You are here

Never Diet Again! The 80 Twenty Secret for Weight Loss and Health


Why don't diets work? By design, they're temporary and they're something you put off. Often if you fail at a diet, you tell yourself it's your fault.

That's wrong.

The diet has failed you.

Who wants to skip cake on their birthday or stop enjoying bread, wine, and cheese? Frankly, who wants to shy away from socializing so they can chow on sprouted mung beans or get their sixth juice of the day?

The secret to being both healthy and happy is to think 80/20 rather than trying to be perfect 100 percent of the time. It's what I call the 80 Twenty rule. I've seen it help people lose weight, improve their health, and be happier than ever. I am such a fan that I created my nutrition business 80 Twenty Nutrition around this concept.

What is the 80 Twenty rule?

Eat as healthy as possible 80 percent of the time and enjoy less healthy "treats" 20 percent of the time. It's the only nutrition rule you'll ever need. It gives you the flexibility to go out and celebrate with friends or enjoy a fresh croissant when you finally get to travel to Paris. It's something you can stick to for life.

You probably already have a good idea of what's healthy and what isn't. The "80" includes whole foods as close to their natural state as possible—vegetables, fruit, legumes such as beans and lentils, whole grains, chicken, fish, and some nuts and seeds. The "20" is everything else.

Want some blue cheese and bacon in your pasta? Go for it! Pack in some extra fiber with brown rice or kamut pasta and load it up with leafy greens and mushrooms. If that's what you're craving for dinner, have a lighter breakfast and lunch to balance it out.

Need that glass of wine or a couple squares of chocolate at the end of the day? Enjoy that treat and eat clean the rest of the day. You can also try making healthier treats to enjoy more often, like my Cashew Coconut Bites.

How does 80 Twenty help with weight loss?

I know what you're thinking—enjoying food and being fit and healthy seems too good to be true. But research has shown that eating healthy most of the time with room for some splurges can help you weigh less and be healthier.

In a U.S. survey of over 500 women, those who tried different foods—everything from pork belly to polenta—were leaner than women who stuck to the same boring foods day after day. Condemn yourself to the same salad for the rest of your life, and you'll be crying out for pizza in no time. When you restrict yourself, your body rebels. We are designed to crave variety and that's a good thing: It helps us get a variety of nutrients and avoid overdosing on too much of one thing.

Dieting also suppresses hormones such as leptin and the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. This makes you hungrier and slows down your metabolism so you burn fewer calories at rest. Diets also increase levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you even hungrier. It's no wonder you eventually give in and eat something off limits. Your body is essentially forcing you to!

Having the occasional high-calorie treat can help you lose weight because it has the opposite effect that dieting has on the body. Ghrelin will be suppressed and leptin levels will increase to keep hunger at bay, while thyroid hormone production will go up and your metabolism will pick up. Essentially your body stops holding on to extra fat like a famine is coming and trusts you're going to feed it.

Research suggests that eating clean for several days and then eating what you want for a couple of days can help you lose more weight, be less hungry, and eat better the rest of the time. Allowing for an occasional splurge day may improve your health beyond weight loss by lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels more than being on a strict diet all the time.

Most of us see our weight fluctuate over the course of a week, but this pattern could reveal why some people lose weight and others gain weight. In a study of 80 adults, people who lost weight tended to be at their heaviest on a Sunday or Monday after a weekend of food splurges. But by Wednesday, their weight went down to their lowest point. Why? These people must have compensated for their weekend treats by eating as healthy as possible and exercising during the week.

The people who gained weight didn't have this pattern and their weight just continued to climb. Either their splurges were too frequent or their typical eating habits weren't any different from weekend eating. The successful weight-loss group was applying the 80 Twenty rule without even knowing it!

Ask yourself, what ratio do you think you're at when it comes to clean eating and less healthy treats? It's time to start moving toward 80:20. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you!


Christy Brissette, RD

Christy Brissette is one of North America’s top dietitians and a leading nutrition and food communications expert. She is the President of 80 Twenty Nutrition, a nutrition and food media company and private practice. Her mission? To end food confusion and dieting once and for all.  More →

More from Christy
  • The Healthy Pumpkin Spice Flavored Snacks You've Gotta Try
  • The Surprising Health Benefits of Almonds
  • The Post-Workout Drinks You Should Be Downing