Content Part

Please enter your email below to receive blog updates and news.




The 80/20 Rule And Your Diet

Anyone who has followed me for a while has heard me speak about the 80/20 rule. This is without question one of the most valuable rules you can learn for success not only with your diet but with life in general.

Almost everything I can think of in my life fits into this rule. If you really step back and think about this it’s so true. The Pareto Principle aka 80-20 rule states that for most events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Most people have heard this put in a business context like 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. But how does the 80/20 rule apply to your diet and your success with weight loss?

Well let’s think about it for a second. There’s a common misconception that many people have the need to be perfect all the time with their eating. It’s like that one piece of cake you had over the weekend caused you to blow your diet. From a physiological standpoint this never happens but from a psychological standpoint it happens all the time.

People will often completely fall off the wagon and ditch their diet when they think they’ve “blown it” by eating something they shouldn’t have.

One event starts a cascading series of further events with junk food binges and the like. You know what I’m talking about as everyone has been there.


The important thing to remember is this is all in your head. You’re only human and there are times when you’re going to slip up…its ok!

The difference between those people who persevere and reach their weight loss goals and those who don’t has to do largely with the ability to put the slip up’s in the rear view mirror, re-focus and move forward.

I want you to re-read that last sentence and really let it sink in. I’ve seen it time and time again with literally hundreds of personal training clients over the years.

I think one of the worst diet strategies you can have is to focus on what you can’t eat or what you’re restricting. If you focus your thoughts on what you can’t have all the time, what do you think you’ll end up craving the most?

Exactly, the same foods you’ve been thinking about not having! If you study how your subconscious mind programs wants and desires it becomes quickly apparent how upside down and backwards this strategy is.

Regardless of how disciplined you are, you’ve set your brain with the WRONG target.

Compare this to thinking about what you do want and what foods will help you get there. Focus your thoughts and have a clear vision or target for your brain in regards to where you want to go.

I can’t over-emphasize this enough. You absolutely must focus your thoughts on what you want and combine it with strong emotions. Ask yourself will this particular meal or food help me get to where I want to be or will it keep me stuck where I’m at?

The stronger your emotions the better this will work. This is why I see much better results with clients coming into our Charleston personal training studio with strong reasons “why” they want to make a change.

I always use the example of a woman who just went through a divorce and has made up her mind that it’s “her time” now. There are strong convictions and emotions at play. She’s going to show up at that dinner party with her new body and can’t wait to see the look on her ex-husbands face. Yeah! Take that you <fill in the blanks>.


Now I’m not saying this is the kind of motivation you necessarily want but I’ve sure seen it be extremely powerful.

This client shows up to workout with a fire in her eye, she’s ready to go and there’s no question about it. She’ll follow her meal plan to a “T” and do everything with consistency so she sees results.

And 99.9% of the time this client will hit it out of the park.

The lesson in all this is she focused on the PAIN of doing things like she used to and that includes eating certain foods.

At the same time she was strongly invested in the benefits of eating better and exercising because of the emotional pay-off.

Think about what kind of results you might expect to see if a person’s only goal was to get “healthy.”  I think you see where I’m going with this. Look to find strong emotional connections to your goals and focus on both the pain and pay-off when it comes to food.

So from an 80/20 perspective what does all this mean with your diet and getting results?

Here’s the way I see it. Nobody’s going to be perfect but think about what guides your thought process with food selection? If losing weight is a highly emotional thing (remember all of our decisions are made with either desire for pleasure or avoidance of pain) it will change the way you look at that piece of cake or candy bar.

If you’re thinking about the pleasure it will give you and that’s a stronger emotion than the pain or desire for pleasure with the pay-off of not eating it, you’re in trouble.

If on the other hand you’re focused on how it fits into the big picture of what you really want, you’re on the right track.

You’ll often hear me talk about how the word “moderation” shouldn’t be in some people’s vocabulary. There’s a good reason for this and it’s more physiological than anything.

If you’re overweight and struggling with weight loss there’s a high likelihood that you have low insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. In other words, you have a hormonal imbalance that needs fixed. Even “moderation” treats for these individuals can keep them stuck on the “sugar wheel” (eat sugar, crave sugar, eat more sugar, etc).

In this case the hormonal imbalance problem needs fixed before the word “moderation” should really be reintroduced.

