What is clean eating? (The 80/20 plant-based diet approach)


If you are looking for a clean eating approach that you can practice for your entire life, then you have come to the right place. Let’s dig a bit deeper and let me show you how you can simplify good habits based on natural, whole foods and smart routines.

clean eating diet 80/20

A buzzword with the potential to spark the masses

Maybe you are already “eating clean” without even knowing it. For many years, I was not even aware that I was already unconsciously embracing this type of nutrition. “Clean eating” a term that a lot of people in the U.S. have been using to describe a lifestyle with a focus on unprocessed food, didn’t exist here in Germany some years ago.

Consuming more fruits and veggies, but less packaged foods with refined carbs or added sugar were something our mothers taught us. This advice cannot be overemphasized, but it is not new.

If a mostly plant-based diet disguised by the buzzword “clean eating” supports to spark the masses, it might help to combat the steadily increasing overweight and obesity rates.

So first let’s break down the anatomy of clean eating.

clean eating diet


1. What is it?
2. Why is it so popular?
3. Weight loss
4. Benefits
5. Diet Basics
6. Who invented it?
7. Who is it for?
8. Challenges
9. 52-week habit challenge
10. What really matters
11. The 80/20 approach
12. How to eat clean
13. You are what you eat

1. What is clean eating?

It is not easy to find an objective definition as this “marketing” term is not protected by trademark law.

An unprocessed food for you might be unhealthy or inappropriate for another person. It comes down to many factors like your personal beliefs, your individual situation, how and where you live, your culture etc.

  • Are you a vegetarian or a vegan?
  • Do you have any food allergies?
  • Are you an emotional or stress eater?
  • Do you suffer a specific illness?
  • Are you an office worker or an athlete?

For each of you, “clean” has a very subjective meaning and you will have to define it for yourself.

Sidenote: My own interpretation

For me, it just means trying to maximize the consumption of natural, plant-based foods while minimizing empty calories. As long as my food is nutrient-dense, high-fiber, and has enough satiating power, then occasional deviation from the plan is fine. I love in this context the 80/20 approach: ‘If I can eat nutrient-dense 80% of the time, then I can afford to treat myself 20% of the time’. More about my 80/20 approach in a minute.

What does “clean” mean for you? Think about it!

2. Why is it so popular?

The simplicity and flexibility of clean eating are quite easy to understand and has thus gained popularity. You just ask yourself: Would my grandmother have it recognized as food?

Many people today are aware of the connection between poor health and processed food. Clean eating educates you on the pitfalls of our modern industrialized processed foods. It shows you how to remove chemicals, hormones, and trans fats from your diet while focusing on foods to eat directly from nature.

The core and also the real challenge is the habit-alteration. This is by the way also the focus of my website LeanJumpStart.com.

Sidenote: My own experience

Prior to my work online, I spent more than a decade as a marketing executive, mostly in the food and nutrition fields. My job was exciting, but also eye-opening. After seeing firsthand how the food industry manipulates our food habits, I had compelling reasons to steer clear of processed food. This was a turning point in my life.

I got my first glimpse behind the curtain of the food industry when I was a young student working in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant. Even thirty years ago, highly processed convenience food was dominating the scene at this upscale restaurant. There was no vegetable soup and the gravy was not made from scratch. Click here to learn more about me.

3. Clean eating weight loss – why it goes hand in hand

As the ultimate un-fad diet, this concept does not tell you to lose weight but instead shows you how to develop healthy eating habits. It highlights the idea of consuming the right type of food groups to make your body function better and thrive.

The primary goal is changing how you think about, select, and consume foods. This could mean instead of using store-bought dressings, preparing your own salad dressing with e.g. olive oil. Others might want to learn how to prepare an oil-free dressing. Weight loss – if wished – will just be the by-product or end product of the entire process.

4. Benefits

This is not just for people looking to lose weight. Indeed, there is now an abundance of evidence to suggest that this lifestyle offers a huge array of benefits. Among others it can help you:

  • have a tougher immune system to fight infections
  • have more energy and better concentration
  • improve mood and boost happy feelings
  • normalize blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • improve the heart function and circulation while reducing the risk of heart disease or stroke
  • reduce the susceptibility of getting certain forms of cancer
  • lead to a more active and longer life

5. Diet Basics

Here are the basic principles:

  1. Choose natural, wholesome foods
  2. Mix complex carbohydrates with lean proteins in most of your meals
  3. Prefer fresh fruits and vegetables
  4. Consume healthy fats
  5. Opt for maximum 5-6 meals throughout the day
  6. Preferably cook your own meals
  7. Drink sufficient water (downshift fruit juice)


There exist more radical approaches:

Some people focus on consuming only organic food. Others avoid dairy. Again others who sympathize with the whole food plant based (WFPB) idea don’t consume any oil. It all comes down to what you personally will accept for your diet and life plan. The most scientifically supported solutions in this context are balance and moderation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of organic food. But for many families, organic groceries are not always a financially viable option. I’m convinced that those who are living frugally can also develop good eating habits.

6. Who invented it?

This diet is so common-sense that no one really can take credit for inventing this wholesome concept. The following equation sums it up:

All Food – Food Inventions = Clean Foods

7. Who is it for?

At first glance, such a diet might seem better for the fitness competitor or bodybuilder since they form their bodies to earn a living. But most of you are not paid to look good. Eating the right types of foods does not have to be the focal point of your life.

Having a simplified, practical way to eat nutrient-dense foods is crucial. From your own experience, you know that it is so easy to fall into a bad habit of fast food and TV dinners.

You wish to devour foods that are minimally processed before consumption. However, you are often organizationally overwhelmed. You do not have the time to cook elaborate meals for yourself that your family is not going to accept.

Clean eating can work for you too.

I am convinced that with a “guided” common sense approach you could easily change your lifestyle. I will help you to develop and automate tiny, smart habits to work towards a healthier lifestyle.

8. Diet challenges 

The sad truth is once you are prepared to switch to nutrient-dense, whole foods you might encounter some unexpected hurdles.

Too extreme of an approach
Life is all about balance and to me many clean eating books show zero balance. I have read about diets that are too extreme or dogmatic for someone trying to make dietary changes. Everything you ever loved is cut out and replaced with food ingredients you have never even heard of or tried.

One thing that science has proven is that most overweight persons have a food addiction that is equivalent to an alcoholic or a drug user. Replacing every piece of food with an all “clean” diet is very radical. Trying to set everything into motion from the beginning provokes a high frustration level. People are overwhelmed, give up and open a bag of potato chips instead. 😉

But that’s not all!

Promotion of Supplements
Another problem is that many “eat clean” books promote the use of supplements that will empty your wallet and deliver only a placebo effect. These supplements are sold by an unregulated industry. Numerous studies show that these supplements are not useful.

Lack of simple step-by-step instruction
The most books on this topic I have read so far have one thing in common: They lack a simple step by step set of instructions on how to develop good habits. However, many people want a diet plan they can follow to slowly phase out certain unhealthy foods and add new foods with a high nutritional value.

9. 52-week habit challenge

The lack of simple step-by-step instructions was the reason I started LeanJumpStart in 2013. I developed a 52-week clean eating challenge first for my family and me. It is so easy to get obsessed with health as a life goal and getting caught up in rigid rules. But that is not what you need.

10. What really matters are better habits.

By developing smart behaviors, you will have more energy and time for the people and things in life that are most meaningful to you. Although you cannot “buy” discipline you can learn it. The easier the habits you are tackling, the higher is your success rate.

That is why I have worked out an action plan for you to help you in developing smarter, tiny habits and routines.  My main focus is on:

  • nutrition
  • fitness and
  • happiness

In my 52 Chef Habits E-Course, you will get 52 weekly changes over the course of a year jam-packed with tips that give you clarity and direction. I have made these new behaviors so easy that you will not feel like you are making drastic changes. It will give you the organization you may be lacking in your life. 52 weeks of guided lessons that cover everything to make your positive habits stick.


11. Optimize your habits: The 80/20 approach (Part 1)

The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto principle which defines that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. There are two ways how I define 80/20 in the context of clean eating.

The habit changes that I present to you will have a “lean approach”. You just work smart on the 20% of the right things to achieve 80% of your wished results – simple and yet very effective. (In the next section you will see how we turn this rule around and it still works for us.)

What you get:

  • clever inspirations for saving time and calories in your kitchen and grocery store
  • the simplest preparation of any type of plant-based meals
  • easy, wholesome recipes with just a few ingredients
  • smart advice on how to ditch critical store-bought food
  • learn to bake your own whole grain bread
  • valuable insights regarding fiber-rich foods (backed by science)
  • creative ideas about how to de-clutter your direct environment
  • useful tips about how to make better food choices and to not be swayed by marketing
  • organizational tips and grocery lists
  • free motivational or educational charts and tools

12. The 80/20 approach (Part 2)

There is a second way how you can interpret the 80/20 rule. In the context of good habits, 80/20 means building a lifestyle that you can live with for the rest of your life. You just aim for 80% eating clean, while 20% is reserved for optional diversion from the plan.

Balance is essential. You do not have to be perfect all the time. The 20% gives you the necessary flexibility for different situations like birthdays, dining out, snacks etc. After many years of experience, I’d even say that I nowadays just need a flexibility of 5% for optional deviations from the plan. Ok, around Christmas time it might be a bit higher;)

Did I mention that I love the Pareto principle? It works in so many areas of our life.

13. You are what you eat!

From day to day you begin feeling a little bit more energetic and a lot better about your ability to take charge of this important area of your life. The sooner you start, the better your chance of living a vibrant life full of energy with improved overall well-being and fitness.

Click below to jump-start your clean eating diet today!

This article is basically a 30,000-foot overview of what is taught in depth in the 52 Chef Habits Course, and so much more!


14. Are you a “Pro”?

Are you already eating clean, then you might be interested in my advanced approach. Check below what I have published so far for those of you who want to take your habit change to the next level:


8 thoughts on “What is clean eating? (The 80/20 plant-based diet approach)”

  1. Thanks for this. Started a clean eating ‘diet’ last tuesaday… My youngest of three is now 3 and at 34 my body is not as it was or should be. Now that little one has self weaned from the breast i am ready to tone up and lose some flab. I went cold turkey on tuesday last and i think walkers will have noticed a reduction in profits as i’ve not had a bag of crisps since then and i really miss them lol. Glad to hear the 80/20 rule as this means having a bag isn’t the end of yhe world if the rest of my nutrition is clean and healthy…

    • Dear Emma,
      congrats for starting a clean eating diet Emma! I hope that you could still omit the bag of crisps since last week and wish you finding a “healthier” way to indulge from time to time:)
      There are so many wonderful but not so “lean” clean eating desserts that could make up those 20 % that we really don’t need support “Walkers”.
      All the best for you and your young family!

  2. Great article! I also believe in the 80/20 eating rule and clean eating. Amazing how many people still don’t get it…keep spreading the word!

  3. Looking forward to your program. Have been doing clean smoothies and juices and protein and vegs for dinner, but all help is welcome. I’m 72 years old and hope to stay happy and healthy for many years to come!

    • WOW, Barbara! I’m so impressed and proud having someone from your generation on board with my 52 clean eating challenge.
      I’m wishing you all the best, especially a good health. And please don’t hesitate to ask me, if you have any questions.


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