The 80/20 Rule for Weight Loss

Christian Coulson
Updated: June 14, 2020
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The common weight loss advice is to eat clean all the time, cut all the foods you love, and stick to vegetables and chicken breast.

Those types of restrictive diets will help you lose weight without a doubt, but they rarely work in the long-term.

How long do you think you can avoid eating the foods you love? Is the rest of your life going to be you fighting and resisting these foods?

This is the reason most diets fail, they focus on short-term results, they don’t help you build healthy habits or teach you how to eat based on your goals, likes/dislikes, and metabolism.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

What is the 80/20 Rule for Weight Loss?

The 80/20 rule is a simple rule that consists of getting 80% of your calories from nutrient-dense/whole foods, while the remaining 20% can come from any other type of foods.

Infographic showing how the 80/20 rule for weight loss works.

Nutrient-dense foods are foods like fruits, vegetables, potatoes, legumes, fish, steak, beef, turkey, chicken, and roots.

The 20% can come from other sweet treats that you like having, such as ice cream, Oreos, pop-tarts, donuts, processed foods, or drinks.

For example, if you have to eat 2000 calories to lose weight, then at least 1600 of those calories should come from nutrient-dense foods.

Why is The 80/20 Rule Beneficial?

As previously mentioned, being too restrictive is a reason many diets fail.

A restrictive diet will increase cravings, your chances of overeating, and isn’t sustainable in the long-term.

The 80/20 rule adds flexibility to your diet so you can enjoy it while losing weight, which will increase your adherence.

It will help you stay consistent, which is the main driver for progress. The 80/20 rule is more of a lifestyle change than it is a specific diet.

The 80/20 rule is also very easy to follow, there are no crazy recipes or lists of endless items that are off-limits, it puts you in control of your nutrition.

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How to Use the 80/20 Rule

You can stick to eating 80% of nutrient-dense foods each day, or save your calories for days you’ll eat out.

Before using the 80/20 rule for weight loss (or any diet really), you need to first find out how much YOU, specifically, should be eating to lose weight.

An easy way to find it is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 10 – 12.

For example, someone weighing 200 pounds could eat about 2000 – 2400 calories each day.

This is not an exact formula, but it will give you a good estimate to use as a baseline to make changes from.

If you’d like to make a more accurate calculation, you can explore my article on how to calculate your macros and TDEE.

Tracking Your Calories

There are several apps you can use to keep track of your calories, this will make it super easy to stay consistent and get familiarized with food composition.

The app that I recommend is MyFitnessPal as it has a large food database and it’s free.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote about How to Use MyFitnessPal if you’re interested in exploring more.

Why Restrictive Diets Fail

Studies show that depriving yourself of a specific food increases your cravings for the food you’re trying to avoid.

Other studies (2, 3) have shown that the strongest predictor of weight loss is adherence to a diet.

That’s why it’s important for long-term weight loss success that you find a diet that you enjoy instead of one that doesn’t let you eat some of the foods you like.

Interestingly, this study (4) showed that 70% of people who are able to lose a lot of weight will gain all the weight back within a year, 85% will gain it within 2, and 95% will gain it within 3 years.


Because they jump on diets that are not sustainable, diets that fail to educate you on the basics of nutrition.

I hope you enjoyed this article about the 80/20 rule for weight loss!

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