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Have Your Cake & Eat Salad, Too

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Nobody wants to go the rest of their life giving up their favorite treats. Whether it’s crunchy chips, a cold beer, or decadent chocolate cake, we all have foods and drinks that bring enjoyment to our lives. However, there’s no denying that these foods aren’t the healthiest options, so should we completely cut them out?

I would argue no. Cutting out your favorite foods may be physically healthy for your body, but it can have a negative impact on your social life, happiness, and mental/emotional wellbeing. Luckily, you can have your cake and eat salad too while continuing to live a healthy and all around balanced life.

Cue the 80/20 rule. When applied to nutrition, the 80/20 rule means: eat healthy foods 80% of the time, and enjoy treats 20% of the time. 80% options include everything you see in the graphic: lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans. 20% options include the rest: cake, chocolate, beer, wine, ice cream, pizza… you name it.

There are no bad foods, and every single food and drink can fit within a healthy diet. What matters so much more is that you pay attention to the amount of treats you choose to consume as well as the frequency with which you choose them. Keep it to 20% of the time, and you’ll be right on track for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

How can you make the 80/20 rule fit in your life? This is where personal preference comes in. If you are a person who loves enjoying something sweet after dinner every night, that’s perfectly fine. Choose 80% options most of the day and save your 20% sweet treat for after dinner. Yes, this can fit every single day.

Maybe you prefer to eat 80% foods most days and save your 20% options for one day a week when you know you’re going to go out and splurge a little. This fits too, though I would caution against calling it a “cheat day.” This mindset can lead to overdoing it on your 20% day. Instead of letting it all go and eating everything in sight, try to mix in some 80% foods throughout the day while enjoying your 20% foods as well.

To learn more about nutrition, check out my podcast “RDs vs BS” on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. In the podcast, we use science to separate what’s legit and what’s BS in the world of health and nutrition.

Nutrition is very personalized, and 80/20 is going to look different for every person based on goals, preferences, and lifestyle. If you want to find clarity about how 80/20 can work in your life, I’m here for you. As a dietitian and health coach, I help people figure out a way of eating that helps them optimize their health in the long term, without a dieting or weight focus. I am currently offering free initial nutrition sessions for new clients. To learn more and to schedule your free session, check out my website at

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