How to follow the 90% rule and eat moderately

How to Actually Follow the 90% Rule & Learn to Eat with Balance

How to follow the 90% rule and eat moderatelyMany people have heard of the 90% rule or maybe even the 80/20 rule. I love this approach because it allows you to focus on the right foods more often without feeling restrictive. I know for me, the moment I tell myself I can’t have something, I want it more! Don’t get me wrong, there are times throughout the year when I take a break from my favorite foods. But, my mindset is different. I wouldn’t be successful if I told myself “I can’t have this right now.” Instead, I’ll use the words “I’m choosing not to have this right now because (insert the why here). I’ll also focus on all the foods that I CAN have.

Back to the 90% rule.

The 90% rule focuses on eating the right foods 90% of the time, while keeping some of your favorite foods in your meal plan throughout the week. Everyone has their favorite foods. For me, it most likely is a dessert or going out to dinner for pizza or a burger. Consider this something that doesn’t provide a lot of nutritional value and is more calorie dense. Maybe even going out for breakfast. For others, it might be alcohol or high caloric coffees.

5 Steps for Following The 90% Rule

1.) Figure Out Your 10%

This is a simple breakdown of how many meals you eat a day. The average person eats 3 main meals. Others may do 3 meals and a snack. You’ll also hear some individuals doing 5-6 small meals a day. Any of these options work.

Once you’ve determined how many meals you eat on average, calculate how many meals you eat a week.


3 meals a day x 7 days a week = 21 meals (2 splurge meals determines your 10%)

4 meals a day x 7 days a week = 28 meals (2-3 splurges is your 10%)

5 smaller meals a day x 7 days a week = 35 meals (3-4 splurges a week)

Here’s what an example looked like for me last week.








Now, should you feel obligated to follow this calculation? No. If you’re looking to maintain your weight, you may be able to have more wiggle room. If you are seeking weight loss, you may need to stick to the 90% rule or scale back more on your splurges more. Everyone has a unique metabolism.

2.) Plan Your Week In Advance

I keep a mental note at the beginning of every week. Do I have any birthday parties? Events? Family or friend gatherings? If so, I keep it in the 10% bank if I feel like I will want to enjoy something. Sometimes I don’t have anything going on for the week, but I still want to go out to dinner for fun or enjoy a cookie on a Saturday night. When you plan ahead on what you want to enjoy that may not be the most nutritious for you, most likely you are going to enjoy it. Years ago, when I didn’t want to cook, I would go to Five Guys, get takeout pizza or go out to Mexican food. I always felt guilty afterwards because I didn’t intend to make those choices at the beginning of the day, but I was too tired to care. I also found I didn’t enjoy my meal as much because I was tired from the long day (which brings me to #3!).

3.) Determine Your Emergency Meals When You Don’t Want to Cook 

I’ve written about this here. This is CRUCIAL to practice. The more you practice healthy emergency meals, the easier eating healthy gets. First, find meals that take minimal time to make. My favorites include a smoothie, tuna fish or an omelette. We all have days when we won’t want to cook (even the quick options). So, if you have go-to places to go that do not have free temptations, you will stay on track.

4.) Practice Saying No To Unexpected Temptations 

When I started practicing the 10% rule, I definitely had some slip ups. I would plan for enjoying my treat on a specific day(s), but then someone would bring in cookies to work. Ugh. At first, I would eat the cookies or whatever treats arrived in the break room. But, overtime, I practiced saying no. It stings the first time you decide to pass on a temptation, especially when you really want it. But, the more you do, the easier it gets.

When unexpected temptations come up, focus on your why. Maybe it’s because you want to enjoy your mom’s homemade cake on Saturday and it’s worth every bite. Remind yourself that this will be your treat this week, not the cookie today. Or maybe you really want to lose 10 lbs and you don’t want to slow down your progress. When you remember your why in these situations, you’ll have a good chance on passing on the temptation.

