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  • Writer's pictureKate Cleveland

The 80/20 Lifestyle

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

**Please note, this post was transferred over from the previous version of It has been slightly modified to reflect changes in the new design, etc. but most of my thoughts from back then are still very relevant!

One extremely important thing to keep in mind when heading down a path to increased health and wellness is that it is ok to not be perfect. There will be times when you mess up, and that is completely alright. There will be setbacks, mistakes, and deliberate straying off course for one reason or another. I used to live by the term “everything in moderation”, but lately I have adopted a new mantra. The 80/20 Lifestyle.

Whether you are discussing nutrition, exercise, parenting, career/life balance, or any broad wellness topic . . . Do what you know you should do 80% of the time and then give yourself a break. Make healthy eating choices most of the time, but allow yourself to have something indulgent every now and then. Get outside and move your body almost every day, but if you don’t manage to get to it one day for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up about it. Tomorrow is another day. Start where you are and take a hard look at what your goal is, and then adhere to the changes, knowing that you are only human. Some days life throws you a curve, but don't let it be a major setback.

This idea was originally known as the Pareto principle in business and has been adapted to many topics outside of the business world. When taken into the health and wellness space, the meaning has been altered a bit, but the essence is still relevant.

Some call it the 80/20 Rule, but for a few reasons, I don't feel that fits. A rule sounds so restrictive. A rule could be temporary. A rule, once broken, no longer applies. If you adopt this attitude toward life in general, it can help a lot when things seem overwhelming. Obviously, there are exceptions to this way of thinking . . . one MUST drink water every day, but a little bit of self-forgiveness and grace when setting and accomplishing health goals can go a long way.

A great example of this approach: You have been putting a lot of effort into eating healthier . . . then someone brings donuts into the office. You make the decision to have one, even though it is "bad" and "unhealthy". You scarf it down in shame, barely even tasting it, and then spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about what you did . . . or worse, writing off the rest of the day's choices because you "blew it" and you're now "off the wagon". Worse case scenario is that you just give up your healthy eating intentions altogether and go back to not caring, all the while feeling remorse about the whole situation.

Let's change that thinking. Make the decision to have that donut. Enjoy it! Savor it! Put it into your 20% category and then go back to your healthy eating habits with no feelings of guilt or regret. Depriving yourself completely is not what health, wellness, and life are all about. In fact, studies have shown that willpower is finite and the more stringent and restrictive a diet is, the more likely it is to fail. I must note here that I don't advocate for diets, just eating whole, real foods and making small changes that are sustainable for life! It's about finding the balance. It's about accepting that we all have a sweet tooth sometimes, but that doesn't have to take us completely off track.

When speaking with other health professionals about this way of life, I have heard some ideas that I'd like to share with you. Some people find it easier to allow themselves to "cheat" on certain days (weekends, Fridays, etc.). Others have suggested keeping track of healthy meals and snacks and rewarding oneself after a certain number or time has passed. Personally, I tend to be less restrictive with my 20% category, meaning that I don't really plan ahead or use it as a reward, but stepping outside of my usual healthy choices is often more of a game-time decision (like when someone brings donuts to the office!). As you probably know by now if you have read my other posts, I am a firm believer in finding what works for your body, your lifestyle, and your personal goals. If you'd like to chat more about this idea and how to incorporate it into your routine, just let me know.

One thing that I feel it's important to note is that if you are taking small steps to a healthier lifestyle and you have adopted this mindset, it could potentially be a slippery slope. If you find yourself having trouble meeting your goals, it might mean it's time to reevaluate your 20%. Remember that everybody is different and finding the balance can take time. Just keep the main point in mind and don't let little hiccups throw you completely off course. It's ok to not be perfect!

Here's to Keeping it Simple and Sustainable,

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