June 01, 2007

The 90/10 Rule

It's difficult to eat healthy in a world filled with junky temptations.

Well, strike that, it's not difficult for everyone. Some people are resolute and not easily dissuaded from their goals. They remain unmoved by the smell of a juicy hamburger sizzling on the grill, or the sight of a sundae topped with cheerful mounds of whipped cream and rich hot fudge and a jaunty sprinkle of nuts. They know a slab of tofu tucked in a whole wheat pita accompanied by hummus and broccoli sprouts is a much smarter choice.

Crabby will of course eat her broccoli sprouts (as soon as she finds them and purchases them; she's working on that), but she also, to her dying day, will crave cupcakes and hot fudge sundaes.

To be honest, Crabby doesn't want to not crave cupcakes, because she's a hedonist. Cupcakes give her great pleasure when she eats them. (Which is not as often as she makes out, but she does indeed eat them). She thinks her love of certain Unhealthy Foods and Beverages is not a curse but something that makes life richer.

Thus, for Crabby, the 90/10 rule. (Crabby has other rules for herself, too). Ninety Percent of Crabby's diet is healthy; ten percent is Total Crap. (Okay, sometimes the ration drifts towards 85/15, or even 80/20, but by 70/30 Crabby knows she must Take Steps and she dutifully heads back to 90/10 again).

Before explaining how well this works for Crabby, she'll acknowledge that this rule is not for everyone. Some people work better under a system that is all or nothing. And others who might also use this same approach might use different ratios--say 98/2 or 60/40.

Most Americans (results may vary for different countries) seem to use a 90/10 system too. But they use it in the wrong f*cking direction. Ninety percent of what they eat is Total Crap, but they'll throw a couple of carrot sticks on the side of their plate for lunch and convince themselves that they're "trying." Because of this, it's hard to go to a restaurant and get a meal that is not 90% unhealthy, which of course is a source of constant irritation for Crabby, as she is lazy and would like to eat out more often. But she digresses.

One caveat to the 90/10 system: it's a bit harder than it sounds. Because that 10% has to accommodate the "accidental" unhealthy stuff you eat even if it's not really a treat. That deli sandwich you grabbed for lunch you barely even had time to enjoy? Well, the two slices of white bread and that big dollop of mayo go into the ten percent, even if you'd have been just as happy with whole wheat and mustard. So vigilance is required if you're going to get to eat your cupcakes or your Nutella or your cream-filled apple donuts.

However, on the positive side, if you're careful most of the time and meet your Acceptable Ratio, there's no guilt at all at eating something that tastes wonderful and is totally terrible for you. For Crabby, this is huge. She savors every moment of a junky indulgence with a pleasure almost embarrassing in its intensity. (She has been known to moan aloud, alarming her dining companions).

It is Crabby's contention that Ten Percent won't kill you.

How about you folks? How do you handle the whole issue of Treats?


  1. I do intend to send my computer repair bill to you, Crabby! I was dribbling onto the keyboard as I read those first paragraphs. Now if it all jams up (which is highly probable considering the amount of donut crumbs there are down there) you are responsible!

    This 90/10 rule could work well for me. I try to eat healthily but there are just so many damn fine tasting things out there that I do struggle at times. But to have a rule to fall back on would help.

    And I like the bit about when you do eat crap to totally enjoy it.


    For me it's just about adjusting. If I know hubby is making triple layer choco cake- YES I will eat a big fat piece! It just means I'm going to work harder and longer at the gym. And/Or have a really light lunch.

    Stopping at one piece has been my problem in the past...or eating some for breakfast...or in the middle of the night. Not anymore though.

    I too, don't really want to get to the point where I don't even desire that chocolate cake. This also why I try to stay away from soda. Drink my calories? Only on the rarest of occasions. I need to get as much pleasure as possible from those darn calories!

    90/10 rule sounds completely sensible and simple.

