Is the 80/20 diet the perfect formula for long term health?

Don’t ditch the pizza – the 80/20 approach to eating is designed for the long haul, giving you plenty of room for the occasional treat.

Want to shed a few kilograms, or just eat healthier, while still enjoying all your favourite foods?

Experts say the 80/20 Diet, which involves eating healthy foods 80 per cent of the time, could be the answer.

“It’s definitely not a fad diet,” dietitian Aleksa Gagic says.

“The 80/20 enables you to establish an overall balanced diet without eliminating all the stuff you enjoy eating.”

Why the 80/20 diet is easier to sustain over the long haul

Aleksa says this flexible approach to eating can be used as a framework around any kind of diet, such as vegan or Mediterranean diet, for example.

The fact people can tailor the approach to their own needs is much more likely to set people up for success than highly restrictive diets, he says.

“The reality is most dieting fails because people can’t sustain the efforts, because it doesn’t really align with their lifestyle and the fact we are all human.”

Dieting need not be “black and white”, according to dietitian Milly Smith, which is why the 80/20 diet can be a positive choice.

“It’s more to encourage healthier eating behaviours without people feeling they’re going to be deprived, which is how we should feel,” Milly says.

The pros and cons of the 80/20 diet

Milly says there’s pros and cons to the 80/20 approach.

I’m called a dietitian but I actually don’t like really restrictive diets for people – generally they’re not sustainable, they can lead to really poor relationships with food and can actually cause poorer eating behaviours down the track,” she says.

“So in that sense, when someone’s trying to implement changes to their diet, and eats closer to our dietary guidelines, an 80/20 approach is a really positive thing because it allows them a bit of flexibility.”

However she says there is some risk people can overdo their treat time, and not stick to the 20 per cent.

What to eat 80 per cent of the time

Milly suggests following dietary guidelines, and eating from all five food groups.

“We want our meals to have a big range of colour in them, so lots of different veggies, some sort of lean protein and some low GI carbohydrates – things like brown rice, grainy bread, sweet potato or quinoa.”

Along with the above suggestions, Aleksa gives the tick of approval to fresh cuts of meat, wholegrains, good quality dairy (if you can tolerate it), and a mix of macro and micronutrients.

What can you include in 20 per cent of your diet?

You might be tempted to splurge on 20 per cent of a whole week’s worth of “fun” foods in one hit – say over the weekend.

But Aleksa says that’s probably not the best approach when first getting started with 80/20 eating.

“It can be a slippery slope towards falling off track when you are trying to establish habits and behaviours,” he says, noting that alcohol also falls within the 20 per cent allocation.

“Consistency throughout the whole week is important because the weekend is a third of your diet at the end of the day.”

How to track your 80/20 eating

Tracking your calories can make it easier to stick to the 20 per cent limit for discretionary foods.

“But if you’re not counting calories, it’s not something that has to be an exact science or exact maths, and that’s the thing that people get too stuck on,” Aleksa says.

“The reality is you don’t have to be perfect with it, you just have to be consistent overall.”

Written by Larissa Ham