What “80/20 Clean Eating” Means to Me

Moving forward in my health journey requires having a game plan. I’ve been steadily increasing my movement since the beginning of the year, but my eating habits are lacking in discipline. I may eat super healthy one week, but completely fall off the wagon the next. My issue is deprivation: I do not handle strict diets well. If I tell myself I can’t have some food item at all, then it is all I crave until I get my hands on it. Poor mentality, I know, but it is something I continue to work on and struggle with currently.

So, time for a game plan aimed towards my diet, and I think I have the right idea! I want to maintain the 80/20 rule with clean eating and gluten free options. What does that mean to me, though? Here is my plan spelled out…

Clean eating is a diet that improves one’s health and well-being. Basically, you eat more real foods focused on optimal nutrition. Think straight ground-to-table ideals, and no processed or prepackaged food items. If I look at the nutrition label on an item, I want it to have less than five ingredients and all of them pronounceable. If I can’t say it, I don’t want to eat it.

Clean eating also focuses more on plant-based foods such as plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and quinoa. Dairy can be included in this diet with organic options being top priority such as organic milk or organic cheeses. The less preservatives and chemicals, the cleaner the food obviously. I also need to focus on gluten-free options, so many of the whole grains that are considered clean cannot be in my diet.

This is what my grocery list looks like:

For me personally, I plan to decrease my pork and red meat intake due to their fat content. I love pork and beef so eliminating either completely would not be sustainable, but I do plan to stick with leaner protein options. You’ll also see I’ve added sweet potato chips to my snack options. These typically have the most ingredients out of my clean options, but there also needs to be give-and-take for me to stay strong in my eating habits. Which brings me to the 80/20 rule I want to abide by…

I, like many others, know that depriving myself of all treats and sweets is not sustainable to a healthier diet and lifestyle. I do not want to continue creating an unhealthy relationship with food where I deprive myself and then binge eat on poor options. My main focus is not weight loss, it’s better health! Physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. The 80/20 approach helps in teaching a balanced diet of moderation and indulging without guilt.

The 80/20 rule is a simple idea followed by many people. Balance is not found in always making 100% healthy food choices. The 80/20 rule believes 80% of healthy choices is enough for moderation. The remaining 20% can be less healthy options where you may indulge from time to time.

For example, 80% of the time I’m cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients which stabilize my energy levels and allow me to be mindful in the cooking process. 20% of the time though I am enjoying a glass of wine, eating chocolate chip cookies, and cutting into a fatty prime rib. With the 80/20 rule in mind, I can decide to enjoy a slice of pie at a summer cookout and go back to eating healthily afterwards, with no feelings of guilt. This lifestyle is all about finding a happy medium.

To incorporate 80/20 clean eating into my life, I have a few key goals to stick to (some of which will be easier to do as quarantine continues due to COVID-19):

  • Cook at home. This philosophy is simple: I am choosing to cook the majority of my meals at home with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. I am not going to stock processed food choices in my cabinets or pantry. My home meals are going to be filled with seasonal vegetables, lean meats, and some fruits. I do not want to become obsessed with counting calories or macros; I want to eat until I’m full and only when I am hungry.

  • Implement intermittent fasting. I’ve read several articles on fasting and how it can improve energy levels, cognition, and body composition. Intermittent fasting also is a simple way to keep a diet in check without counting calories or tracking macros. I plan to follow a 16:8 fasting schedule, meaning I’ll fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8 hour window. My eating window will open at noon (my usual lunch hour) and end at 8:00pm. I tend to eat a lot of carbs at breakfast, usually full of gluten — I love breads at breakfast! — so this intermittent fasting schedule will limit my opportunities to indulge.

  • Schedule my indulgences. From experience, I prefer to save my 20% indulging options for the weekends. Eating sugar and red meats leaves me feeling less energized and lethargic which I do not want to feel during my workdays. I also foresee carb-loading as an indulging practice of mine and weekends will be my scheduled longer workouts, whether they be farther distance runs, hiking trips, or lengthier WODs. I also enjoy going to local breweries and wineries on the weekends, so I’ll save my 20% alcoholic indulgence for the weekends as well.

  • Do not binge eat. Slipping and allowing the 20% to creep to 22, 34, 45% or more is the biggest mistake to happen with this diet mindset. If I allow myself to have a bag of popcorn one night at home, I do not want to think I can do so every evening and fall back into mindless snacking in front of the television.

  • Aim for quality always. Even when I am indulging in my 20% I choose the highest quality possible. This means consuming less artificial flavors, sweeteners, and chemicals used in processed foods. There are a lot of hidden sugars and other ingredients that may not contribute to optimal health, so choosing the least processed options are the best.

It’s also important to remember that every meal, whether part of the 80% or 20%, is an opportunity to nourish my body. Food is fuel; that is its main purpose for consumption. Not simply to comfort or please a craving. Learning to love the 80 percent is just as important as craving the 20. If you learn to love the 80, then I will begin to crave fresh vegetables and home-cooked meals just as much as I do eating out or heavily processed choices. Think of the 20% as room to enjoy Life to the fullest, and not only as a reward. In this way you’ll be practicing mindful health physically, emotionally, and mentally, and creating a lasting, good relationship with all food.

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