Ultimately nutrition is a numbers game. If you eat too many calories you gain weight, if you don't eat enough you lose weight but the question is, what number is going to help you achieve your goal?
I can only tell you that number after a consult, a week of gathering data about your nutrition habits, and some math. Once we know that number a very close second place in terms of importance in determining your body composition is food quality. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in to your life. This is a strategy I employ with my clients not only to foster compliance with their nutrition plan but also to maintain balance and sanity in their life. I would like to define what structured flexible eating means to me and how we facilitate it at Nutrition1st Coaching. The structure is provided by controlling the quantity and quality of the foods you eat with the 80/20 food rule in mind, but before I define the 80/20 rule, let me give you a common scenario of someone you know or maybe this has been you? You decided you are going to eat really healthy, lose weight, get abs, and run a marathon, so you throw away all your junk food and swore you would never eat anything processed again. Then the weekend rolled around…Friday night you had a get together with some friends for dinner at the new micro brewery and Saturday is your niece’s birthday party at your sister’s house. Your brother-in-law is a master with the grill by the way. You fought hard Friday night, by eating before you went out with your friends, only drinking water and avoiding the street tacos everyone got at the end of the night because you were within your numbers. The next day at your niece’s birthday party you took Tupperware with your own food and crunched on vegetables, feeling guilty because you went over on your protein and had a little bit of lean meat that your brother-in-law grilled. Then the birthday cake rolled out and your mom handed you a big piece with a scoop of ice cream and said “look it’s your favorite kind of cake!”
I’d like to point out that this is life. You cannot be 100% whole food and healthy all the time and if you try, most likely you are going to cave in and go off the deep end, eating everything in sight that is not healthy for you. There is no balance in this lifestyle and no sustainability with this strategy. It can really only work well in the short-term for specific reasons when there is an end date to focus on. That brings us to the 80/20 rule, a sustainable and long term strategy or what I would call a lifestyle designed around nutrition. This is how we define the 80% part of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time you eat REAL food, not “health food products” (bars, shakes, packaged foods that are processed and have a label). 80% of the time you get the majority of your calories from a variety of plants (veggies), lean proteins (meats), complex carbohydrates (tubers/rice/oatmeal) and fruits. Ideally these meals would be prepared at home with these ingredients. In a nutshell (because nuts are good for you) you eat healthy, whole foods, making the best choices you can, and controlling the quantity of food you eat. This is essentially you being perfect with your nutrition and hydration. You are 100% perfect, for this 80% of the time.
The other 20% is comfort food, what is usually restricted or off limits with traditional diets. These foods are tracked and accounted for in terms of quantity and this allows them to be part of your lifestyle. This is what makes our program a lifestyle not a “diet.”
This structure provides freedom in your lifestyle. A sustainable, flexible, and realistic way of eating that leads to a lifetime of health. No more short term fad diets and no more diet challenges that end leaving you less equipped to succeed long term than when you started. You get to enjoy a piece of that birthday cake that your mom handed you but it’s a small one, you have a drink with friends on the weekend, but just one and you never feel like you're denying yourself all the good things in life. The 20% part isn’t a license to go crazy because you stick to the basic principle of quantity control, making the “best” quality choice, and balance that with all the healthy things you do in your 80%.
If your goals involve looking good, feeling good, preventing disease, and improving your body composition, following a structured but flexible nutrition plan with the 80/20 rule is just what you’re looking for. Need to dial it in more, go 90/10 for a while to dial in your goals, just stick the principles I outlined above.
Now you can stop “failing” at your diets and succeed with a nutritious lifestyle following our flexible structure.
Happy Flexible eating.