  3. I swear I gain weight from just smelling food. I've tested it when hubby is cooking something yummy, by the end of the day the scale goes up - and I haven't even nibble what it is! 90/10 rule is a good one to live by. For me though I avoid certain foods all together because it triggers cravings which I would rather not deal with. Lady Rose

  4. I do follow a form of the 90/10 rule...but my ratios are a bit different depending on the day (ok, A LOT different! :P )

    I've been desensitized to a lot of foods because I take photos of them. So I am no longer seduced by hamburgers,french fries, mayo, cookies, steak, cheese, etc etc. Lactose intolrancy keeps me from eating a lot of things too. I've never been a fan of fried foods so I don't miss them.

    My vice? Candy and chocolate. Not cupcakes, cookies and other baked goods. CANDY. It also doesn't help the fact that I'm a freelance candy blogger/reviewer to boot.

    I deal with it by eating totally healthy stuff and as many veggies as I want (which is what all my snacks end up being), then having a daily allowment of about 400 calories worth of candy a day.

    So I get my daily treats but also all my servings of veggies!

  5. I love your writing stye. You are funny. And silly.

    And you mentioned Nutella. Yum.

    I think your 90/10 rule sounds like a winner.

    Have a great weekend!


    Sylvia C.

  6. Indulgence is good.
    I suppose my ratio is about 90/10 and I do eat junky on occasion, especially road trips.
    My husband and I have the blessings of food allergies and intolerances and it has meant that I make chocolate pudding from scratch using almond milk. He can't have much chocolate so I must sacrifice myself to ensure it's all eaten in good time.
    I have the occasional ice cream and I make sure it's real and made from Actual Dairy Products. A bit is not going to hurt me and I enjoy it that much more.

  7. Luckily for me, my temptations are few. Believe me, if you haven't had a hamburger in over 20 years, the very thought becomes repulsive. Yuck!

    But it's very hard for me to pass up homemade cookies or brownies. And I can't eat just one piece of candy. Once I start, I can't stop. These aren't things I encounter regularly, though.

    My big dietary rule is the "budget" rule. I have a calorie allotment for the day, and if I go over, I must compensate via exercise. That's why I do particularly long workouts on Saturday (Indian Buffet Day with the hubby), and on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when I can expect my mom to be putting a feast on the table.

    As for "crap" food, I just don't buy it. If I need something sweet and carborific, I buy granola bars-- the kind without the high fructose corn syrup. Or I have some yogurt. Or dried fruit or honeyed pecans. Anything with with at least some vitamins and maybe fiber and protein to show for their calorie content.

    Make your indulgences work for you. And budget your calories, just like a checkbook. Overdrawn? Time to get to work!

  8. Hi Dawn!
    Off topic, but I checked my outclicks for the post below, and people are indeed intrigued by your new website. However, due to my clumsy handling, they are going to your fine blog instead of to your website. (Hopefully once there they've discovered the right link). Actually, this might be a good time to attempt html in the comments section! For those who'd like to check it out, Dawn's spankin' new website is here.

  9. Okay, back to regularly scheduled comments!

    Hi Katieo,
    Your husband sounds like a dangerous man! (In a good way). That's great that you can indulge sometimes without going down that slippery slope too fast. (Although I have to confess to having cake for breakfast myself on occasion, but only rarely, and only I only do it if it's really good cake).

    Hi Lady Rose, great to see you! I think trigger-avoidance is really smart. And hosting a humongous kids' birthday party with all those temptations, yet taking the high road, shows you're extremely good at that. I'd be licking icing off my fingers the entire time.

    Hi Sera--wow, that's interesting that photographing food desensitizes you. Because looking at photos of food sure doesn't! Sounds like a very sensible system you've got there. (And dark chocolate, at least, is also pretty good for you, so at least some of those chocolate calories should count in the "good" pile).

