Want to greet the new year looking and feeling your best? If you’re looking to lose weight and get in shape, it doesn’t really matter what healthy eating plan you choose, says Harvard obesity expert Angela Fitch, MD, who’s a fan of what she calls the 80/20 diet. Whether you count carbs or calories, the key to this diet is picking a routine you’ll actually stick with 80 percent of the time, according to Fitch. The other 20 percent of the time? Throw “the rules” out the window and indulge in whatever you like!
What is the 80/20 diet?
Dr. Kellyann recommends using a Paleo-style diet plan with no math required — you just build all meals with lean protein, healthy fats, and low-starch plant foods. Go for whatever option appeals to you most and best suits your life. And no matter the direction you head for your 80 percent, your 20 per will be the same. “Keep portions reasonable,” says Dr. Kellyann, “and nothing is off-limits.”
You might have a small dessert and a glass of wine nightly. Or you may watch what you eat on weekdays and dig into pizza and party fare on the weekend. Your splurges won’t slow weight loss. In fact, they’ll likely speed your progress.
How does this diet work?
As you might guess, a big part of why the 80/20 diet works is psychological. A British study found that cutting out foods we crave leaves us twice as likely to binge and gain. Separate research tracking dieters on strict plans found that, on average, they gain six pounds for every 10 pounds flexible dieters lose. “Deprivation sets us up for failure,” says Dr. Kellyann.
But why? Experts agree that when food seems scarce, it sets off an internal drive to eat whatever we can get our hands on, an ancient survival mechanism that helped ensure we didn’t starve to death. Eating 80/20 basically allows us to override the mechanism, so our waist shrinks even in times of plenty. And that’s not all…
Surprising but true: There’s solid evidence that indulging 20 percent of the time is a great way to stoke metabolism. “It works by confusing your body,” explains the author of the newly updated Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet (Buy from Amazon, $20). “When you make smart choices most of the time, then suddenly give your body more calories or carbs than it’s used to, it jolts your system in a way that dials up metabolism.”
Nutrition researcher Barbara Crosby backs her up. Crosby began experimenting with the concept of controlled indulgence many years ago, hoping to get clients off weight-loss plateaus. She says the effect was often immediate, helping women who’d stopped losing on strict plans begin burning 7,000 to 10,500 more calories a week — and slimming them down like crazy. A Cornell study confirms the effect: Splurges throw our metabolism for such a loop, it surges by 14 percent!
How do you start the 80/20 diet?
To use this slimming trend, all you have to do is make smart choices for about eight meals
out of 10. Use any healthy approach you like. One popular option: Stick to three meals and one snack, all made with moderate portions of unprocessed food. Then for two out of every 10 meals, savor what you crave, aiming to push your plate away once satisfied. Our sample menus show you how easy and delicious it can be!
BREAKFAST: Top a serving of frozen waffles — keto, Paleo, or whole-grain — with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. Enjoy with coffee or tea.
LUNCH: Pile a salad with hearty seasonal toppings like roasted sweet potato, beets, lentils, nuts, cheese, and olive-oil vinaigrette.
DINNER: Simmer up a bowl of chili with your favorite ingredients, including lots of veggies and protein from lean meat or beans.
SPLURGE: Indulge regularly in your favorite holiday treats and feast foods. From casseroles to cupcakes, nothing is off limits!
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.