How the 80/20 Rule Can Improve Your Life

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // June 23, 2014

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule. It’s also called the law of the vital few, and was originally called The Pareto Principle.  It started way back in the early 1900’s when Vilfredo Pareto, discovered that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. (Am I making you feel like you are back in school? Stay with me!)

Soon people saw how this rule played out in business. More often than not, 20 percent of your customers lead to most, or 80 percent, of your sales. Today the 80/20 rule has all sorts of cool interpretations.

To use the 80/20 rule for business, you focus on the 20 percent of your best customers who are giving you 80 percent of your sales.

To use the 80/20 rule to manage your time, you focus on the 20 percent of the things you do that really move the dial for you or your business. In other words, your highest valued activities.

Here’s the kicker! When it comes to your health, you gotta flip the 80/20 rule and focus on that 80 percent. You know you can achieve a healthy lifestyle when the majority of your choices are healthy. See? It’s not rocket science, but it can really change how you think. 80/20 is a universal rule and it applies to everything. Spend the majority of your time making the right decisions, and you will love your results.


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    It’s not about circumstances, it’s about choices. 

    A healthy lifestyle is achieved by the sum total of all of your choices. Losing weight, getting healthier or becoming more fit is not a quick fix or a gimmick; it’s the culmination of your habits and your daily decisions. This rule is about MODERATION. Yes, you can have that dessert. No, you cannot have dessert every night. Yes, you should workout most days. No, you don’t have to beat yourself up if you skip a day.

    Always strive to have most—at least 80 percent—of your choices be healthy. Click to Tweet

    You know what’s so great about this rule?

    You can use it for eating.

    You know it’s challenging to eat clean all the time. Work parties, BBQ’s, cookouts, pot-luck gatherings, cocktail parties, restaurant temptations, travel…all those things make clean eating a bit of a challenge. But if you can work toward eating clean the majority of the time (lots of real foods from the produce aisle!), you are going to see a difference in your body and in how you feel. (Hello, energy, there you are!) If you go for portion control moderation more often than not, you can effectively manage your weight!

    You can use it for exercise.

    Yes, it’s easy to fall out of your workout routine when you travel, or you have family in town, or a rerun of  Real Housewives has you captivated to the TV, but get right back in the saddle and get back at it. Don’t let a break from your exercise routine become a break-up from exercise. Push toward that 80 percent. (P.S. Remember my two-day rule? I never go more than two days in a row without a workout.  It’s my little game I play to keep consistent at least 80 percent of the time.)

    It’s easy to remember.

    When things are easy to remember, they are easy to do. Plus, you can easily turn this rule into a question to keep you on track: Are the majority of my choices today healthy? If they aren’t, start making some healthy decisions pronto. If they are, terrific! Better yet, put a post-it note on your bathroom mirror to remind you each morning to make it an 80/20 day.

    It’s a lifestyle rule not a fad.

    You know what I dislike about diets? People are either on or off diets. Diets come and go and actually now people aren’t doing “diets” they are doing “cleanses” … the same thing in many ways.  The 80/20 rule is a lifestyle gauge. It isn’t a quick fix or a weird gimmick. You aren’t on it or off it. You just lean toward health. Each day try and get more of your choices to favor your health. Wake up tomorrow and try again. Take a nod from one of my favorite authors, Michael Pollen, who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  Bingo,  easy to follow.

    You don’t have to be perfect.

    Okay, I had a green smoothie for breakfast, my FitBit says I’ve walked 10,000 steps and it’s only lunchtime, I ate a salad for lunch with lots of veggies, I think it’s okay to eat this afternoon cookie. 

    Or, I ate a big muffin for breakfast.  I am going to hit the gym after work and I’ve been drinking lots of water today, but I think I will skip the Birthday cake for my coworker.

    See how it plays out? You just lean toward healthy the majority of the time.

    You can be human.

    One of the funniest things about being a fitness trainer and health coach is other people think I only eat foods from the produce aisle and I never have a bite of chocolate or a glass of red wine or (Gasp!) sugar. Yes, I probably lean more toward 90/10 with my healthy habits, but I do allow myself some room to enjoy indulgences from time to time. (Did someone say ice cream?) Let the 80/20 rule give you permission to sometimes just enjoy the things you enjoy in moderation. Don’t serve yourself up a giant helping of guilt and remorse with that small dish of ice cream or that cone. It falls into your 20 percent and it’s OKAY. Breathe.

