What does 80/20 & 'Balance' Really Mean?!

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.


The holiday season is officially upon us:

  • The trees and lights are up in the stores with holiday music jingling in the background.
  • ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” movies have now turned into the “60 Days of Christmas.”
  • Black Friday sales have already begun.
  • Holiday parties and celebration invitations are coming in.



…And you’re prepping for the kick-off of the season: Thanksgiving.


Bring on the quality family bonding, the Macy’s Day Parade, the football, and the feasting!



If you’re like most Americans, you’re already thinking about the food: the turkey, the stuffing, Aunt Bethany’s sweet potato casserole, your mom’s to-die-for pumpkin pie—bring it on!!!


In addition, you are also already thinking about…


  • The amazing flavors and comforts that come but once per year
  • The sugar hangovers
  • Trying to ‘resist’ temptation or your inner sugar monster
  • Inner guilt for your ‘bad’ indulgences
  • Navigating the alcohol and holiday party scene
  • The pounds you already foresee putting on
  • How you are going to ‘attack’ the ‘damage done’ during the holiday season
  • Or even the opposite end of the spectrum: Fear or reservation around all the feasting and focus on food


Wherever you fall in your relationship with food and the holidays, chances are you’ve also had the thought or attitude reminder:


“Everything in moderation.”



Phew. More at ease…you realize you CAN have your cake and eat it too. You CAN live a little.


BUT then you begin thinking….What exactly does moderation mean?



Not caring at all during the holidays?

Trying a bite of everything?

Having special ‘cheat’ days?

Knowing what ‘clean eating’ looks like—and practicing it when you feel like it?

Allowing yourself just one dessert—not two or three?


The thing is: There is NO clear definition of moderation when it comes to your food and choices around nutrition.


According to Webster’s, “moderation” is a noun that means:


The avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions.”


In THRIVE’s laymen terms?





Above all, I believe moderation is balance—in all areas of our lives.


And, when it comes to balance, or ‘moderation’, the “exacts” of what this looks like is completely independent to YOU.


What is ‘extreme’ for you…may not be extreme for another….and what is balance for one, may be unfathomable balance for another…


Your own practice of mindfulness, intuitiveness and ‘self-control’ around your food and nutrition looks completely different from one person to the next.


For instance: Almond Butter


  • For myself—eating almond butter may be something I enjoy many days (preferably with a banana or in my famous banana pancakes).


  • But for another: keeping almond butter in the house is not an option (unless they want to eat the whole jar in a matter of days). They love it, but are unable to control their cravings or over-consumption tendencies around it.


Another instance: Alcohol & Coffee


  • You may be able to drink in ‘moderation’—on a Friday or Saturday evening, you go out with friends for dinner and drinks, order one or two glasses of wine along with your meal, and that is that. Or if coffee is your thing: you may have a cup when you’re at a funky local coffee shop or meeting up with a friend for a cup of Joe, but you don’t need it to function.


  • While another individual finds that alcohol is a 4-5 night per week occurrence—happy hour invites, post-work de-stress, a mood mellower that also helps them sleep; they need it (or their sugar cravings and habits do) and can’t go out without ordering it. The same goes for the chronic coffee drinker: functioning is NOT happening unless they’ve had their cup of Joe.


Exhibit 3: “Eating healthy”



  • Moderation with “healthy eating” may look like eating out 3 or 4 nights per week of their 21 total meals in a week, and cooking in the rest…Or, choosing real foods the majority of the time, but occasionally, when life gets busy, being able to go with the flow and grab a protein bar (packaged—gasp!)…Or if they happen to be out celebrating a friend’s birthday, being able to have a small cup of fro-yo with their best girl friends.


  • For another, eating out is what they do. Moderation for this person may look like choosing less fried or fast-food options, and instead opting for more chicken, fish and veggie options at their favorite restaurants…Or, ice cream is a “staple” in their nightly routine, so moderation may look like choosing to try making their own version of coconut ice cream to keep in their freezer for a less sugar-infused version of a sweet treat…Or, life gets busy, and instead of just ‘doing whatever’ (often resulting in a frozen dinner or snacky dinner of refined foods), moderation is choosing to “be more prepared” by stocking up at the store with some easy grab dinners (like a Rotisserie chicken, or tuna for tuna salad, pre-cooked salmon and ready-made veggies, etc.).



And one more: Thanksgiving dinner.



  • Moderation perhaps looks like enjoying a taste or two of the multiple eats and treats from the delectable dinner spread (A taste of Aunt Bethany’s overly sweetened sweet potato casserole here, some turkey with cranberry sauce and hearty greens there, a bite of your mom’s famous pecan pie to top it all off). You enjoy it—but the food is just that (food). You also equally enjoy the conversation, the football watching, the Macy’s Day Parade—just as much, if not more.


