As a Nutritional Therapist, I always try to give my clients realistic, sustainable advice about improving their health through their food choices. And as a busy mother of 3, I know it is not realistic to eat ‘perfectly’ all the time. It is very common, especially for women, to have an all-or-nothing relationship with food, when we are either on a strict, quick-fix diet, depriving ourselves of certain foods, or eating rubbish and feeling guilty about it.
However, I am a big fan of the 80-20 approach to eating, which is a much more long-term, sustainable way to eat. Best of all it’s a guilt-free way to feed yourself and your family well.
Put simply, it means eating healthy, whole foods 80% of the time, and then allow yourself a treat 20% of the time without feeling guilty about it.
The 80% should include the following:
Fresh vegetables and fruit – try to eat seasonally and in a rainbow of colours to ensure a variety of flavours and nutrients.
Wholegrains – unprocessed carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa and brown rice
Lean protein – eggs, chicken, oily fish, organic meat, beans and pulses
Good fats – oily fish, nuts and seeds
Water – aim to drink around 2 litres a day of filtered water, with a squeeze of lemon or some mint and cucumber added if you fancy a bit more flavour
Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine
So, what about the 20%?
Some people worry that if you allow yourself to eat treat foods at all, then you will eat too many of them. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track:
Focus your treat meals on one or two days of the week, perhaps the weekend or a planned special occasion, rather than 20% each day, which can easily slip into more
As a guide, out of 21 meals in a week, 4-5 of them can contain ‘treat’ foods, for example, an ice cream or pudding, fish and chips, a takeaway, or a couple of glasses of wine
Choose your very favourite indulgence, rather than going mad on everything!
Eat slowly and learn to listen to your body’s hunger or fullness signals
When you have a treat, try to really enjoy it and eat it without feeling guilty.
Studies have shown that having a balanced, guilt-free relationship with food can reduce the likelihood of emotional eating, and improve the likelihood of weight loss if that is the desired outcome. I say, ‘let them eat cake!’, just not all the time.