    You can save time.

    You don’t have to weigh your food, count calories or do anything else that takes up time you don’t have. Maybe tracking every morsel of food you eat just doesn’t jive with your lifestyle or what you like to do. While tracking what you eat can be extraordinarily helpful, you don’t have to do it if you use the 80/20 rule. You know when the majority of your decisions are healthy and when they aren’t. Work slowly toward getting more of your choices into the healthy camp! I always suggest getting familiar with what portion sizes look like and then get good at eyeballing them. Bottom line, another way to describe the 80/20 rule when it comes to food is portion control.

    It works.

    I guarantee if you exercise on most days and eat clean most of the time, it will work. You will be at the weight you want to be at and you will be healthier. The 80/20 rule is a doable, healthy lifestyle plan that you can enjoy! Try it and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

    READ THIS NEXT: How To Manage Your Time


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      on Reply

      Hello- I do eat at least 90/10 and exercise a lot. But no weight loss. I don’t know what else to try. Any suggestions?

        on Reply

        Hi Terri - well it sounds like you are working out and eating healthily. I don't know much about you - your age, lifestyle, etc. so it's hard to pin point exactly where to make some changes. However, if you're like me (in my mid-50s) hormones play a huge part in this time of your life. And if you are going through peri-menopause, menopause or any of the later, you might want to make sure all of your hormones are in balance. IF this is NOT you, I would really dive into are you staying away from extra added sugars? I don't know what your diet consists of, but make sure that it really consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, and protein! You always want to make sure that you have a good mixture of carbs, proteins, and fat in every meal that you eat. I hope this helps and feel free to message me with more specifics.

      on Reply

      Thank you so much for this helpful and encouraging blog post! Moderation is so key, and so much more attainable in the long run than extremes! Chris, I've been enjoying your Prevention kickboxing workout DVD called "Kick Start Your Metabolism" for years. It's been my favorite workout DVD for a long time, and one I've recommended to friends frequently. I was so excited when I recently learned of GetHealthyUTV and then became aware of this blog! Thank you so much for all these resources you've made available. As I navigate my 40s, I truly believe the workouts and information you've provided online will be key in keeping fit and reaching my goals. Thank you so much! :)

        on Reply

        I'm so happy to hear this, Elisabeth! Thanks for following along!

      on Reply

      80/20 eating and exercise plus a modified IF routine help me to keep it real! 🙌

      on Reply

      Hi Chris, I love this article! I can totally get behind the 80/20 or 90/10 rule since I am over 50 and am very busy and tend to beat myself up for having the cookie or missing a workout. This simplifies things a lot for me. Thanks for the link to the menopause symptoms too. I'm going to read that now.

      on Reply

      hi Chris As I get older I think I need the 90/10 rule. Do you think that's the case? I am 54 & train with a powerlifter once per week & train 6 days per week. My eating through the week is always good but the weekends aren't so good. Menopause really sucks & changes everything!

        on Reply

        Yes, that's true. I am more 90/10 too. Sounds like you are really committed to your fitness, way to go! Did you read the article I wrote about menopause symptoms?

      on Reply

      Hi Chris! The 80/20 rule helps me stay positive. I struggle so much with negativity. I am my own worst enemy. I love summer but it seems that I am off my regular routine and if I stay with the 80/20 mindset I'm not so hard on myself if I miss a workout or veer off track with my eating. I love your website! You are a wealth of healthy living information. Thank-you!

        on Reply

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      on Reply

      Hi Chris I am like most of the women commenting on here I have every work out you can think of including yours!! along with meal plans I could create my own gym and nutrition place with but I never stick with anything!! I don't know of it's we demand to much of ourselves all at once or what but the 80/20 rule sounds like it may just work for me so I'm going to try starting today! Thanks for always having helpful information !

      on Reply

      I really love this rule and I'm still trying to get it right. It feels a little strange not to beat myself up for my "lapses" which is what I considered eating food I shouldn't or skipping a day of exercise. So, as a work in progress, I'd like to say thank you and to keep the advice coming!

        on Reply

        Little by little does the trick! It's always best to make small changes from a positive mindset, so never beat yourself up, just think of each day as an opportunity to start fresh! Lean toward healthy most of the time!

      (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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