Home It's All Mental The 80/20 Rule… Fitness Style

The 80/20 Rule… Fitness Style

by Erika Nicole Kendall


My arch nemesis…goldfish crackers! Credit: Lin Pernille

Regardless of what might’ve introduced you to this rule, I’m sure you’re familiar with it in either of its two forms.

In the first form, it says that you will always see 80% of your results from 20% of your work. While that definitely applies in fitness – specifically since eating properly is easily the most important of developing a fit life – this isn’t the version I’m addressing today.

What I’m embracing today, is the version of the 80/20 rule that says you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Look at it this way. During the Clean Eating challenge, I had a lot of people send me e-mails about how they were doing soooooooo well with the challenge until they encountered the [insert processed food] or until they drove past the [insert fast food joint.] At that point, they realized that they had failed, and gave up on the challenge.


A few weeks ago, I wrote that I don’t believe in the concept of “cheating” on your clean eating, and I meant that. Let me quote something I said there:

People who take on temporary diets to lose a few pounds, only to revert right back to the habits that caused them to pack on the pounds in the first place… they “cheat” their diets every now and again. They “cheat” and eat the way they used to, because they’ve realized that they took on a diet that was far too restrictive for their natural liking – in a cold turkey kind of way, at that – and regress… without really learning anything from the situation altogether.

I can’t support that for a ton of reasons.

Firstly, it implies – like I mentioned – that you took on something too restrictive and too soon. Why? Are you trying to fit in a dress before the weekend, or are you trying to change things up so that you never have a problem getting in that dress again? Why did you go cold turkey? Don’t we know a gazillion people who’ve tried to cut things (namely smoking) cold turkey, only to regress because it was too much to bear?

Secondly, it implies that we don’t recognize that the habits/food items we used to “cheat” are the ones that got us in this mess in the first place! If I have committed to clean eating, decide to have a “cheat day” when I come home from work and have a TV dinner… y’know, because I’m sooooo tired and need to relax after a long day? C’mon, man! That ain’t gon’ cut it! The TV dinner might not even be that terrible – it’s not the food that’s the problem! It’s the habit. Coming home and not having anything healthy prepped for you to take? Coming home and having the TV dinner in the house in the first place? That’s the kind of stuff that results in you hitting up a fast food joint.

So, having re-stated that… let me explain the 80/20 rule as it applies to fitness. You don’t give up 80% of all of what you’ve earned for the 20% that you don’t have! You don’t give up on what you’ve taught yourself simply because you haven’t learned to resist a few things, or because you haven’t learned to get up from the bed and hit the gym early or even because you can’t seem to put down the ice cream after a few scoops!

You’ve worked hard. You’ve read all my posts about processed food, and you know that some foods that you’ve lived for and grown to love are the foods that are getting in your way. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect to wake up one morning with all of those cravings to just go away! This isn’t a temporary deal – this is a lifestyle that you must embrace, and quitting on the whole thing simply because you can’t give up the scalloped potatoes (yes, I go hard on the scalloped potatoes!) is the most absurd thing you could do.

I used to have an addiction. I used to slaughter giant boxes of goldfish crackers. I mean, I could kill an entire small pack in one day’s time.

I can assure you I didn’t just wake up one morning with the ability to resist them. I’d buy them for my little one, and I’d spend an entire day creeping back and forth getting small handfuls of them. I’d spend all day going back and forth just getting one. Then, I only bought the small packages that came pre-wrapped (and subsequently felt bad about all the trash they created.) I eventually realized that I simply couldn’t come in contact with them, and stopped buying them. It literally took me a year to resolve my goldfish craving.

Let me put it into perspective: it took me a year to resolve my goldfish craving. It took me approximately 8mos to lose 100lbs. Had I taken that mentality of “Aw, I can’t give up my goldfish cravings, I might as well quit.. this is hopeless,” I’d still be 300some odd pounds. I would’ve given up 80% of my successes because of the 20% that I struggled with.

This is not about dieting. It’s about changing the lifestyle that allowed you to put on (and KEEP ON) the weight that you shouldn’t have on in the first place. So no, the concept of “cheating” is ludicrous… as is the thought that you should quit after completing 80% of the race because the 20% gets too tough. Don’t get hung up on the simple stuff. Not only is it a small hurdle in a long race, but it’s a hurdle that – with enough momentum – you can easily hop right over.

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BAnjeeB July 8, 2010 - 10:59 AM

Thanks to you for being so positive and supportive of the effort that people are putting forth. It is refreshing and appreciated.

QuaSheba July 8, 2010 - 5:36 PM

I love it! Just what I needed to hear right now!

Boonie84 September 12, 2010 - 5:08 PM

I love this site! This was so helpful…I have been exercising, but that hasn’t really been helping me lose the amount of weight that I need to. However about 4 weeks ago I had my personal aha moment! I have worn my hair natural for about 3 years now…I have put so much effort and care into researching hair products and natural alternatives. About two months ago, I decided to go natural with my skin care methods…again researching oils and natural food products that are good for skin. I am doing all this work for vanity purposes of skin and hair, why can’t I do the same for my body.

So for about 4 weeks now…now sugary juices, sodas…drinking about a gallon of water a day. I have also cut out fast food and my bank account loves me for it too! I have taken lunch everyday to work for about 4 weeks now too…again my bank account loves me for it too!! i have been cooking dinner about 3 mights a week and then I enjoy left overs! My aha moment has come…I want to work on my eating habits lifestyle and curbing my cravings and desire for junky sweet stuff. Once I have my eating habits under control and I will factor back in my belly dance classes and hitting the gym!!!

