Chris Freytag 03/14/2015 National fitness expert, speaker, contributor to Prevention magazine, author of several books and fitness DVDs
Okay, short history lesson – don’t let your eyes glaze over. Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s also called the law of the vital few and was originally called The Pareto Principle. It started way back in the early 1900s when Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. Am I making you feel like you are back in school? Stay with me!
Soon people saw how this rule played out in business. More often than not, 20 percent of your customers lead to most, or 80 percent, of your sales. Today the 80/20 rule has all sorts of cool interpretations.
To use the 80/20 rule for business, you focus on the 20 percent of your best customers who are giving you 80 percent of your sales.
To use the 80/20 rule to manage your time, you focus on the 20 percent of the things you do that really move the dial for you or your business. In other words, your highest-valued activities.
Here’s the kicker! When it comes to your health, you gotta flip the 80/20 rule and focus on that 80 percent. You know you can achieve a healthy lifestyle when the majority of your choices are healthy. See? It’s not rocket science, but it can really change how you think. 80/20 is a universal rule, and it applies to everything. Spend the majority of your time making the right decisions, and you will love your results.
It’s not about circumstances, it’s about choices.
A healthy lifestyle is achieved by the sum total of all of your choices. Losing weight, getting healthier or becoming more fit is not a quick fix or a gimmick; it’s the culmination of your habits and your daily decisions. This rule is about moderation. Yes, you can have that dessert. No, you cannot have dessert every night. Yes, you should work out most days. No, you don’t have to beat yourself up if you skip a day.
Always strive to have most — at least 80 percent – of your choices be healthy.
You know what’s so great about this rule?
You can use it for eating.
You know it’s challenging to eat clean all the time. Work parties, BBQs, cookouts, pot-luck gatherings, cocktail parties, restaurant temptations, travel… all those things make clean eating a bit of a challenge. But if you can work toward eating clean the majority of the time (lots of real foods from the produce aisle!), you are going to see a difference in your body and in how you feel. (Hello, energy, there you are!) If you go for portion control moderation more often than not, you can effectively manage your weight!
You can use it for exercise.
Yes, it’s easy to fall out of your workout routine when you travel, or you have family in town, or a rerun of Real Housewives has you captivated to the TV, but get right back in the saddle and get back at it. Don’t let a break from your exercise routine become a break-up from exercise. Push toward that 80 percent. (P.S. Remember my two-day rule? I never go more than two days in a row without a workout. It’s my little game I play to keep consistent at least 80 percent of the time.)
It’s easy to remember.
When things are easy to remember, they are easy to do. Plus, you can easily turn this rule into a question to keep you on track: Are the majority of my choices today healthy? If they aren’t, start making some healthy decisions pronto. If they are, terrific! Better yet, put a Post-it note on your bathroom mirror to remind you each morning to make it an 80/20 day.
It’s a lifestyle rule, not a fad.
You know what I dislike about diets? People are either on or off diets. Diets come and go, and actually now people aren’t doing “diets,” they are doing “cleanses” — the same thing in many ways. The 80/20 rule is a lifestyle gauge. It isn’t a quick fix or a weird gimmick. You aren’t on it or off it. You just lean toward health. Each day try and get more of your choices to favor your health. Wake up tomorrow and try again. Take a nod from one of my favorite authors, Michael Pollen, who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Bingo, easy to follow.
You don’t have to be perfect.
Okay, I had a green smoothie for breakfast, my FitBit says I’ve walked 10,000 steps and it’s only lunchtime, I ate a salad for lunch with lots of veggies… I think it’s okay to eat this afternoon cookie.
Or, I ate a big muffin for breakfast. I am going to hit the gym after work and I’ve been drinking lots of water today, but I think I will skip the birthday cake for my coworker.
See how it plays out? You just lean toward healthy the majority of the time.
You can be human.
One of the funniest things about being a fitness trainer and health coach is other people think I only eat foods from the produce aisle and I never have a bite of chocolate or a glass of red wine or (gasp!) sugar. Yes, I probably lean more toward 90/10 with my healthy habits, but I do allow myself some room to enjoy indulgences from time to time. (Did someone say ice cream?) Let the 80/20 rule give you permission to sometimes just enjoy the things you enjoy in moderation. Don’t serve yourself up a giant helping of guilt and remorse with that small dish of ice cream or that cone. It falls into your 20 percent and it’s OKAY. Breathe.
You can save time.
You don’t have to weigh your food, count calories or do anything else that takes up time you don’t have. Maybe tracking every morsel of food you eat just doesn’t jive with your lifestyle or what you like to do. While tracking what you eat can be extraordinarily helpful, you don’t have to do it if you use the 80/20 rule. You know when the majority of your decisions are healthy and when they aren’t. Work slowly toward getting more of your choices into the healthy camp! I always suggest getting familiar with what portion sizes look like and then get good at eyeballing them. Bottom line, another way to describe the 80/20 rule when it comes to food is portion control.
I guarantee if you exercise on most days and eat clean most of the time, it will work. You will be at the weight you want to be at and you will be healthier. The 80/20 rule is a doable, healthy lifestyle plan that you can enjoy!