The beauty with taking a much stricter approach with removing sugar from your diet is it produces much faster results.

You’ll go through more withdrawal symptoms in the beginning (first 4-5 days) but then your sugar cravings will subside much quicker, your energy levels will go up much faster, and the list goes on.

Give yourself 30 days to create new habits if you’ve been stuck with weight loss. Get all the “moderation” food and drink out of your diet and give your body the opportunity to shift off of the sugar dependency.

Once you get your body conditioned to use FAT for fuel and you get closer to your ideal body weight, the more you can integrate “moderation” foods without much of a problem.

Stop giving yourself excuses like “I’ve earned it” if eating that particular meal or food is going to keep you STUCK. Think about the big picture, see yourself in the future, quit thinking about the present moment all the time and focus on where you want to be.

Only you can determine how important something is but I can assure you that your thoughts will mostly certainly affect the outcome.

Alright, now that I’ve got the moderation side of things clear let’s look at the 80/20 rule from a lifestyle perspective.

My philosophy is this….look to consume whole, natural foods 80% the time and leave the other 20% for sensible moderation.

You’re not worrying about being perfect but you’re focused on what you want your body to look and feel like which guides your decision making 80% of the time. The remaining 20% is open for things like a glass of wine, a piece of organic dark chocolate, or some other food or drink that doesn’t SUPPORT your lean muscle.

Notice I didn’t talk about getting the number one value meal at Mickey-D’s or having a junk food binge. There is a point of sensibility even with moderation. Trust me you’ll get to the point where even a Big Mac will taste like crap because it will make you feel like crap after you eat it.

Bottom line is don’t freak out and panic if you slip up. Simply get back on track and move forward.


People are often surprised when they see me out eating a couple slices of pizza or drinking a beer. I never try to hide in shame or sneak around when I’m in my 20% zone. I actually see it as an opportunity to break misconceptions.

Yes, I take care of my body, workout regularly, eat 80% primal, and look to live with a healthy balance. I’ve conditioned my body to burn fat and not rely on sugar so the 20% category food and drink doesn’t throw me out of balance.

It’s also important to note that I’m NOT looking to lose fat or really lean up at the moment. If I were, you can be assured that the “moderation foods” would be put on hold for the moment.

Key word in this last paragraph is “balance.” It’s what we should all be shooting for.

If 80/20 doesn’t allow you to get in balance then change the percentages. Like I mentioned earlier there are situations (insulin resistance for example) when the 20% can swing much bigger doors. In these cases save the moderation foods until you’ve achieved some sense of liberation.

Fuel your body to feel good and make the short term sacrifices if necessary to get there. True freedom and liberation is being able to have a piece of cake and not think twice about it because you know your body is a conditioned fat burning machine.

It’s not a difficult as you might think to get there and it doesn’t mean you have to be a skinny stick to get to this point. You can either go halfway and try in frustration year after year to get unstuck or give yourself 30 days to reprogram how your body fuels itself.

Think about that and reflect on how you’ve been doing things. You have no idea how powerful 30 days can be towards changing your physiology if you go all the way.

I’m tired of fad diets and weight loss marketers preying on your desires by peddling ideas like “you can eat your favorite foods and still lose weight.”

I’ve yet to meet someone who kept eating ice cream, potato chips, pie or whatever (regardless if it was low-calorie) and found true liberation with their weight management. More like a yo-yo compared to “little, often, and over the long haul.”

Sure there are lots of people who can incorporate those foods in moderation once they conditioned their bodies to fuel off fat but there are sacrifices to get there (that is except for the 5% of people who genetically have a very fast metabolism and can eat whatever they want and not gain weight….lucky <fill in the blanks once again>)

For the rest of us it’s going to take a decision to eating in a certain way that provides us with a body that looks and feels the way we want.

For ideas on what foods to eat you can reference my “Quick Start Nutrition Guide.” It’s a FREE downloadable e-book available on my website and it’s just one of the many resources you can find there.

Believe in your ability to make a change…I do!

Talk to you soon- Shane

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He provides a FREE trial of his Charleston personal training programs so local residents can experience the Shaping Concepts difference with no-obligations.

View Our Web Site - Click Here
RSS Feed - Click Here

Category: Nutrition.