The 80-20 diet philosophy has had a star-studded list of followers for years now, which include Miranda Kerr, Giselle Bundchen, Cameron Diaz and Jessica Alba among others. More recently, Hollywood artist Olivia Munn, who dropped 12 pounds to play Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, credited her transformation to rigorous training and the 80-20. “… I started working out every single day, and then I also started getting into eating 20-80, where 80 percent of your diet is fruits and vegetables and 20 percent is whatever,” she told Women’s Health magazine.

Considered to be more of a healthier lifestyle approach rather than a strict diet, the 80-20 philosophy makes space for the occasional indulgence once you’ve adopted balanced eating as part of your life. Essentially, if 80% of your meals are fresh, nutritious and well-balanced, then you can throw in a dessert or a burger every now and then. Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr, for example, tries to eat organic foods 80% of the time, while actress Kate Bosworth revealed that she follows a largely “wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free meal plan” for 80% of her meals.

Before you reach for the calculator, the breakdown is simple: For an average of three meals daily, you can treat yourself to four ‘cheat’ meals across the whole week (seven ‘cheats’ for an average of five meals daily). However, because we’re not all celebrities with personal nutritionists to guide us, it’s often possible to go wrong with a plan as flexible as the 80-20. Here’s what to keep in mind:

What goes into the 80%?

It doesn’t have to be gluten-free or organic if that’s not what you’re used to, but the majority of your servings must be natural and unprocessed, such fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, and foods high in water and fiber. Keep an eye out for fresh, seasonal produce but also maintain a moderate calorie count (naturals foods can have high calories too). Try to avoid stress- or bored-eating and make healthy substitutes wherever possible: fibre-rich grains like jowar for processed flour, yogurt for cream or mayo, and homemade sauces and spice mixes rather than store-bought ones.

Sorghum has become a trendy whole grain in recent months
Sorghum has become a trendy whole grain in recent months

Moderation in the 20%

The 80-20 rule allows us a slice of cake or some wine on anniversaries and birthdays, but moderation and self-control are important here. Pay attention to the calories you’re consuming as you still need to maintain an overall calorie deficit to lose weight. One serving of a cheesecake is not the same as eating three-quarters of the whole cake for a ‘meal’. Try and ensure that you don’t go overboard with your treats. For example, choose either the comforting mac-and-cheese for dinner and skip dessert, or go for that slice of cheesecake after a healthy, leafy salad. Not pasta and cake together even if it’s technically in one meal.

Don’t forget to exercise

There’s really no miracle way to long-term weight loss that does not involve exercise. 30-60 minutes of moderately-intense exercise five times a week is as important to your 80-20 way of life as the carefully planned meal calendar. Use a combination of cardio as well as strength training to boost your metabolism and help you burn more fat. Adequate rest and sleep are are required for making this a success.

Don't forget to get your exercise; diet is just half the game
Don’t forget to get your exercise; diet is just half the game

Essentially, 80-20 works on the principle that the more successful you are in cutting out unhealthy eating habits from your life, the more likely you are to not return back to them at all. By choosing a balanced healthy lifestyle over crash diets and fads, you make weight loss an everyday journey, rather than a target for disappointment or failure.

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