The 90/10 Rule for Moderation

The Sleekgeek 90 10 rule

Good nutrition is different for everyone.

Apart from there being differences in actual belief around the specifics of what is good nutrition, there are also differences in how far various people are willing to go to achieve good health.

  • Some people absolutely love chasing optimal health and are willing to do just about anything to achieve it – even if it means meticulously counting calories, growing their own food from scratch, never eating a gram of added sugar again, and spending countless hours in the gym.
  • Others, on the other hand, want to do as little as possible to just be a little bit healthier than they are now – for them being healthy is seen as an inconvenience or annoyance and they are looking for the shortcuts and minimum effective doses.

Most likely you (like us) are somewhere in between these two extremes.

You are willing to put in the time and effort to live a fitter and healthier life as long as it’s simple, reasonable, and easy to do. You may even enjoy it living a fit and healthy life, but there are other things in life that you enjoy as well (such as yummy food).

It’s up to you, as an individual, to decide how big a part of your life you want a healthy lifestyle to be. But since Sleekgeek is about living a healthier and fitter life, we expect you to at least make eating healthy foods more of a priority than not.

Many people beginning their health and fitness journey look around at what their friends and family are eating and think that it’s unfair those people can eat junk food all the time. In fact, I remember when I first started my own journey I actually felt a bit resentful about it, because I felt almost entitled to my daily sweets and chocolate. Eating healthily to achieve my goals in the face of temptation and the “norm” was definitely a huge challenge that I had to overcome. Although, thankfully, over time it became easier to do and now I truly enjoy pretty much every healthy thing that I eat, as well as the occasional treat.

As they say, “To achieve what others won’t, you have to do what others don’t“. 

That’s why we like the 90/10 Rule that we recommended alongside the official Sleekgeek Food List.

Applying The 90/10 Rule

We suggest:

  • 90% of the time, you stick to nutrient-dense minimally processed foods (such as in The Sleekgeek Food List).
  • 10% of the time, you give yourself a bit of flexibility to enjoy some of your favourite foods OR adapt to less than ideal food situations (take special note of this last bit).

This kind of approach still requires a significant amount of commitment and effort, however, it’s generally more realistic and sustainable for most people than aiming to be 100% compliant and “all-or-nothing” with their nutrition.

The Sleekgeek 90 10 Rule

It’s easy to get bogged down into specifics, such as how many days, or meals, or calories is 90% or 10% of the time?

To be honest, it’s hard to say. This is something that will take some trial and error to figure out for yourself based on your goals and how quickly you find yourself progressing (or not progressing) towards them.

Taking a 90/10 approach is more about intention and lifestyle design than doing mathematical calculations before each meal to figure out what 90% or 10% looks like.

When to apply  90%  or  10%

Example scenario 1:

Let’s say you end up at a friend’s house having dinner and they are making something that you don’t consider to be particularly healthy. You don’t have much choice other than to eat it, and joining them for that meal may well be healthier (for your social life, relationship, and overall well-being) than any “damage” a small amount of less healthy food might cause. Our suggestion is to enjoy the meal, eat mindfully, watch your portions, and then do less or no other willing indulgence for that following week or period.

Life is messy and never goes perfectly according to plan. Rather than say “screw it” and throw all caution to the wind, control what you can control (portion size, drinking calorie-free beverage like water, declining second helpings or dessert), enjoy the meal, and then adjust your ongoing strategy for other meals and days accordingly.

Of course, if you find yourself in this predicament more often than not or you are finding that your progress is not lining up with your goals then you may need to either revise your expectations or find ways to plan ahead and take better control over less than ideal situations.

Example scenario 2:

Let’s say that your nutrition has been pretty spot on lately and you’re making a decent amount of progress, then you can probably get away with a small indulgence of something from time to time. 

Keep in mind that the idea is NOT to reward yourself or to have a cheat meal that undoes your hard earned progress. It’s about acknowledging and accepting the tradeoffs.

Just like how it’s possible to overeat and gain weight on healthy foods, there is also place for a moderate amount of luxurious food in a healthy diet – but with that power comes the responsibility of not overdoing it.

Real world problem solving

A woman mentioned to me the other day that applying 90/10 is easier said than done.

And rightly so, she gave me an example where her husband will just decide they are going for pizza on a Sunday and she doesn’t have much of a choice. This is difficult for her to deal with / plan for and it’s derailing her goals.

This is where the concept of having an “always something” mindset as opposed to an “all or nothing” mindset comes into play.

