How to apply the 80/20 rule diet without tracking your meals.- By Clean Kitchen
Updated: Aug 5
What does the “80/20” split really look like?
I had a really great question asked to me one day by a client: “How do you measure your 20%? If you do not tracking macros, how do you know when you have gone too far?”
To truly understand where your sweet spot is to making progress, you simply must be aware of where the holes are. But that doesn’t have to happen by calculating space math in order to eat a meal. In the CK Challenge we use a couple of tools to help conceptually understand the 80/20 split for yourself.
Track your Habits
In other words track how consistent you are with what you are choosing to do day-to-day. That is where the magic is. In CK, We have our Habit Tracking system in the CK App. You have to physically check off little habit cards if you did your habits for the day and this gives you a habit score. As the weeks build, you build a more accurate score. The goal is to have each of your habits 80% (or higher) completed. Simple awareness tracking.
When we talk about the “80%,” most of the time we are referring to “good habits” in line with what you want. When we refer to “the 20%,” we are usually talking about choices that are not inline with your goals. Habits happen often and repeatedly. Choices happen occasionally, and do not become a habit.
This got me thinking that we all have our own version of “The 20%”and how it effects our bodies. Because we all have different goals, everyone’s 20% will look different. The more I think about it, the more I realize its an individual thing—like a feeling, not an exact macro- calorie-count. Even more reason not to compare your food to others. If it’s working, don’t worry about it.
So the real questions are, what are you after? What is your goal? What are your expectations? Those answers will determine your what YOUR 20% looks like and how you go about determining it.
What I deem as my personal “20%” is going to look a lot different from someone else’s. I have had many years of practicing my habits. So my “treats” (or meals not inline with my goals) may not look too bad to someone else. But my normal is different than yours. Coach Steve always jokes that I run on jet fuel and rarely put diesel in the tank. So when I do deviate from my normal habits, I feel it. And that feeling dictates a lot of my decisions.
Even though I rarely track my macros (I loathe it), I have tracked enough in the past to understand what portions look like and the round-about-number I am getting. I am pretty aware of when I should probably put down the peanut butter spoon. I also know the difference in a treat and full on cheat meal AND how my body will react to it. So I make choices based off of how my body reacted and felt in past experiences.
The question that usually helps decide my choice is, how do I want to feel after? For example, I know if I eat a whole pizza by myself (which I do) that one meal will bloat me for about 4 days. For the better part of a week I will feel like a busted can a biscuits while I eat really clean meals to get back to my baseline. Even more important is I am honest with myself about treats and blow out meals. I don’t justify the portions or food types, or try to tell myself little white lies. I just eat it and accept what I am doing, knowing full well what I will have to do in the days after to feel like my normal self again. This is just self-awareness in action.
How do you determine your 20%?
You first need to train your awareness.
When you are first starting out, like in the CK Challenge, using a tracking system like the CK Habit Tracker or Meal Compliance Chart is the perfect awareness tool without having to do a lot of math. It’s simple enough and get’s you thinking, planning, and acting in the right direction. And in most cases, these tools are all you will ever need. This doesn’t mean tracking calories or macros is not useful. It actually is, BUT—there is always a “but.” You should not rely on apps like My Fitness Pal to have the correct macros for every food. Or worse just randomly choosing a food from the MFP database that “sounds like” something you ate. Some foods are not verified and the entries are created by people just like you and me. The margin of error for macro-counting in general is quite high. Just know it can be up to 25% off in either direction, plus or minus. So there’s that to consider. Regardless, counting macros is another great awareness tool, BUT I highly suggest not obsessing over the numbers too strictly. While most of you reading this are probably still working towards a goal or you want to continue to lose weight. The 80/20 Rule very much applies here but honestly, the REAL 20% feeling is found in the Maintenance Phase.
The Maintenance Phase
The Maintenance phase means you are not actively trying to lose weight; you do not have the “restriction” mindset so you are not judging your body too harshly; and you are not obsessing over exact numbers. You are just living life, thriving with your habits, not gaining or losing ant weight. This is ultimately where we all want to end up.
But what if you still want to lose weight, feel lean, and still eat your 20%? If you are in a weight loss phase, trying to figure out what the exact 20% is will probably make you feel really, really frustrated. Because weight loss is a restriction-mindset and you do have to focus more heavily on being more strict than lenient with your food intake. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s the tradeoffs. Any deviation from your current intake is going to make you feel something—fluffy, bloated, water retention, whatever. And that’s just the physical. Mentally, this will do a number on you because you are in the “weight loss mindset.” And sorry ladies, but women’s weight fluctuate week to week because of our ever- changing hormones. It is, what it is. And I lovingly refer to it as “BCB Week— Busted Can of Biscuits Week.”
Could your “diet” mindset actually be sabotaging your progress?
If you are in “restriction mode” for weight loss, could it be that instead of focusing on what your 80% should be and enjoying that, you are living for what your 20% could be? Meaning, you are focusing on what you can’t have more than what you should have. That is basically the definition of restriction—dreaming about what you can’t have.
The 20% is such a grey area.
I want to be able to tell you you can have donuts and cake every week and still make progress, but honestly I can’t. No one can promise any outcome. EVER. Some people may be able to eat donuts, while others won’t. Some people can eat over their 20% and still see results while others have to stick to more of 90/10 split to see results—or the “results” they are expecting. While I can’t tell you what your 20% looks like or how it will effect you, I can tell you that your 80% should look like one-hundred percent whole foods. There is no fudging there. So the bigger question might be, are you trying to force foods into your 80% that should really be considered your 20%? Just some food for thought.
Main take aways:
Be honest with yourself and what you actually do.
Do not set unrealistic expectations. It will only led to feeling like a failure.
What you eat 80% (or more) of the time should be whole foods and in line with your outcome goal. And if you are not sure what that sweet spot looks for you, you need to track it. End of story.
If what you eat 80% of the time ends up not being inline with your goals, then it is time for some honest self-talk about what you are willing to tradeoff in your quest of your goal and expectations. Because when it all comes down to it, the real deciding factor on how you get to your end goal (or not get there) is what you do on a daily basis. There is no diet strategy in the world that can trick engrained habits. But you can re-train your habits and overtime you can become the person who likes to eat whole foods and drink water. Habits are what you are and decide what you become.