The “I will start eating healthy tomorrow” excuse is not valid when you approach your diet with an attitude of moderation.

As promised, I plan on writing in greater depth about each of the six tenets of My Nutrition Philosophy (See post on October 11).  This week: Consider the 80/20 rule of moderation. You will do well nutritionally if eighty percent of the time, you choose foods that are health promoting, and twenty percent of the time, you choose foods that will keep you from feeling deprived.

Why is moderation important?  First, to expect dietary perfection is to set yourself up for failure.  (See Neal’s post on SMART goal planning).  Very few people (if any!) can eat a “perfect” diet, 100% of the time, and this only becomes more and more challenging over an extended period of time.  Dietary perfection is simply unrealistic – the mere thought of never allowing yourself ice cream (or bacon, donuts, candy, etc.) makes even the most self-disciplined person want to head to the fridge to eat an entire gallon.  Along the same line, when a craving becomes so strong that you finally give in, it’s usually not for just a piece of chocolate; it will more likely be the entire bar.  By allowing yourself small, occasional treats, you will hopefully prevent the inevitable binge that follows from feelings of deprivation.

Additionally, expecting perfection doesn’t account for life circumstances beyond a person’s control.  Events like birthday parties and family gatherings, or an evening where you have only enough time to go through the drive-thru.  There are certainly strategies to help you deal with these events. For example, you can plan ahead and bring a vegetable tray to a family gathering where you know healthy food will not be on the menu.  Regardless, life still happens, including situations that we cannot fully prepare for, and that 20% allows us to relax a little and enjoy life.

Lastly, the 80/20 rule of moderation is important because that 20% leeway gets rid of the “all or nothing” diet mentality.  Just because you gave into temptation and had a treat does not mean that your diet is ruined and that you might as well go on eating junk the rest of the day.  The “I will start eating healthy tomorrow” excuse is not valid when you approach your diet with an attitude of moderation.

On the other hand, don’t let the 80/20 rule turn into justification to allow yourself every indulgence.  Keep in mind that 80% of your diet should be foods that promote health, make you feel well, and prevent chronic disease.  These foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein, low fat dairy, nuts, and healthy oils (again, refer to Nutrition 101).  These foods are nutrient-dense and are low in saturated (solid) fats and added sugar.

Try writing down or tracking your dietary intake for at least a day, and look with a critical eye at what you ate.  Does your intake fit within the idea of moderation, or have those “once in awhile” foods turned into everyday foods? If so, try this:  keep those 20% foods special.  The 20% is not really intended for a donut that you eat simply because your co-worker brought in a dozen and it’s sitting there (and maybe you don’t even like donuts that much–often we will eat what is in front of us, no matter what it is).  That 20% is meant for foods that we enjoy purely for taste, comfort, nostalgia, or whatever other meaning food has for us beyond pure nourishment.

Keep the focus on the healthy 80%, but allow the 20% foods to keep you sane, happy, and able to sustain a healthy diet long-term.

Happy Eating!


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