A Park Bench Approach to diet - your 10%

The small but fun side of a park bench approach - your 10%.

The small but fun side of a park bench approach - your 10%.

What are we referring to exactly with this 10 per cent rule. The concept is a heuristic one in that it does not live in a perfectly outlined black and white box. The research discussed, particularly in my 'low down on carbs; keep it simple keep it starchy'  article and three part series on fat here,  here, and here illustrated that a lot of the research showing problems with simple sugars, saturated fats, trans fats and inflammatory omega-6s has been done on people with a host of co-morbidities (obese, diabetic, heart disease....). The logic that any of those mentioned dietary factors are poison and to be avoided in absolute terms simply isn't backed up by the evidence provided that:

  • You regularly engage in physical activity / exercise
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not drink excessively 
  • You make otherwise generally positive lifestyle choices that do not lend themselves to chronic stress.

With all that said, it is neither logical or advised that your diet is made up primarily from these sources (saturated fat, simple sugars, omega 6....). Alan Aragon prescribes a 10 per cent rule that enables us to have a framework for exercising true moderation, without demonising or avoiding anything unnecessarily. A framework means we can deviate from it, which is why it is a heuristic process, you will discover what that 10 per cent is for you, and likewise how far you can deviate from it. 


You will already know intuitively what this category includes:

  • Sugar sweetened beverages - fizzy pop, sports drinks, fancy hot drinks including cafe latès.
  • Ice cream & frozen desserts
  • Baked goods - cookies, cakes, pastries, pies
  • Anything with syrup or the like for breakfast - most commercial cereals
  • Sweets & chocolate 
  • Chips and almost anything traditionally deep fried or breaded. 
  • Alcohol and alcoholic beverages

You will notice that chocolate is in that list. Chocolate is a real passion of mine, so i take this one seriously. I would also be open to a strong argument that high percentage (>85%) dark chocolate could be considered whole or minimally processed. However when most people refer to chocolate they are not referring to 85 percent, so it goes in here. 

Figure 1:  There is a case for high percentage dark chocolate being whole or minimally processed, however most people do not mean this when they refer to chocolate. Starting to see the heuristic nature here??

Figure 1: There is a case for high percentage dark chocolate being whole or minimally processed, however most people do not mean this when they refer to chocolate. Starting to see the heuristic nature here??

How much chocolate would you need to be satisfied? It turns out about a fourth of what you think. Dutch researcher Ellen Van Kleef and colleagues gave one group of 104 adults regular size portions of either chocolate, crisps or apple pie and another group received just a few bites, a fourth as much. Fifteen minutes later, both groups were equally satisfied and happy, no body wanted anything else to eat1.

The secret: take two or three bites of _________, put the rest away and then occupy yourself for fifteen minutes (return phone calls, tidy up, do some work....). In fifteen minutes time all you will remember is that you had a tasty snack.

Really useful trick taken from Brian Wansink!2

Take a few bits of X then occupy yourself for 15 minutes
— Dr Brian Wansink

I enjoy my daily ice cream, a lot, and for good reason. I love it! When I eat my ice cream I do so without TV, radio, books or anything 'external' to me as a distraction. Research tells us that we are significantly more likely to overeat when occupied with something as we will pace what we eat by that distraction, not by what we actually consume3.

If we engage in a mindful respect of what we eat, we develop a much better 'internal' perception of feeling full or satiated rather than mindlessly eating out of habit (think popcorn in a cinema!). We also enjoy things so much more.

Be mindful and undistracted when enjoying treat

— Luke R. Davies

If you do have something at home that you know derails you, something that the kids have that you know you would rather not, store it somewhere out of sight. Set yourself a cupboard that is out of the way and that doesn't remind you every time you pass it. In fact, simply wrapping up tempting foods in aluminium foil in the fridge has been shown to reduce how many times we reach for it4.

Out of sight out of mind. Keep temptations out of sight
— Chandon & Wansink (2002)

Closing thoughts 

Discuss with Luke R. Davies what your 10% allowance is in terms of calories, then factor in that 10% either once a day, or build them up and have them all on one day a week! There are some nuances to applying this rule and 'effective' ways to violate it for long term compliance, after all sticking to healthy habits is king when it comes to diet. Alcohol is a major elephant in the room for many of us and certainly falls into this 10% bucket. I have discussed some of the research about how best to navigate alcohol whilst not compromising your body composition goals here.

Apply this 10% rule diligently and use the 'hacks' presented in this article to make it effortless. Personally, I choose to have my 10% (normally ben & jerries ice cream) at the end of the day before bed. I look forward to it all day and it sends me off to sleep a happy man! This works for me. Find a way that works FOR YOU. We are all different. Embrace it.


Luke R. Davies :)


1. Van Kleefa, E., Shimizub, M. and Wansink, B. (2013). Just a Bite: Considerably Smaller Snack Portions Satisfy Delayed Hunger and Craving, Food Quality and Preference, 27(1), P.96-100.

2. Wansink, B. (2016). Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Noting Hill Gate, London,  UK. P.54.

3. Wansink, B., Payne, C. R. and Chandon, P. (2007). Internal and External Cues of Meal Cessation: the French Paradox Redux, Obesity (Silver Spring), 15(12), P.2920-4.

4. Chandon, P. and Wansink, B. (2002). When are Stockpiled Products Consumed Faster? A convenience-Salience Framework of Postpurchase Consumption incidence and Quality, Journal of Marketing Research, 39(3), P.321-335.