The 80/20 Nutrition Rule

The 80/20 rule (or the Pareto Principle) can be seen everywhere.

20% of your customers take up 80% of your time.

80% of a business’ income comes from 20% of a business’ products.

80% of a country’s wealth is in the hands of 20% of the people.

20% of your enjoyment comes from 80% of your possessions.

Your wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.

The numbers might not be exact, but the premise is sound. 20% of one thing can cause 80% of the outcome.

Nutrition is no different. What’s the 20% of food you eat 80% of the time?

Often, a complete nutritional overhaul can be daunting. Daunting to the extent that it’s a barrier to beginning the journey of diet improvement. People perceive the ‘perfect’ diet as so far detached from their current eating patterns that it’s unattainable, and they give up.

The problem is, they go after the 100%. They go after perfection, perceiving anything less as a failure.

The solution? Turn the 80/20 principle loose on nutrition.

If you look at what you’re eating, you’ll notice there are two problems. Either there’s something missing (more healthy, nutrient dense foods), or there’s too much of something (less healthy, often processed, nutrient sparse foods). Look a bit deeper, and you’ll notice some patterns. You’ll notice things are being repeated. Maybe you don’t eat any protein with breakfast. Maybe lunch always contains highly processed foods. Maybe you don’t eat vegges with dinner. These three examples may only comprise a small portion of your total nutrition, but the impact they have is huge. They might be the 20% of your diet that causes 80% of the problems.

So what can you do about this? Well, for a start, identify the things you consistently and repeatedly do. Identify the patterns in your behaviour. These are habits. These are the examples of where making a small change will have a major effect. Too often, people chase the one percenters – the tiny things that have a tiny effect. Willpower is finite, so don’t waste it on low value changes. Instead, look for the lowest hanging fruit that has the greatest effect. Look for the 20% of things you can change that will impact 80% of your health. They’re not hard to find – you’ll notice them popping up again and again and again.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology. He has worked with many thousands of individuals along the full spectrum of health, and has coached at The CrossFit Games. He regularly presents to corporate and fitness industry groups and mentors Fitness Professionals.