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Nutrition Principle #5 - 80/20 Principle!

Chick-fil-A is one of my favorite "20" meals when I'm in America!

We have talked about 4 important nutrition principles--

I consider these principles to be the main principles of good nutrition and health. I know that it may seem too simple for many of you, but these are the basics. I'm not saying it is easy to consistently get those right. Simple does not mean easy. I also know that figuring out what your "formula" for good health is no easy feat! Even more, being consistent with what you know you "should do" is especially not easy. Still, I believe that endeavor is worth it for long term health, clarity (opposite of confusion by all of the health/diet talk), and freedom. Get serious and get after good health. Learn how to eat healthy and learn your personal formula or plan for "eating healthy."

Another principle I believe is SO important for staying healthy is the 80/20 principle. The 80/20 principle to me means eating healthy (as defined by the other 4 principles and above paragraph) about 80% of the time. I like to focus on the 80%! I do not call my "20%" unhealthy or "bad" or "cheating." I simply call it 20%. I actually believe and frame it this way: I focus on my best health choices that are going to fuel my mind, give me energy, and help me do the work and tasks I have been called to do 80% of the time, the other 20% just is what it is--there is flexibility and a lot of options in that 20%.

Sometimes in the "20" I am still making healthy choices. Sometimes I am making food choices that are outside of what I define as my best health when it comes to nutrition. However, I still call them good because I might make those flexible choices because I am...

  • celebrating (birthday, holiday, friendships, guests, etc) and celebrating is good.

  • eating out with a friend and eating out with a friend is good.

  • at a holiday meal with my family and a holiday meal with my family is good.

  • doing ministry and eating in others' homes and doing ministry and eating with others is good.

  • in a difficult or busy season and can hardly get a meal on a table and making a convenient choice is good and gives me mental capacity for another important job, act of service, or wellness domain demanding attention.

To be frank, I would argue that it is next to impossible to eat healthy 100% of the time without obsessing. And, obsessing over our health is NOT healthy. We want to walk in freedom, joy, and with room for options, life, celebrating, and doing life with others without so many rules. The 20 is not license to just go CRAZY and indulge or binge. If you do that, it might be more than "20." The 80/20 principle is focusing on good health and eating healthy the vast majority (much more than 51% 😉) of the time while also having time for all of the normal life that comes your way when eating "your healthy best" is not possible, not ideal, and not loving to others around you, and not the best choice for you.


  • 80/20 helps you strive towards health and consistently eat healthy the majority of the time.

  • 80/20 is not so restrictive, so it will help prevent binging and yo-yo dieting.

  • 80/20 is a great way to pursue healthy nutrition without counting calories and/or macros.

  • 80/20 allows for individuals to define their health and eat that way mostly and also define their flexibility and eat that way when preferred, necessary, or a good option.

  • 80/20 allows freedom to eat things you enjoy without guilt because this is part of life and part of a good plan that you actually set out to do!

The truth is, freedom living is not just eating any and everything you want whenever you want. I am SORRY...if you were looking for that kind of "healthy nutrition plan," it just does not exist. They Lord has designed our bodies and given us good food to eat. We do need to steward our health and make good choices. Ideally, yes, we would make good choices all of the time. But, there are so many things fighting against that, and honestly sometimes those are good things. We need to allow room for those good things.

  • Sometimes it is that we are offered good food (by a friend or a host or at a celebration) that is not nutritionally healthy. It is good to receive and partake in that meal!

  • Sometimes it is that we are busy with other really good things--our jobs, serving others, our families, a special task--and we need to make a choice to focus on those good things more than good nutrition.

  • Sometimes we simply need to take a chill pill and relax and enjoy life and a yummy treat!

Are these things license to do whatever you want? eat whatever you want? NO. You should steward your health, learn to eat healthy, and seek to eat in a way that is going to serve your body, mind, and emotions well. Having "the 20" is also healthy because sometimes you learn from it...that you don't feel as well afterward--learning is healthy. Sometimes you enjoy that meal and don't feel so deprived and have self control at other times, which is also healthy. Having flexibility in your life is a very good and healthy thing. For some people, the 80/20 principle is sustainable, prevents binging, and leads to progress or good sustainable health. Of course, there are some people that this does not work for, but it's good for the majority of people.

