What Does the 80/20 Rule Actually Look Like?

What Does the 80/20 Rule Actually Look Like?

Last night, I made a big ole pan of Rice Krispie treats and ate two bars.  Big ones.  With an extra marshmallow melted on top.  (‘Cause that’s how I roll.)

See, I try to live by the 80/20 rule.  Or, at least, that’s what I always told myself.  And those Rice Krispie treats were DEFINITELY part of my much-needed 20 percent this week.  (The baby is cutting teeth; need I say more?)

I think it’s a good way to live; all things in moderation, right?

But recently, I realized that I didn’t really know what 20 percent actually looks like.

I mean, 20 percent of what exactly?

**WARNING!** There is some math that follows.  And it may or may not be correct, as I pretty well suck at math.

tiny cupcake
image by PetitPlat – Stephanie Kilgast on Flickr

Let’s just back this up for one second and answer an even more basic question: what is the 80/20 rule when it comes to your diet?

The 80/20 rule for diets states that you eat well (for whatever definition of “well” you choose) 80 percent of the time and you indulge in less healthy fare 20 percent of the time.

But I was just estimating my 20 percent, when I realized that I didn’t really know what 20 percent looks like.

So, to find 20 percent, we first have to know what the 100 percent looks like, right?  I mean, are we talking minutes of the day? Whole days?  Calories?  Meals?

There are a lot of minutes in the day (1,440 to be exact) and the number of calories anyone is supposed to eat in a given day is likely to be up there in the thousands, too.  So, being the math-phobic that I am, I decided to work with smaller numbers and look at meals.

I generally eat three main meals per day, plus one afternoon snack.  Multiply that by 7, and I eat 28 meals per week.

4 * 7 = 28

Twenty percent of 28 is 5.6.

28 * 0.2 = 5.6

But how do you calculate 0.6 of a meal??   Hmmm…

OK, let’s eliminate the snacks.  Three meals a day, for seven days is 21.  Twenty percent of 21 is 4.2

21 * 0.2 = 4.2

OK, close enough.

So that gives me four meals per week that are my indulgent meals (and maybe one really bad snack).  Wow!  Not bad at all!

Except, do I really only have indulgences only four times per week? And what, exactly, constitutes an indulgence?


I can think of a lot of ways you could play this:

  • Since I’m on Weight Watchers, I could say that an indulgent meal is anything over X amount of points (or calories, or fat grams, or…)
  • I could count anything with sugar in it (other than fruit) as part of the 20 percent.
  • I could count anything fried (a big weakness of mine) as part of the 20 percent.
  • I could count alcohol as part of the 20 percent.

Your mileage may vary—but that’s the beauty of the 80/20 rule: it is infinitely adaptable.  If you’re trying to avoid gluten (for diet reasons, not for an allergy), your 20 percent could be when you allow yourself to have something that has gluten.  Or, if you’re trying to cut back on the amount of meat you eat, you could allow yourself to eat meat four meals out of the week.  I can think of dozens of ways you could customize this to your own needs.

I think, for my part, I’m going to say that I can have sugar, fried foods, or alcohol four times per week.  That’ll be my 20 percent.

So, 80 percent of the time (or 17 meals a week) I’ll avoid sugar, fried foods and alcohol.  But 20 percent of the time (or four meals per week) I’ll allow myself to indulge in those things.

It feels a lot better having a road map to follow.  (Even if there WAS math involved!! SCARY!!)

What’s your 20 percent look like?

Leave a comment below and tell me what your 20 percent looks like.

Image by PetitPlat – Stephanie Kilgast used under a Creative Commons License.


Facebook Comments