Using the 80/20 Rule for Weight Loss

Many people successfully lose weight with the 80/20 rule. It’s not technically a full-scale weight loss plan, eating “clean” 80% of the time can work. If you hate following strict food guidelines, you don’t want to count calories or carbohydrates, and you can’t find the time to balance complicated macronutrients, then the rules of the 80/20 plan might be right for you.

What Experts Say

“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.”
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

How It Works

To follow the 80/20 rule, you eat a “clean” diet 80 percent of the time and then allow yourself to enjoy a few indulgences 20 percent of the time. For many people, this means they eat well during the week and relax a bit on the weekend. The plan allows you to enjoy indulgences on a semi-regular basis without the kind of guilt people often feel when they “cheat” on a strict food plan. For many people, this is the most balanced approach to a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle and one we support.

Tips for Success

For best results in terms of weight loss and weight maintenance:

  • Don’t overindulge on your relaxed days. Remember even your 20 percent days should be enjoyed in moderation. If you overdo it on your days “off,” you can gain weight. 
  • Avoid punishing yourself on your “clean” eating days. If you white-knuckle your way through the week, you will be more likely to overindulge on the weekend. In addition, the program won’t be sustainable. Diet fatigue can cause you to quit, or worse, to binge.
  • Remember portion control. Eating a whole foods diet still means paying attention to your portions. If you overeat any food, even healthy food, you are likely to gain weight. 
  • Exercise. The 80/20 rule is perfect for people who participate in a balanced exercise program and are physically active most (if not all) days of the week. The exercise helps to balance out the extra calories that you consume on your 20 percent days. If you are not physically active and you don’t exercise, then the calorie deficit created by the diet may not be significant enough to create a change in the scale.


If you find that you are unable to lose weight, or are gaining weight with the 80/20 rule, consider these adjustments:

  • Add exercise. Anyone who is trying to lose weight should get some physical activity every day. But daily exercise is especially important if you are on an eating plan that includes some higher-fat and higher-calorie foods.
  • Count calories. If the 80/20 plan doesn’t work within the first few weeks, then keep a food journal for at least seven days. Evaluate your caloric intake and compare it to your caloric needs. Make adjustments to your eating plan or to your activity level to create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day depending on your personal needs.
  • Watch your portions. The best way to create your calorie deficit is to practice portion control. On your clean eating days, you might be making great food choices, but eating too much of them. Portion control becomes even more important on your 20 percent days when you eat higher calorie foods.
  • Move to a 90/10 plan. If you practice portion control and exercise regularly and you still cannot create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight, then adjust the 80/20 plan to a 90/10 plan. Instead of relaxing your food choices for four meals, eat only two meals that allow for indulgences.

Good luck!  Comment below and let us know how else we can help.