At first glance, an all-or-nothing approach actually seems easier to stick to because it's so black and white; there are hard-and-fast rules that are simple to follow. The 80/20 approach, on the other hand, requires judgment and moderation; you have to make decisions and choices on the fly. For example, can you have just one of your trigger foods (one of those foods that you struggle to eat in moderation) in a given situation? Can you take a day off from exercise and get right back to the gym the next day?
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The keys to making 80/20 work are that 1) understanding that the 20 percent is a normal part of life and it's better to make peace with it than attempt to avoid it altogether, and 2) you haven't "blown it" and one indulgence or lapse doesn't have to cascade into several more.
What you use your 20 percent for is a very individual decision, and you must be selective about what is important to you and what is not. You might decide to indulge in an unexpected treat that doesn't necessarily fit into your plan for the day—a margarita at a festive social event, a favorite dessert at a local restaurant, or a unique bottle of wine opened by a friend. On the fitness side, you may skip your workout because some friends call you up at the last minute to go out, and it just sounds too fun to pass up.
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In some cases, the 20 percent could be a true slip, rather than an intentional choice. Maybe you neither intended nor truly wanted the food or the day off from exercise: Your self-control truly failed you, or time got away from you before the gym closed. It will happen. But the 80/20 model helps you see that a small slip is inconsequential as long as your healthy 80 percent is there for you.
The 80/20 approach is not as exciting as trying to follow an extreme plan because it does not promise speedy, extreme weight loss. However, it will give you something that has been missing from your previous efforts: lasting results. Once you break free of All-or-Nothing Thinking and allow yourself to splurge on special occasions as part of your weight-loss program, you can relax and empower yourself to have long-term success.
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When you say yes to 80/20, you are saying yes to: living without fear of indulging on special occasions, letting go of guilt after the occasional indulgence, having a structure that offers guidance, but also flexibility to modify your plans as your life changes. You're also managing lapses by keeping them in perspective, learning from them, and moving forward (rather than dwelling on them, punishing yourself, and giving up completely), and living a sustainable lifestyle and having a greater chance of sticking with your program.