  • When you are in the “always something” mindset, it means that no matter the situation, you are always trying to improve something or make the best of something.
  • In contrast, an “all or nothing” mindset happens when you think to yourself “This meal isn’t perfect / part of my plan, therefore I’m now off the wagon and might as well indulge completely”. It’s when you go an order a large pizza, gobble it down angrily, feel guilty afterwards, binge on chocolate, and then struggle to get back on track on Monday. It may even snowball into something worse for a couple of days or weeks.
I personally find myself eating pizza fairly regularly, maybe once a week or at least once every second week, so here are some examples of my “always something” approach to the problem:
  • I’ll order a medium pizza rather than a large.
  • I’ll order a pizza that is more veggie and protein based rather than one that is loaded with high-calorie things like avo, extra, cheese, creamed cheese, olives, feta, etc. That way the pizza I eat is a good 200-400 calories lighter than some of the others, and I also get more protein and veg in.
  • I’ll order something new. I’ll use it as an opportunity to expand my food choices and food variety. Or I’ll deliberately order something that I won’t like nearly as much as my first choice.
  • I’ll order water or a coke zero or a coffee with my pizza – calorie free beverages rather than wine, beer, regular soda, or a cappuccino loaded with calories.
  • I’ll eat my pizza very slowly. I’ll use a knife and fork to cut it up one mouth full at a time. I’ll put my utensils down in between bites. I’ll drink multiple glasses of water if needed, I’ll get up half way through to go to the toilet, I’ll talk and be social. Eating slower makes you feel fuller and more satisfied. It can take up to 20 mins for our brain to send out signals telling us we are full. If we eat too quickly then we tend to eat more than we need to.
  • I’ll aim to eat to “80% full”. As in, I’ll stop when I am no longer ravenously hungry and before I am completely full or even stuffed. This usually means leaving one or two slices behind. Or I’ll “generously” give some friends / family / (your husband) a slice of my pizza to try and not want any of theirs in exchange.
  • If at home, I’ll make a big low-calorie but filling salad to eat along with my pizza. This again makes me eat my pizza slower, fills me up, and usually means I only eat about half a medium pizza.
  • If I know ahead of time that we will be eating pizza later that night, I’ll eat less during the day leading up to it. I might even have a protein shake and salad half way right before we go out and then immediately ask the waiter to box half of my pizza for taking away.
  • If I have a pizza unexpectedly for lunch, I’ll do as much of the above as possible, and then aim to eat slightly less throughout the rest of the day.
  • Exercise always goes well with over eating. I don’t believe in trying to out-exercise or “undo” those extra calories, but when you eat a lot it means you have more energy than normal ready to be used. Put it to good use either that day or the very next day. I get most of my personal records in the gym the day after cheat meal because I have more energy and I’m also more determined to put that energy to good use.
  • If this is a REALLY important problem for you to address, you will find a way. Whether it means having a serious talk with your husband as to how he can support your goals or even sitting there drinking your protein shake and eating your salad that you always have ready in case of something like this while watching your husband eat his pizza. I’ve been out plenty of times drinking water and eating a chicken salad while watching my friends and family enjoy pizza and beer. My goals are different to theirs, so of course, I’m going to eat different things to them.
Eric's Pizza and Salad
So as you can see, you are far from helpless 🙂
I mentioned that the 90/10 approach was all about intention and lifestyle design. So is everything else when it comes to your health and fitness.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the official Sleekgeek Food List as this blog post is an add-on to topics covered there.

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  • Roxanne Clifton

    Lifting heavy weights 😛

  • Shana Grobler

    Love this way of life and apply the 90/10 rule in my life since the Sleek Geek dinner. So my fave way to get moving when at home is to go play cricket with my son or walk with him to the furthest Park. At gym deadlifts or barbell squats are my favvvvve excercise.

  • Roelien Kruger

    I walk everyday currently as I can’t do too strenuous work due to a back injury but if I could I would hike often

  • Tracey Prigge

    I’m loving Bootcamp! It pushes me further than I would go by myself and I love the variety. Now just to get there more often!

  • Yvette Judo-Chop Mamalherbe

    Favorite way to move- hands down pole dancing. It has not only increased my strength but also motivates me to go to regular gym to aid my strength and flexibility. It is a great confidence booster too!

  • Fatima Legion

    I love doing Zumba.

  • Kaylee Jade Mckay

    I Love lifting heavy shit haha. I also swim and plan on doing the midmar mile next year! I have just started running, I can’t get further than 1km without stopping but I’m getting there. I am going for a trial crossfit class tonight so I am keen on that. I Love moving anyway I can!

  • Nina Du Plessis

    I just love my yoga classes !! It’s like therapy & training all in one. I also enjoy swimming & jogging & definitely our weekly Parkrun !!

  • Candice Jane Haughton

    Crossfit and spin. Absolutely love my spin classes twice a week, my friend and I go to synergy spinning at N1 VA. Awesome vibe, awesome energy, you just feel like you can go on forever – we even tackled a 90min class. Then I crossfit 3 times a week. It’s become an addiction. Weekends it’s walking on the promenade or around the neighborhood 5km. Bring on summer 🙂

  • Tania Jacobs

    I just love the Pilates classes the work has on offer for their employees. And also, just go walking the other days as far as I can on my lunch break.

