Is the 80/20 Diet Healthy, Useful and Safe?

It’s January and that means people are turning to popular diets to shed holiday weight gain. In the past, we wrote about the 20/20 diet. Today we’re looking at the 80/20 diet to see if it is safe and if it has any merits.

Last week, an article on Woman’s Health told a story about a woman who lost 75 pounds in 20 months while on the diet. It’s important to note that while the article mostly focuses on the diet, she also worked out 75 to 90 minutes every day. She laid it out simply. She ate 80 percent healthy foods and 20 percent treats and worked out to have “a modest 2,000 to 4,000 calorie deficit daily.”

From this first-person account, we have to admit that we were immediately skeptical. Any healthy diet where you work out for 75-90 minutes a day and keep yourself at a constant calorie deficit that is more than a standard recommended intake will make you lose weight. Reading that made us wary of the diet, but we looked into it more, wanting to give you a complete picture.    

The diet itself doesn’t recommend treats. It is all about moderation. “The 80/20 diet approaches healthy eating with a message of moderation — 80 percent healthy choices and 20 percent flexibility for less healthy options. Nutrition professionals back this approach, as it’s feasible for all, allows for a variety of foods and avoids deprivation,” said Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH.

That’s a healthy, balanced way to approach a diet that can help people who don’t like rigid diets. It’s not advocating for treats or sugar. It just means that if 80 percent of your calories are healthy, you can treat yourself to something now and then. That is something we preach often! Allowing yourself indulgences helps you stay on a healthy path instead of ending up binging on forbidden treats and feeling like you have failed.

The diet recommends portion control and possibly moving to a ratio of 90/10 to aid weight loss. Those are both good pieces of advice. We always recommend paying attention to portions. It’s essential for people with blood sugar concerns who have to pay attention to how many carbs they eat. And changing the ratio to 90 percent healthy to 10 percent relaxed choices still allows people to enjoy some indulgences and not feel denied, so they don’t become fixated on treats.

The 80/20 diet seems more like a healthy approach to eating rather than a diet. It can be a good way to change your mindset toward food. It’s also nice that it resets daily. Each day is a new opportunity to ensure you are meeting the ratio correctly. If you mess up today, there is always tomorrow — you don’t have to feel like the whole diet is down the drain. You can also use the diet to approach meals visually, looking at your plate: is eighty percent of your plate filled with nutritious, beneficial foods or are you eating a lot of junk? You can use the rule to go meal-by-meal throughout your day if that’s a good approach for you.

Our final takeaway is that the 80/20 approach is great, but the article on the woman losing 75 pounds is slightly misleading. She had results by working out 75 to 90 minutes daily while following a healthy diet. Any version of a healthy diet in combination with that level of exercise will yield results. The specific diet wasn’t the key. However, the 80/20 diet is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a new way to try healthy eating in 2023.  

Banner image: Andres Ayrton via Pexels

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