Hear me all the way...I do believe rules and boundaries are good and serve a wonderful purpose. But, I do think giving yourself permission to eat a different way about 20% of the time and actually planning for it will help you loosen up to live a more healthy lifestyle the majority of the time and more and more.

Flexibility, joy, and freedom are so very healthy and good for you.

Obsessing over food and being rigid will often lead to bondage, fear, shame, and guilt.

Allow for room to be flexible, but not license for overindulgence.


I really don't want you to sit down and calculate out 80% and 20% of your nutritional intake! I want you to live WAY more freely than that. But, let's try to consider what is 80% and what is 20%? What does this look like?

Let's say you eat only 3 meals each day--that is 21 meals in a week. 80% would be about 17 of those meals. What if you ate about 17 "healthy meals," according to good health for you and then intentionally knew 20% of those meals--about 4 meals had much room and flexibility. For some people this could be a flexible dinner with your family 4 nights (that's every other night! the majority of your weekly nights!). For some, this could be lunches out with colleagues. It could also be enjoying those meals at a weekend away. For others (you overseas workers that often eat with others), this could be when you eat those meals in others' homes as you do ministry!

Here is another scenario. Say you eat about 5 smaller meals a day (or 3 meals and 2 snacks) actually could focus on good healthy choices all day long and have dinner as a flexible meal everyday. Or you could have one meal everyday as flexible--that could be lunch out with a friend one day, ice cream as a snack another day, pizza for dinner one day, or biscuits and gravy for breakfast another (if you know my family, you know where this comes from).

I would say my personal scenario has even more room than the above scenarios. I have kind of had something similar to the 80/20 principle in mind for about 5 years. So, at this point, I have figured out "my healthy," and I eat that way most of the time--it might be 90% some weeks and others more like 70% (please don't get fixated on a number...this is just a principle). The rest of the time, I will be found eating all the other things. If you see me eating a salad or chicken and vegetables...that is part of health for me. If you see me eating fried chicken nuggets, french fries, and a Dr. Pepper...that is part of health for me. I may even invite you over to my home and prepare an "unhealthy" meal because we are celebrating that we are with friends! I consider all of this healthy!

Drop the pin! What are your current percentages?

Just move toward 80/20 by 5% or 10%.

Keep making progress until you find your sweet spot, and shoot for 80/20.

Then, as you maintain, focus on healthy the vast majority of the time!


  • Be honest about 80/20. Don't justify too much and think you are 80/20 when you are more 50/50 or even 30/70 (only 30% healthy eating).

  • Get curious and think about what 80/20 realistically looks like for your lifestyle, meal preferences, situations, etc. Have you figured out what your "healthy 80" is? Go back to the other 4 principles--learn and plan! What are your "20% meals and snacks" and allow them in--include them as part of health! Don't label this as bad or cheating--understand this is part of health. Do not moralize food. Work to have a good relationship with food.

  • Honestly think through where you are now. If you are at 20/80--don't try to jump to 80/20 next week. Let's work and make progress realistically and sustainably! Try to work toward 30/70 or even 25/75...and then 40/60...and keep making progress until you are 80/20.

Some of my favorite 20 snacks, treats, and meals: Chips! Reese's Pieces! Pizza!

Finally, here is a big word I want to make sure I emphasize. I truly do not know if I eat 80/20. I just eat very similarly to this concept, and the 80/20 principle is a great way to explain it. I do not measure, count, or take percentages of my food (and I encourage you to assess, track, and gage realistically without getting obsessive). This is what I do and what I encourage--eat healthy the vast majority of the time (when at home, doing normal life, the majority of meals, snacks, and days), and leave room for all of the other things life throws your way. That might be celebrating. That might be busyness. That might just be that you want a piece of cake, potato chips, doughnut, or fried chicken. Leaving room for some of the things you enjoy, do with others, and simply just like leads to a healthy lifestyle. Deep, sustainable health is what we really want to pursue. You might find when you allow for the "20" that you do the "80" way better, with more joy, and with great freedom!

Bottom line. DON'T overcomplicate it. Keep it simple.

Try to eat healthy the vast majority of the time and

leave room also for foods you enjoy.

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