  • Heather Finlayson

    Simple and efficient: Running!

  • Nicola Cafun

    I love to lift and social running:)

  • Linda Pieterse

    My crossfit is my absolute happy place. pushing not only my body but also my mind further daily is a massive win for me

  • Gizelle Versfeld

    I play tennis every day. And that’s how i get my 8000 steps in daily & helps with my weightloss journey. It doesn’t feel like I’m suffering, because i enjoy tennis so much. I don’t realize how much i actually run around and i can see my legs are actually getting shape. Thanks for this information, i really enjoyed reading this. Very interesting article and i know best now.🤞🤞

  • Charlene May

    due to my back problem , I do loads of walking around the office and outside when I get home. That way I am staying positive and still focused on my journey.

  • Juliet

    New found love is the classes at 360 specialised gym followed by a cardio session at my gym. Love love love!!!!

  • Tracey Dullens Shanahan

    I don’t ever buy sweets, unhealthy snacks, colddrink or processed food to keep at home so if I’m ever caught unaware with a not-so-good food choice I don’t feel guilty. I only drink water when I’m out and have salad or veggies not chips. It makes a big difference 🙂 it’s a lifestyle and my children are also used to it now! Eating junk doesn’t make me feel good at all.. so I don’t even miss it.

  • Tiana Kluyts

    I try to make 2 meals out of 21 main meals per week more flexible, not a cheat per se, just more relaxed. It makes life more bearable to have something nice to eat to look forward to. Its 10% of the weeks food.

  • Maylene Benson Miller

    I have joined up at the gym I’m starting off by going 3 times a week and I have completely cut out fizzy drinks and substituted it with water. I am however finding it a bit difficult to cut out rice completely so I have it once a week.

  • Alley Catherine

    I started off this journey and lost over 30kg’s and then I lost the plot completely, fast forward 10 months I was down the wrong path again, something I was doing was not working, I knew I had the ability in me to cut out everything but I didnt want to go extreme again, I knew I had to find a balance and after searching high and low I found my answer yes its ok to enjoy something every now and again, you can still enjoy some things with in moderation and that is what I found 90% sticking to what I know if hood for my body and what makes me healthy and just hat 10% to enjoy something wvery now and again, and I must say its working for me perfectly. I am healthy, I am feeling better again and best of all I am getting my body back cause I am now in control of what I put into my body, I am in control, something tjst I have never had

  • Wendy Forlee

    I do a combination of weights, metabolic workouts and I love step class. The stepping is more for my own enjoyment but I know the weights make more of a difference to my body.

  • Marié En Stefan Coetzee

    I made a major mindset shift in Jan this year and developed a much healthier relationship with food. I have applied the 90/10 rule since 10 Jan 2017 and it has helped me lose 13.7kg’s (last weigh in was 11.08) and still going strong as it is much easier to stick with something if you don’t feel like you are depriving yourself.

  • Marlu

    It is not always easy to stick to a certain diet plan on the long run. Choosing to live a healthier lifestyle is much easier as it is something that is more flexible than a diet plan. Applying the 90/10 rule you make it so much easier for yourself! If you are busy or have a date with friends you can enjoy the moment without feeling guilty afterwards.

  • I apply the 9/10 rule whenever I go out for coffee datest. I order a calorie free drink such as rooibos or something lowe in calories such as an americano/cappuccino with plant based milk. If I endulge in something to eat I opt for savoury as opposed to sweet alternatively look for a sugar-free option.
    This approach has helped a lot over the past year and is an excellent way to endulge but still stay in shape.

  • Faheeza Rangunwala

    I am still learning how to use the 90/10 rule. I’ve got my sleekgeek foodlist and bookmark the webpages with all the guides and tips to living the 90/10 way! My favourite way to get moving is the underrated age old technique of walking. For me, nothing beats a good walk, outdoors is best, but a treadmill in the gym does the trick too!

  • Carol Thomas

    Carbs and sugars are what make me unwell, uncomfortable and overweight. 90% of the time I avoid these but allow myself a 10% leeway for those social events where it’s hard to avoid or just temptation

  • Marlu Mclean

    As a busy student it is not always easy to eat 100% clean. Allowing the 90/10 rule to my life makes room for a piece of gluten free pizza or cake once or twice a month.

  • Zanele ka Anathi

    I keep moving by walking every day after work as I can’t do exercises due to hip problems. The walks helps with my poor blood circulation. The 90/10 rule helps me with keeping a healthy life style and my 10% moments I will snack on dates or dark chocolate(Lindt 70% is my weakness). That way I keep myself from indulging on junk food and my son enjoys eating healthy so junk food never gets to our grocery list.