I am excited that I discovered your site!!!! GREAT INSPIRATION

Heliconia4 August 23, 2013 - 7:54 AM

Hi Boonie, I have also figured out the reasons why my previous weight loss attempts have failed – and now its so easy and the weight is falling off effortlessly. It has always been pounded into my head that weight loss depends on diet and exercise – but I realize that hitting the gym too hard – especially in the beginning leads to failure and a big crash. It should rather be worked in gradually, intensifying as the weight is lost and the body is accustomed to your new way of eating.

Tracie G. April 28, 2011 - 4:54 PM

I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

Lee April 29, 2011 - 11:52 AM

Needed this today…I’ve cut processed foods out of my diet, completely eliminated all pop, and have been going hard on the water for weeks now, but I slipped this past week and ate a lot of tasty homemade sweets leftover from Easter. I’ve got a bad sweet tooth, and I recognize it. I had been doing a good job of limiting my sugar intake (not my FRUIT intake), but this week I was less than diligent.

I started to beat myself up, but then I realized so much of the clean eating has become habit now (I guzzle water and eat whole fruits and veggies like my very life depends on it), that I can get back on track, I just need to commit to it. I’m about 80% there: no need to discourage myself about the 20%.

Joy July 14, 2011 - 10:15 PM

Thanks for this post, I especially needed the reinforcement today…LOL

Vee March 5, 2012 - 9:13 AM

Thanks for posting Erika I needed to read this. I have been losing weight on and off for the past 4-5 years and not keeping it off…it is a lifestyle change and not a diet.

Cynthia Brown March 18, 2012 - 3:16 PM

I’ve recently committed to eating clean and juicing. This, In addition to excercise has gone a long way in repairing my self esteem which is my self image’s twin.

I a tually felt the voices of doubt being silenced in my head As I read this blog.

Thank you for investing in the lives of us who need to get to our best. …it’s on!

Jocelyn April 21, 2012 - 10:35 PM

This is why I tell everyone I come in contact with about your site, because it is THE TRUTH!!!! I love this post! It is because of posts like this that I feel like I can really do this because that has been me before. Feeling guilty because I ate something I knew I shouldn’t when I have been eating well all day or all week. This site is wonderful, you are truly a God send!!!!

Felicia May 30, 2012 - 8:15 AM

Thank you for posting! I feel like I constantly tell people the same all the time. Make it a lifestyle. Make it a habit. Being healthy shouldn’t be temporary!

Denise Thomas May 30, 2012 - 12:55 PM

Thanks alot for this post. I so need to read this information. I struggle with sweets (candy, cookies, ice cream). I try to make sure i stay full and keep sugar free gum around for when i have the sugar craving but for some reason today was pretty hard. I will not give in. I took a picture of me wearing this medium dress that look so great on me. If i decide to go back to my old habit i would not be able to look good in the dress. Shoot i would not be able to fit in the dress…. AM learning though.

C.J. Williams June 4, 2012 - 12:10 PM

This was right on time for me and from previous posts I read, it was great for others too. Thank you for sharing your own hard earned lessons. 🙂

Sam July 15, 2012 - 9:43 AM

I so relate to this. I was hopelessly addicted to Soda this time last year. I went through a 24 pack of Coke every week. I finally broke this addiction by replacing it with an addiction to diet soda. Now I am finally figuring ways to get myself to drink water. I am down to just a few diet sodas a week but if you had asked me this time last year if I could handle drinking nothing but water and still feel satisfied I would have told you no way. Now I know that it is totally possible and will be a reality for me in the near future. These kinds of changes just take time but they are so very worth it.

Fabubbw July 26, 2012 - 4:06 PM

I went on a very restrictive diet and lost almost 100lbs, only to put almost 50lbs back on in a matter of months! I figured, there had to be a better way. I have been eating clean for a week now and can honestly say I feel good about this. I REALLY needed this reassurance.

Blu July 28, 2012 - 12:39 PM

I’m new to your website but I totally appreciate the advice that you give! I am at the beginning stages of learning to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit and your “life lessons” are invaluable!
I have major cravings for those hot dogs that you find cooking on those griddles at convenience stores and those overdosed cokes. I realized how bad my cravings were when I stepped on the scale after a 2 week binge to learn that I had gained 4 pounds!

Laurie August 28, 2012 - 1:46 PM

Thank you for your site. When it gets rough like today, it does help to read these words.

Rachel February 20, 2013 - 12:08 PM

I love your realistic approach to weight loss. I was just researching what this 80/20 rule is and found what you said to be so insightful. I’m a group exercise instructor and weigh about 10lbs over my comfortable weight. Its embarrassing even if others don’t say anything. I’ve started eating more clean but I let too loose on the weekend and feel bad for it on Monday. But feeling bad isn’t getting me anywhere. Your article has inspired me to look beyond the 20% and appreciate the 80% and work from there. Thanks

Kami February 23, 2013 - 10:26 AM

Thanks for this message because I struggle when i go out with some friends so yesterday I knocked back 3 homemade mojitos for lunch. I told my friend I am not drinking no more. I just started social drinking at the age of 24. Sometimes I do feel guilty but I rarely drink or eat unhealthy. The time when I would mess up I wanted to give up . I will not give up on my clean eating lifestyle since December, I will take baby steps.

Ms. Q September 24, 2013 - 8:52 PM

Today, is one of those days for me. I have been working out, and watching what I eat. My problem is I don’t eat enough. Today, I over-ate. I have gained 2 pounds. I work out 3 times a week. I just renewed my vows 3 months ago, I cannot fit the wedding dress. Prior to that I had lost 30 pounds. I managed to maintain my eating, but not my workout. Then I moved across country, and I am less active than I was at home. I was feeling defeated and just wanted to quit. I have now gained 17 of the 30 pounds I lost back. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. When I’m not trackig what I eat, I do better. When I track what I eat I do worse….Ugh. I appreciate this posting.

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