5.) Stay Mindful

When it’s time to enjoy your favorite meal, it’s crucial to stay mindful. Here are a few of my favorite tips.

1.) If I plan to indulge for a meal, I’ll scan the menu for what protein source and/or veggie can I pair with it.

  • Breakfast:  I love pancakes or french toast. If I can, I’ll ask if I can order one pancake or 1 piece of french toast on the side (instead of ordering a stack of pancakes because it’s too much food). If I can order a single, I’ll order a veggie omelette as my protein/veggie source or eggs & bacon with my pancake or french toast.
  • Lunch or dinner: I’ll order a side salad. This fills me up enough so I don’t overeat the main meal.
  • Split meals. Splitting meals allows you to get the taste of it without overeating. I’ve found over time I’m perfectly content with a 1/2 burger with a handful of fries & a side salad. When I’ve eaten the whole burger + some fries + a side salad, I’m too full.

2.) Be aware of your other meals. 

If I know I’m going to to dinner, I’ll be sure to get in as much protein and veggies as I can for my other meals for the day. My goal is to have at least 4 servings of veggies before or after my splurge.

3.) Ask yourself if it’s worth it. 

Does it taste amazing? Is it worth every bite? Sometimes it is, but other times it isn’t and you’re disappointed. When you find yourself disappointed, practice eating less of it. This takes time to conquer, but it’s do-able. I’ve been very proud of myself when I notice my splurge isn’t amazing and I stop after two or three bites.

4.) Be aware of portion sizes 

When I go out for pizza, I don’t eat the whole pie just because it’s my meal to indulge! In the past, I did eat up to 4 slices. However, I needed an immediate nap on the couch afterwards because I was so full. Now, by staying mindful and adding some veggies to the side, I’m perfectly content with up to 2 slices of pizza.

Enjoy your splurge by eating it slow, savoring every bite. Don’t scarf it down because most likely you’ll overeat, like I used to with 4 slices of pizza.

My biggest goal when dining out is to leave the restaurant feeling satisfied, not stuffed.


How To Take More Action Towards What You Want to Accomplish


This statement is a game-changer. Why? It requires you to take ownership of what you are or aren’t doing. Telling yourself you don’t have time to do something allows you to let yourself off the hook. It’s so easy to do and I used to do it all the time! “I don’t have time to hit my yoga class every week,” or “I don’t have time to plan a wedding.” But, every time I change the wording to “I don’t have time” to “I’m not making it a priority,” I feel completely different. It all falls back on me not taking action.

Are there going to be things that aren’t going to be a priority? Absolutely. But, when you change your vocabulary to the things that you want to change the most, I’ll guarantee you’ll be more motivated to change.

So, how can you take more action?

Start small. I’ve talked about this here (step 3), but completing one or two things a day towards what you want to change will help you reach your goal. Don’t try to tackle ten things at once. It’s overwhelming and many times your mental energy batteries will die before you want them to.

Make a list. I feel most accomplished when I check things off a list. Sometimes I will even add things to my list that I’ve already done for the day just so I can check it off! Organize your list based off of what NEEDS to get done for the day. Ask yourself, what’s the priority? This has been a key piece to helping me take action.

Note: If you want to exercise consistently, write it on your list. Sometimes you have to schedule it like an appointment to actually get it done.

Create time. Create time for what’s important to you. Usually this means taking something out of your day and replacing it with something that’s going to make you feel better. Maybe it’s creating time to cook, exercise, play a board game with your children, call your mom, mediate, stretch/foam roll, etc. Reading is one of my favorite things to do for relaxation and every time I commit to reading, I feel so much better. When I catch myself not reading every day, it’s because I’m doing other things in the morning or evening, like playing on my computer or watching television. So, I focused on turning the TV off at night and replaced it with reading. If my favorite show is on, I set my goal lower and focus on reading 5-10 pages in my book. It’s a win/win!