do when life is crazy, their schedules change, or their motivation wavers.

Before automating my eating, I ate well all week long but by Friday, I’d overdo it on boozy beverages and treats. All weekend long, I’d feel guilty and disappointed in my lack of willpower. Now, I eat consistently every single day, without feeling anxious about my indulgences.

Consistency with nutrition is hard. We often know what we need to do but implementing it is another story. There are days when we’re really good and days when everything is off. Sometimes nutrition is effortless, but other times, it gets so overwhelming or we get sick of making decisions, so we end up overindulging and feeling guilty later. When these things happen, we feel like there’s no middle ground between restriction and guilt.

But there is.

With lots of experimentation, I found a way to cut to the middle between deprivation and guilt. That’s why I created my #ConsistentNutrition Cheatsheet to help all of us implement the things we know we should do with our nutrition. There are no crazy meal plans or calorie counts, just the handful things you need to implement daily to eat moderately and find that middle between restriction and guilt. Grab your copy now.

Handling the 20: #mindthemiddle

Now comes the fun part: the tough (and impactful) 20%.

When we’re outside of your automated nutrition, we do not restrict or aim for perfection. Instead, we focus on moderation and minding the middle.

To mind the middle, we take each eating situation and pick the moderate option.

As as example, maybe breakfast, lunch, and dinner are automated but that after dinner snack is still tough. In that case, we’d pick an option that’s not the best but also not the worst. Instead of having a bowl of ice cream or nonfat plain greek yogurt, maybe we grab some Halo Top or my chocolate mug cake. 

Is it the best option? Heck no. But it’ll also keep you satisfied and less obsessed with your next treat.

Part of why I love using the 80/20 rule in my nutrition coaching is that it inevitably shifts us away from obsession. When we’re no longer counting, measuring, or analyzing everything that goes into our mouths, what we eat occupies SO much less mental space.

Wanna try it?

Consistency with nutrition is hard. We often know what we need to do but implementing it is another story. There are days when we’re really good and days when everything is off. Sometimes nutrition is effortless, but other times, it gets so overwhelming or we get sick of making decisions, so we end up overindulging and feeling guilty later. When these things happen, we feel like there’s no middle ground between restriction and guilt.

But there is.

And I want to teach you with my #ConsistentNutrition cheatsheet. Don’t miss this. 

If you’re looking for more examples of how I #mindthemiddle,  I’ll be posting on Facebook and Instagram about how I stay consistent during all situations my eating using the hashtag #mindthemiddle. Don’t miss out!

What’s one nutrition question you have?

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