The 80/20 Rule of Diet & Exercise


As I sit here, I’m hearing someone (who does crash diets and knows very little about diet and working out) tell someone that weight loss is “80% diet and 20% working out”. It left me wondering where that percentage came from. I can’t help but think, sitting here sipping on my BodyByVi turbo cleanse juice and getting ready to workout with my altitude mask having just tightened up my waist trainer, that this was something fabricated (that’s definitely a joke by the way).

Graphs And Percentages

Studies show that showing percentages and graphs to illustrate a positive or negative change in data, has a 95% effect on the reader of that data.

I just made that up, but I’m willing to bet that you thought it was a legit statistic as you were reading it.

If you think about any infomercial you’ve ever seen, these are the things that sell you on a particular product. They are both visually appealing and compelling and they give, pretty much anything, legitimacy. Consumers will see data and, if it supports their belief(s) on even the smallest way; rationalization kicks in and the purchase is made. Hey! Do you want to burn 3,000 cals in an hour?! I’ll show you a cool graph that describes how it’s done – & you’ll believe it.

The 80/20 principal really had its roots in economics and business. Called ‘Paretos Principal’, it was suggested by management guru Joseph Juran named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It simply stated that; “…for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” So, how does this apply to fitness? It doesn’t.

The 80/20 Fallacy

If you were to look this subject up for “fitness”, you’ll find only a dietary definition that is merely conjecture. Advocates will say that if you eat correctly 80% of the time, you can eat less than optimally for the other 20%. So basically this is just another diet that has no scientific backing. Not only that, but it has zero to do with the principal it steals it’s name from. Giving yourself “authorization” to “cheat” is, in itself, a form of restriction.

There is nothing novel about the concept of this diet. Eat sensibly, don’t eat a lot of processed foods and enjoy yourself without going overboard. Give common sense a flashy name like “the 80/20 rule”, and you can sell books, services and sound really smart. The suggested physical activity is available on many sites, however, tends to be conservative at best (keeping in mind those suggestions are geared toward the general public – please see my previous blog for statistics on obesity – but have more references). RDA’s are also suggested & typically fall short of what is actually needed. See your doctor about what YOU need; not an advertisement or even the government. You personal chemistry is what you need to pay attention to.

The Final Word

Here’s what you need to know:

* “An estimated 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $33 billion annually on weight loss products. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese”...according to data from Boston Medical Center.

* According to a UCLA study, people on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months, the researchers found. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.

The bottom line is that you can make up whatever percentage or ratio that helps you to sleep better at night, but that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is going to be effective. In my experience, I’ve found that the people that speak in “its ___% this and ___% that”, are the people who know the least and are just trying to convince themselves that what THEY’RE doing is what needs to be done, or that they actually know what they’re talking about. It’s not rocket science, no matter how much we want it to be, it’s not. Eat sensibly, listen to your body, get yourself checked out periodically, enjoy life.

Ryan Mallett is an NSCA-CPT & USAW Olympic Weightlifting Coach based in south Florida. He can be reached for training programs and speaking engagements at: ryan@coachryanmallett.com

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