The 80-20 Rule Revisited

A client recently shared with me how much learning about the “80-20 Rule” has helped her with her nutrition, exercise, energy, time management, and life. So, I wanted to revisit the 80-20 Rule with you via an excerpt from my book Real Food, Real Simple.

Since we all get the same gift of time, if you want to do more in the time you have, the best possible thing to do is to raise your energy level. More energy comes from improving your health, nourishing your body and your mind, and paying close attention to your food and nutrition (where your energy actually comes from). If you had more energy, you could get a lot more done in less time, right? This book will show you how to do just that—raise your energy by making a plan to nourish your body with real food.

Doing something different and making a change can be really scary, though. We put up a lot of resistance to change both consciously and subconsciously. Resistance is often a result of fear. “What will my family think if I start serving salmon or quinoa at dinner?” All these “what ifs” keep you stuck. When you acknowledge your fear, quit analyzing what everyone else will think, and decide to change—magic happens. When you step outside of your comfort zone and change your eating habits, you will start feeling how you want to feel—energetic, enthusiastic, radiant, and alive.

But altering your lifestyle can be conceptually scary in and of itself. How should you start? Creating change is a lot easier and faster if you focus on the things that make the biggest impact. Also known as the 80-20 Rule, Pareto’s Principle holds some serious power if you understand how it impacts your life. Basically, the 80-20 Rule states that you get 80 percent of the results from only 20 percent of the effort. Conversely, you only get 20 percent of the results from 80 percent of the things you do.

You may have heard about Pareto’s Principle as it applies to your closet—you wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time. If you don’t believe it, go take a look through your closet and sort your clothes into the well-worn 20 percent and little-worn 80 percent.Local vegetables

Here are some ultra-powerful applications of the 80-20 rule to food and nutrition. You eat the same 20 foods 80 percent of the time. What if you upgraded some of those 20 foods to healthy real-food alternatives? You could swap Romaine lettuce for iceberg lettuce, whole-wheat pasta or spaghetti squash for white pasta, brown rice for white rice, or an apple for apple juice.

Also, you make the same 20 meals 80 percent of the time. What if you upgraded the ingredients or how you prepare some of those 20 meals that you eat over and over again? By making simple real-food upgrades to what you’re already eating on a regular basis, upgrading your diet to a real-food diet becomes a whole lot easier.

You learned from the 80-20 rule that 20 percent of your choices or effort creates 80 percent of your results. By focusing on the 20 percent that really makes a difference and letting go of your need to get everything perfect or “just right,” you will make progress much more quickly. Good enough is really good enough.

How will you apply the 80-20 Rule to improve your health? I love to read your comments!

P.S.- Want to learn more about how to make healthy eating simple? Check out my book Real Food, Real Simple here or on!

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

1 thought on “The 80-20 Rule Revisited”

  1. I had an e-mail clarification question about the 80-20 Rule and I wanted to share the response with you. . .

    20% of what you do gives you 80% of the results in just about anything
    80% of what you do gives you only 20% of the results

    Therefore, if you focus on the 20% that gives you 80% of the results, you’re much more likely to be successful with a lot less effort.

    For example, if you spent 10 minutes planning healthy meals for the week then go grocery shopping to get what you need to make those meals, you’ll spend far less time, less effort, and fewer trips to the grocery store and likely end of making healthier meals each day then winging it day to day. Otherwise, you’d likely spend 10+ minutes each day figuring out what you’re going to eat (or where you’re going to get it from), more time prepping and making it, and its very likely it would be less healthy than if you preplanned what you were going to eat ahead of time when you were thinking rationally than from a place where you’re really hungry and just want to eat something for dinner. Make sense?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *