Monday, February 4, 2013

The 80/20 Rule: The Essence of Holistic Health

A few years ago, I was first introduced to the Paleo diet concept through Mark Sisson's book The Primal Blueprint.  It's a great introductory book for anyone interested in learning about the basics of an ancestral diet.  One of Mark's key concepts in that book was called "the 80/20 rule".  The idea is that if you eat healthy and stick to the diet 80% of the time, you can have some flexibility for the other 20%.  As Mark says in a 2009 blog post on the topic, "If you align your life with the PB principles 80% of the time, consider yourself on course."  In other words, 80% adherence to the diet is good enough to get results.  I guess I sort of glossed over it at the time; my mentality back then was to go all out on this Paleo thing.  Why would I hinder my results by cheating 20% of the time?

But today, being three years older and just a little bit more mature, I understand the value of this 80/20 rule.  Perhaps I misunderstood the intent, but Mark makes it very clear in the article referenced above... "Even though 100% compliance isn’t the exact everyday expectation, 100% commitment is the intention."  Commitment is key.  If you're committed at the core to living a healthy lifestyle, if that is who you are and who you want to be, then eating like junk once in a while is perfectly okay.  The next day you'll hop right back on the wagon and keep on being you.

But beyond just the 80/20 rule being "good enough", I would argue that in many cases, the 80/20 rule is BETTER than adhering 100% to a diet.  Why??  Holistic health.

You've probably heard the term before.  "Holistic".  When we talk about holistic health, we're normally talking about using food as medicine... allowing the body to heal itself by giving it the proper raw materials... eating an ancestral diet fits right into this paradigm.  But I think we tend to forget what holistic health really means.  According to Merriam-Webster...

Holistic - relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts <holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body>

Yes, eating real, natural, nutrient-dense food is good for your health.  Fruits, vegetables, pastured meats.  Of course.

But health is about more than just the body.  It is also about the mind (and the soul, if I can be spiritual for a moment).

There's more to life than eating healthy.  And there's more to health than just what you eat.  What about love?  Family?  Happiness?  Fulfillment?  It is my firm belief that through these entities, junk food can be a vital part of a healthy lifestyle.  Examples you want???  Well I've come prepared...

1.)  What if you're eating red velvet cupcakes with your partner as part of a sensual night full of indulgences and love making?

2.)  What if you're eating stromboli for lunch as part of a vacation to Italy with your closest family members?

3.)  What if you're eating chicken wings and beer as a celebration with your soccer teammates after winning your league championship?

4.)  What if you're eating a slice (or two) of your grandma's apple pie on Thanksgiving, because it's a special occasion and your grandma made it just for you?

5.)  What if you're eating a piece of pepperoni pizza, just because you fucking love pepperoni pizza and it makes you happy?

I dare you to say any of these are damaging to your overall health.

Of course, there's a fine line to be drawn here.  The human body has needs; we need the right fuel (real food) in order for it to run properly.  But my point is that true health goes far beyond just what we eat.  If we're focusing entirely on nutrition, we're missing the bigger picture.  I could go on and on about this topic, but I think I'll cut it short for today.  No doubt there will be more musings on this stuff in the future!  (Actually maybe even quite soon as I plan to blog about orthorexia.  Inspired by the article by Emily Deans.)

Thoughts anyone??  I'd love your feedback!


  1. I love this approach! At first I was like you, strictly paleo. Nowadays I almost eat what I want, and most of the time it is paleo, but sometimes not. You just have to find the balance to make room for some goodies : )

  2. I love the part where you get spiritual for a moment! Great post! I needed that!

  3. I am about to go on a blog-post-reading frenzy. And yes, I will leave a comment on each one.

    As for this one. I loved our motto in Italy:

    "This entire trip is a 20% vacation. Within that 20%, today is a 20% day. So technically, this is a 4% day"