  • For others, Thanksgiving is all about the food (After all, with all the hype around it, it’s hard for it not to be!). A bite of everything turns into seconds of everything, and then thirds…and by the meal’s end, you are in a food coma—unaware of what really just happened in that hour. Or you find yourself eating just to eat—because the food is there (appetizers, and baked goods, and the ‘fixings’ for all the recipes being made).


As you can see: Moderation is completely unique to you.


In my own nutrition and therapy practice, I often coach people around maintaining an 80/20 or 70/30 philosophy—70-80% of the time, you are choosing to eat real whole foods; 20-30% of the time, you are “living life”—having that piece of birthday or wedding cake, going out for a slice of pizza at your favorite dive on a Friday night, going with ‘the flow.’


In other words: NOT PERFECT.


What does 70/30 or 80/20 REALLY mean?



Chew on this:


  • Of the 21 square meals you eat per week, 3 or 4 of those are eaten out, or not necessarily balanced (that slice of pizza at Homeslice on Friday night; or real pancakes on Saturday morning; or a dinner date with Mr. Perfect at an awesome new restaurant in town and trying whatever he orders for the appetizer). The other meals are home-prepared and well-rounded: proteins, healthy fats, veggies’-based.


  • Making your grandmother’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe for your annual cookie exchange and using real sugar gosh darn it! (and maybe even having a taste or two of batter in the process)


  • Ordering one sushi roll—with rice if that’s the ‘real deal’ to you, and enjoying it alongside your order of sashimi



  • Eating burger patties or steak one night because your body is craving iron from red meat, and a crisp, refreshing salad the next because your body is craving greens; or ordering the whole burger from your favorite Gourmet burger joint in town–and not feeling ‘guilty’ because you chose to eat the bread…then concocting some homemade steak, chicken or burgers the next night, alongside lots of fresh veggies.


  • Not eating the same thing every day because you have to or you’re on auto-pilot, but fueling your body with nourishing nutrient-dense foods because you thrive upon them


  • Eating breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast because it’s what sounds good


The 80/20 philosophy applies NOT only to food—but other areas of your life as well.


It means:


  • Choosing to go for a 3-mile run because you’re appreciative of what your body can do and feel awesome when your heart pumps and energy soars; instead of choosing to go for that 3-mile run because you want to lose 5 lbs. or because “it’s just what you have to do” (no questions asked)


  • Being able to say “no” to going out in order to rest or get some much needed down time—and not feeling an intense fear or guilt of FOMO (fear of missing out) for listening to your body; Or being able to go out and be present with your friends or significant other—without letting the weight of your job deadlines or other life stress impact your mentality



  • Looking in the mirror and acknowledging, “I am perfect!” (just as you are right now in this moment)—even if it’s not where you ideally want to be…Your body is your HOME, and wherever you are at in your physical and emotional well-being, moderation is being able to have acceptance with thyself (realizing there is SOOOOO much more to life than just our physical bodies)


  • Drinking a few more cups of coffee than you typically would like one day, secondary to under-sleeping the night before…but making up for it by getting your shut eye in the next night and back to your one daily morning cup of Joe.


  • Splurging on a pair of Jeans or Kendra Scott earrings you ‘just had to have’…or a concert you hadn’t necessarily factored into the budget…followed by perhaps some buyer’s remorse…and a devotion to saving your pennies the rest of the week.


Get it? Got it? Good!


Balance and moderation… “80/20” is learned…over time.


Actively seek to practice it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed with your quality of life.


On a side note…Thanksgiving IS right around the corner…


This week, chances are, you are preparing for some sort of feast or festivities…


If so, no time like the present to practice some “80/20” philosophy in your life with THRIVE’s EASY Thanksgiving-inspired appetizers, side dishes and desserts.



If you are looking to update your old sugar-filled holiday staples with some fresh eats and treats, you HAVE to check out these recipes below!


Impress your friends and fam by wining and dining them with some new updates to old staples that are just as delicious as they are nutritious! (all are completely gluten-free and sugar-free, but not taste-free)


Thanksgiving Appetizers


Thanksgiving Side Dishes


Thanksgiving Treats


ALSO…don’t forget, post-Thanksgiving Day, I am leading a 10-day Sugar Detox to re-set your system as we enter the season.


No juice cleanses or crazy diets here…just simply focusing on eating REAL FOOD, less sugar and FEELING AMAZING.


For more info

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