    Hi Sylvia C,
    Thanks so much! I'm tempted to check out this "Wriggle Monster"
    you've got on your blog, though I have no children of my own to give me a good excuse. Since it's a free ebook, those readers who do have kids may want to stop by and say hello to Sylvia and check out the wriggles! Thanks so much for stopping by, Sylvia!

    Hi leah,
    I'm sure your husband is incredibly grateful for your chocolate-eating sacrifice. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it! (It sounds, actually, like we have pretty similar systems. I just whine about my vegetables a lot more than you do).

    Hi bunnygirl,
    I love the bank account method--I use that sometimes too. Exercise buys more indulgences. However, can I just say that when it comes to indulgences, yours are pretty wimpy? They're all mostly good for you! I am truly impressed that you're someone who can get the same kick out of a dried apricot that I can out of a big fat slice of chocolate cake!

  10. We all need treats. I need at least on everyday. I am not sure this is the 10/90 rule. I think some days are better than others but, I am pretty sure I am right along these lines. Food is for pleasure. All of it, carrots and cupcakes. If you grate the carrots up and put them in a cake, wow, that is good cake.

  11. I love treats, too, and if I don't eat them I feel terribly deprived which means I'm setting myself up for a huge pig out sooner or later if I don't allow myself treats in moderation.

    I like the idea of the 90-10 Rule. With me it's more like 75-25, alas... trying to get better though! :)

  12. Hm. Food as fearful, dangerous, unhealthy. Julia Child laughed at the idea that butter was bad for you. She also enjoyed eating a ripe peach standing at the sink. She was almost 92 when she died. Maybe we can achieve balance without these tricky ratios and numbers and constant calculations. I suspect moderate exercise along with a sensible approach to eating is an easier way to go, and let's forgo the anxiety-producing mathematical formulas. I'm lousy at math, anyway. Thank goodness chocolate is good for you (70% dark, that is).

  13. The 90/10 rule is ont I try to follow, and it seems to be good enough an approach for me. I do my best to eat as healthy foods as possible during the week, this way I know I can take a breather on Saturday afternoons/evenings, which I usually spend at friends' (cookies and pizza ahoy!). I just add a personal rule to that: I'll have my dose of junk food then, but only if I truly want it--not because it's just under my nose on the table. For instance, I don't really like chips, so I don't see why I should eat them 'just because they're here'. I'll prefer to enjoy the home-made browie slice instead. :)

    Being perfect 100% of the time isn't human anyway. We can only do our best, and accept that this s not always possible.

  14. 10% by weight? by calorie? or by how much you remember???

    Makes a mental note. Must add crabby to list of interviewees for my book on eating... Seems like you're pretty good at it. Oh, someone slap me that was rude. Sorry (she says with utmost sincerity)

  15. I crave rainbow bars. I even have a blog entry about them. :-)

  16. I love your 90/10 rule. Seems like I am either dieting, failing at dieting or kicking myself because I need to be dieting. this sounds like a lifestyle concept I would do well to adopt!

    Thanks for the post.

  17. Hi all!
    Okay, I have to confess I don't strictly calculate 90/10--it's more of a ball parky thing. I'm probably underestimating treats too, but if I aim for 90% healthy, and get reasonably close, I tend to maintain a healthy weight that I'm happy with, eat a lot of healthy stuff, and have some room left over for occasional gluttony.

    So hi Samantha! Carrots in cupcakes? Hmm. Dunno. I agree with every thing else you said though.

    Thomma Lyn, very sensible! And I suspect a science lab would confirm your 75/25 is probably the same as my 90/10 only I just fudge more. Mmm, fudge...

    Appleton--Julia Child was great, wasn't she? And yeah, I'm kinda busted on the 90% thing, but it was sort of my way of saying what you are--moderation is better than abstinence, at least for me.

    Another very sensible person! Great point on the "only if I truly want it." Important but also difficult. It's hard to listen to our actual desires sometimes when we feel like we "deserve" a treat.

