90/10 principle for diet success


If you have ever considered human psychology at work, the moment you tell yourself no more ice cream or pizza, a small little voice in your head will begin to shout, “Ice cream and pizza, ice cream and pizza, ice cream and pizza.” You can ignore that voice for a short while, but not forever.

If you have ever tried to exclude certain foods from your diet just to lose weight, chances are that you have been tempted to indulge and overeat those same foods. The diet roller-coaster is all too familiar for many of us. We know weight control benefits will improve our health but making it happen is often another story.

There is a constant tug-o-war between eating perfectly on a healthier diet and cheating terribly when not following the restrictions. There is little middle ground when food is eaten for enjoyment, not sustenance.

Following a 90/10 principle allows for tremendous success while maintaining healthy eating patterns. Forget restricting forbidden foods and drinks 100% of the time. Follow a rule where 90% of the time a healthy meal plan is consumed very closely. While 10% of the time there is freedom to loosen up and eat what you truly enjoy. Think of the 10% as free or cheat meals.

Consciously, allowing an occasional meal of pizza and ice cream into your diet, a psychologically less-restrictive feeling allows a healthier long term meal plan to succeed. Controlling that small voice of temptation has a strategy.

Count how many cheat or free meals and snacks are already part of your week. Eating three meals per day equals two cheat meals per week. Ten percent of two high calorie snacks a day is 1 ½ treats a week. An all or none approach does not always work when dieting but adopting a 90/10 principle increases the chance of success.

Overeating a cheat meal defeats the purpose. The free splurge meal or snack should be reserved for high calorie, sugary or high fat foods and drinks; its about quality satisfaction, not quantity. Fill up on healthy meals before cheat dining or snacking. Don’t go overboard with serving size.

Controlling portion size is an important tactic to decreasing intake. Research reveals that after the third bite of anything, taste diminishes. In other words, the more spoonfuls, the less satisfaction; the more a fork is overloaded, the quicker taste buds hit a peak and do not taste as well; and the more handfuls of chips and cheeseballs, the more they lose the initial burst of flavor. Take it slow and enjoy each smaller bite.

Planning is the key to the 90/10 principle of weight control. The strategy of this plan is to train your brain, eye, taste buds and sense of fullness to appreciate healthier food and drink choices. Decide at least 24 hours in advance when, what and how your 10% cheat meals and snacks will appear. This will increase the chance of success of a healthier eating plan.


Bobbie Randall

Contributing columnist

Bobbie Randall is a registered, licensed dietitian, certified diabetes educator in Wooster, Ohio. Contact her at [email protected].

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