All things in moderation, but some things in more moderation than others.

How strict does your diet need to be? Do you need to take the approach of my colleague and limit your self to a small assortment of foods, making eating out very difficult? Or can you get away with more flexibility? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

To be sure, the more carefully you plan and follow your diet, the bigger results you will see. This is true if you are trying to lose weight, lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, or control your blood glucose. Research suggests that the stricter your diet (and exercise—don’t forget about exercise!) the greater benefits you will see.

But do you have to be perfect? Probably not. There really isn’t any evidence to suggest how flexible you can be with your diet and still see the same results, but several people I consider to be experts in this area suggest an 80/20 approach. If you follow your diet and exercise plan faithfully 80% of the time, you can get away with “cheating” 20% of the time.

I think this is true, and people I have seen be successful with lifestyle changes seem to follow this recommendation. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be good most of the time.

If the majority of your diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein sources, you can get away with a burger, fries, and a milkshake every once in a while. You probably have more leeway with your diet if you exercise regularly, too.

In other words, all things in moderation, but some things in more moderation than others!

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