    Hi Talia!
    Yeah, so roughly 90% by calories which I'm not all that scrupulous about actually counting. And yes, I'm very good at eating. One of my few talents. Cooking, not so much.

    Hi John,
    Hmm, must check out rainbow bars... thanks!

    Hi Holly!
    Good point--it's the failing/kicking oneself that can be rough on self esteem. Whatever the percentage, I think it really helps to say a certain small amount of Junky Crap in the diet is to be expected. And then spend more mental effort working hard to find the yummiest ways possible to eat healthy stuff most of the time. The better the healthy stuff tastes, the less need for Evil Junky stuff.

  18. Well, the thing is, I used to think along the 'all or nothing' line, which is pretty destructive in the end. It's almost impossible to ALWAYS avoid junk food, if only at friends' or at the office, unless one wants to turn a complete asocial and never see anyone again, or wants to systematically whine about other people's food choices. (The latter would probably contribute to turn him/her into the former in the long run. :P) I'm not advocating eating to please people--that'd be dumb and a cause of failure--and we should try to stick to our guns as often as possible, even when surrounded with junk. But sometimes, sometimes, it just doesn't work, we're not prepared to face the situation otherwise than by starving... whatever; thu by allowing myself the leeway of 10%, it shoots down from the start any feeling of guilt, "I'm worthless" and "I've blown it all because of that one pie slice, might as well give up for good now". Because, hey, 90% of the time, things are flowing nicely, so I am NOT a failure! :)

    Of course, I'm losing more slowly than if I was being 'perfect'. But who in this world is perfect?

  19. Well said, Kery! I totally agree with you.

  20. I don't try to keep a straight ratio of healthy to junk. Instead, I play a little with my daily food. I know I should be eating around 2600 calories a day, but I play my meals to be around 2400. That gives me some wiggle room for the occasional candy bar or chocolate. Works out about the same as your method.


  21. What's the conversion for 2/7? Because I can manage full on training mode during the week but for the life of me, when I don't have a schedule to prevent my spending time in the kitchen or wondering aimlessly on weekends...it all goes out the window on Saturday and Sunday. I spend the first four days of the working week trying to fix what I messed up on the weekend. Which leaves me with a net one day to feel good about myself. Ugh.

  22. Yesterday I ate a pint of gelato in one seating (blueberry and stracciatella). I feel bad about that, kind of. Today I had only a banana and a yogurt, plus the usual gallon of coffee, before supper to compensate. Has anyone tried pasta made from farro? Delicious.

    But I wanted to talk about Julia Child. Yes, Crabby, she was pretty cool. Diplomat's wife, espionage courier for the U.S., middle-aged cooking student, French cuisine populist par excellence, California native long resident in my home state of Massachusetts. Once, many years ago, I stood behind her at a supermarket courtesy desk (a small market noted for its specialty meats in Cambridge, where she and I both lived). She was cashing a check -- this was before ATMs. Incredibly tall, somewhat stoop-shouldered, gracious and with that warbly voice. There's a culinary library at Radcliffe named for her, the Julia Child Collection. What I liked about her was her ZEST. She enjoyed life and never lost her curiosity. A good role model in that regard.

  23. Gal,
    Sounds like a very similar approach--I think the important part is to avoid the whole evil/guilt dynamic when factoring treats in.

    Hi Lynda--nice to see you again! And it looks like you voted for this post in something, I really appreciate it! I've got to get more sophisticated about these voting things, I'm not signed up anywhere yet but it seems like a great idea.

    So I've been guilty myself of tagging people for things, though most times they just sensibly ignore me, which works out fine. I'll check out the tag thingy and see if I can work it in, but honestly, if it involves passing anything on, I think it might be quite awhile 'til I get to it. (Folks I know are pretty tired of me tagging them and I've resolved to lay off any such behavior for the time being). But thanks again for your visits & links and support. I'll pop over before long and see how things are doing in paradise!

