The 80-50-80 Rule


Fun February Facts: Feb 19th is the 50th day of the calender year, was the day the first group of rescuers reached the Donner Party in 1847, the day Daniel E. Sickles, a New York Congressman, was acquitted of murder on grounds of temporary insanity in 1859 (the first time this defense was successfully used in the United States), when Thomas Edison patented the phonograph in 1878, the day William J. Schroeder became the first recipient of an artificial heart to leave a hospital in 1985 and is the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish mathematician and astronomer, in 1473.

Ok, back to this number rule…80-20-rule

When it comes to losing weight how important is diet compared to exercise? Is it 80% of the battle? Is it 90%? Or are they split 50/50? Or is diet only something around 30%? What is it?

This is a question I get all the time and end up talking with people about pretty regularly. *I must first lay down my standard “It Depends” caveat: there is no one-size-fits-all answer and that there is a lot of variance built into each personal application of this equation. What I am going to present is a generality of something that I have noticed applies to most people.

Before expanding on the details of the 80-50-80 Rule, we need to take a giant step back. Diet always plays a role in weight loss, as does exercise. But so does sleep, stress and connection (and much, much more). We can talk about the diet/exercise relationship in broad terms for the sake of general guidance but we must always remember that diet and exercise are not the only things that matter or determine weight loss. So much more impacts and influences our body weight than just broccoli and jogging. Keep that in mind.

Additionally, good and true weight loss is a byproduct of getting healthier from a whole body and holistic perspective, which means that focusing only on diet and/or exercise for weight loss is a more short-term and shortsighted approach. It can work but should be remembered as being only a small portion of true health reform.

The 80-50-80 Rule (of weight loss)

In the beginning of the weight-loss journey (meaning you have a lot of weight to lose), particularly if your diet is not good, then what you eat is about 80% of the battle. Diet is by far more important than exercise at the starting line.

As you get closer to an ideal weight (and/or you’ve been eating well for a while) the importance of diet lessens a bit and matters in that 50% realm. Diet and exercise carry equal importance in the middle of the race.

At the end of the weight-loss journey (meaning you’re down to the last 5 to 10 pounds or if you want to really lean down), diet matters pretty heavily again, back to the 80% realm. Diet is what gets you to the finish line.

Some Numbers
Just for reference let’s put some numbers out there to give you an idea about what I mean by beginning, middle and end of a weight-loss program. The beginning of the weight-loss program is when you have more than 20 pounds to lose. The middle is when you have between 20 and 5 pounds to lose to get to your weight range (usually about 10 pounds, from 5 above to 5 below your goal weight). The end of the weight-loss program is when you’re going from 5 pounds over your weight range to anything in your weight range or below it, particularly below it.

A couple examples…

From 220 to 175:
If you weigh 220 pounds and your goal weight is 175, you have 45 pounds to lose. As mentioned above, it’s more accurate and useful to consider your goal weight range, which is probably about 170 to 180. That’s what you work from, meaning you have 40 pounds to lose to hit the top of your weight range. Therefore, following the 80-50-80 Rule, diet is 80% of the equation until you get to about 200 pounds (20 pounds from your weight range), where you’d move into the middle range (diet and exercise each being 50%) until you get to 185, when you’re 5 pounds from your weight goal range. Anything below 185 (and particularly below 175) qualifies for the 80% diet final stage.

220-200 = 80% Diet
200-185 = 50/50
185 & on = 80% Diet

From 150 to 130:
If you weigh 150 pounds and your goal weight is 130, you have 20 pounds to lose. Considering your goal weight range, which is probably about 135 to 125, you are 15 pounds from the top of your weight range. Therefore, following the 80-50-80 Rule, you’re technically starting in the middle realm*, meaning you should follow the 50/50 approach until you get to about 140 pounds, where you’d move into the end stage (80% diet) of weight loss. *It wouldn’t hurt you to start off paying good attention to diet (beginning stage of 80%) but in that weight realm most people find both diet and exercise to be equally important.

150-140 = 50/50
140 & on = 80% Diet

To restate it a bit:

In the beginning, particularly if you have a bunch of weight to lose, diet matters more than exercise. In the middle they’re both about the same importance and at the end, as you get close to your goal, diet again becomes the bigger piece of the puzzle. In most people’s journey, whether it’s 20 or 100 pounds, diet ends up being more important most of the time. Keep that in mind while judging how much time and energy you should spend on each. As a general rule, spend your time, energy and attention on what you eat and less on what you do for exercise. A hour is often much better spent planning and preparing meals and snacks than going for a jog. Exercise is and should always be a part of the program, it just doesn’t need to be the focus most of the time and very rarely counted on as the driving force behind weight loss. Use exercise for building the strength and capability of your body, not weight loss. It helps but isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the main component behind losing weight.

A couple final notes:

– This is the basic rule for weight loss. Athletic and performance goals often follow a different pattern.
– This is a rough guideline that I’ve seen apply to most people. If you’ve been a lifelong dieter but never exercised then exercise might be a touch more important throughout your journey.
– Don’t forget everything else in health along the way. Following the 80-50-80 Rule of diet/exercise doesn’t mean forget about sleep, stress and connection.

So there is the 80-50-80 Rule. Diet and exercise both play a role in losing weight but how much diet matters depends on where you are in the weight loss journey. In the beginning worry about food first and foremost. In the middle give nutrition and exercise equal attention and at the end shift your focus more to food again.

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

P.S. If the goal weight range confuses you, simplify it even more:
> 20 lbs to lose = 80% diet
10-20 lbs to lose = 50/50
< 10 to lose = 80% diet


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