    Buffy, welcome!
    Well first off, be proud of yourself that your pretty good 5/7. A lot of people use the busyness of the work week as an excuse for vending machines and McD's.

    The only suggestion I'd make you've probably thought of, which is to get out of the house as much as you can--maybe pack a meal that's mostly healthy with some yummy but not outrageously sinful treats. Don't know if you've got a family; if not you could also try to de-snackify the cupboards a bit, or if you do, you could try to convert them to slightly more healthy junk food. Again, this is probably stuff you've thought of.
    Anyway, thanks so much for the visit, and sorry for the lame advice!

    Appleton--hmm, not sure what farro is, will have to check it out.

    And wow, great Julia Child info! An espionage courier? Sure didn't know that. I, too, admired her zest for life and grew fond of that warbly voice, even though I watched her without ever actually learning to cook. Thanks so much for your eloquent testament to her quirky charms! I'm sure others appreciate it too, especially refugees from the penis post looking for a little class in this otherwise scruffy blog.

  24. Nice blog. Very honest and entertaining!

    The 90/10 rule works great for me. One meal on the weekend I have anything I want. The rest of the time is for the broccoli,chicken breastsn and tuna.

  25. hi goinggone and welcome!

    Well, if you're only misbehaving for one meal a week, you're doing way better than I am. Sounds like you've figured out a great system.

  26. I've always been a firm believer that if sweets did not exist, I would not be so fat. I can pass just fine on yummy things like cheeseburgers, pizza, and fries... but I have a much harder time passing up ice cream, cookies, and cakes. They're just sooo delicious! I'm a sweets-o-holic. I need help, lol.

  27. Hi Jessica!
    Yeah, sweets are my weakness. Don't think I'll ever grow out of it. Thanks for stopping by!

  28. How do I handle them?
    I WANT them! Especially when I vow to not eat them.. then I want to put every little "treat" into my mouth"...

  29. I've thought about this 90/10 rule a lot. I always struggle with how to follow it in practice though. How to keep track of the 90/10 when sometimes it is a whole meal and other times it is, like you say, the white bread and mayo.

  30. Great Post! It is so funny to see how other people keep track of their diet. The 90/10 ratio is great! Way to GO!

  31. My ratio would be more like 75/25! What a great way to calculate healthy food intake vs junk food!

  32. I've been drinking a cup of tea with cinnamon and if im really gobbled, a cup of oatmeal. its crazy but it helps my sweet tooth...cupcakes. awrghhhh (* saliva *)

  33. Most people who are overweight have one problem manifesting into many different problems. I eat because I am hungry, I eat because I am sad, I eat because its time to eat, I eat because I am bored.
    The truth is that you need to look at your patterns and see why you are doing what you are doing. I am a former fat man. I have gained and lost 10 times my body weight and when I start gaining weight I can always link it to something else happening in my life. You dont need herbs, you dont need magic. Just replace some feelings with positive action like walking. Take a half hour a day and walk. You would be amazed what it does to your mood and your life. Get up and move on commercials. Take a weight and lift it every time you are watching TV. Get out and move yourself into a different direction in life and the changes will come. Up to me http://www.belmos.com are the best way to loss weight

  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. I love your 90/10 rule! So much easier to follow than counting calories. And you are right I do forget to count the crap in my healthy choices (like the white bread on my grilled chicken sandwich). Guess that explains the uncoorperative bathroom scale (sigh)

  36. You should go after Tom Venuto for plagiarizing your 90% rule! I first saw it in the Body Fat Solution (which is a GREAT book if you're an emotional eater, by the way.)

    Anyway, yes. I try to follow the 90% guideline.

  37. [......]I love your 90/10 rule! So much easier to follow than counting calories. And you are right I do forget to count the crap in my healthy choices (like the white bread on my grilled chicken sandwich). Guess that explains the uncoorperative bathroom scale (sigh)[..........]

  38. Awesome! Some really helpful information in there. Bookmarked. Excellent source.


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