“It’s all about 80/20.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard this much of my adult life. Usually, it’s in reference to the food choices we make when following conventional healthy eating. It has been engrained in us that we should eat healthy 80% of the time and the remaining 20% of the time, we can have a ‘cheat day’ – overindulge and eat what we want. But what happens when you transition to Paleo? While the Paleo diet is a complete rejection of mainstream ‘healthy eating,’ is there still room for 80/20?
Yes, but not just when it comes to food. Below are the many ways in which 80/20 for the Paleo diet and lifestyle can be interpreted.
80/20 Rule with the Paleo Template
This refers to strict adherence to the Paleo diet 80% of the time. It’s more than part-time Paleo, but still allows the individual some leeway in terms of eating non-Paleo foods. With the remaining 20%, the individual can basically eat what they want, whether by choice or accident.
The problem with this interpretation of 80/20 is that for some, even 20% non-Paleo food can be detrimental to their health and their progress. For example, those following Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Paleo should adhere to this specific template of food 100% of the time, especially if they’re not yet at the reintroduction stage.
There are a few reasons for this rule. The first is to avoid the pressures of being Paleo-perfect, especially for those just starting out. It’s quite daunting at the beginning, when you learn that most of the foods you regularly eat aren’t part of the Paleo template. The 80/20 rule allows for bumps in the road as one gets used to buying Paleo-friendly foods, preparing Paleo meals, and implementing these practices consistently. It also exists for people to not stress about perfection. 80/20 can also ease the awkwardness of social situations when amongst non-Paleo friends. Some Paleo people find it difficult to explain and justify their lifestyle choices; 80/20 allows for them to enjoy a meal out, dessert, or drink with friends without pressure. Finally, 80/20 Paleo can be seen as a time for ‘cheat’ foods. While the concept of cheating on one’s diet could be the topic of a completely separate article, it is worth noting that the Paleo template is such that one shouldn’t feel restricted or like you’re missing out and therefore compelled to cheat. If this is you, then perhaps you need to re-evaluate your version of Paleo.
The problem with this interpretation of 80/20 is that for some, even 20% non-Paleo food can be detrimental to their health and their progress. For example, those following Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Paleo should adhere to this specific template of food 100% of the time, especially if they’re not yet at the reintroduction stage. AIP helps those dealing with autoimmune diseases by eliminating nuts, eggs, nightshades, and some seeds; for people with more sensitive constitutions, these foods can be gut irritants. AIP is about working towards optimal gut health through diet, and must be followed strictly to see results.
People who veer towards the more keto-adapted side of Paleo might also avoid the 80/20 rule, as the consumption of higher carbohydrate Paleo and non-Paleo foods could kick an individual out of ketosis. While it is easy to get back into it, again, some people become keto-adapted for health reasons.
Body Composition is 80% Diet, 20% Exercise
Too many people falsely assume that in order to lose weight, we must be physically active. We must burn more calories than we eat and we correspondingly don’t need to be that strict with what we eat. As someone that used to believe in this mentality, I can’t say it enough: in order to get the body you want, most of your hard work needs to be done in the kitchen, not the gym. Regardless of the quantity and quality of the physical activity one does, it’s important to keep in mind the detrimental impact certain foods – like sugar and refined carbohydrates – can have on metabolic functioning and health, never mind energy levels, the ability to use fat as a fuel, and recovering from that physical activity. While there are many benefits to exercise, the truth is that no matter how hard, how devoted, and how often you’re active, you simply can’t out-exercise a bad diet!
In this case, 20% also refers to genetics in terms of your predisposition to store body fat, and your genetic vulnerability to certain foods, illness, and disease. Finally, it can also include healthy lifestyle habits, and mainly the detrimental effect stress can have on metabolic functioning, health, sleep, and overall vitality. By reprogramming your genes through dietary choices and positive lifestyle changes, you can obtain the ideal body composition you were made to have, regardless of how much you sweat.1
80/20 for Consistent Sleep Routine
We know that sleep is very important. It is when the body repairs itself, and we experience so many health benefits as a result of getting enough good quality sleep. Unfortunately, too many people take sleep for granted and are sleep deprived; they then believe that they can catch up on the weekend or during a holiday. The truth is, you can’t catch up from sleep-deprivation, but you can observe the 80/20 rule when it comes to catching your Zs. Sometimes, going to bed late, getting poor quality sleep, and waking up far too early is unavoidable; this is perfectly acceptable, 20% of the time. For the remaining 80% of the time, you should endeavour to stick to a sleep routine consisting of going to bed around the same time every night, getting up around the same every day, and minimising the use of electronics and bright lights at least 30 minutes before lights out.
80/20 Adherence to the Paleo Lifestyle
Consider this last point as cumulative: rather than looking at diet, body composition and sleep as separate entities, realise that they are all intertwined. You can’t have desired body composition without good diet, poor sleep affects dietary choices and thus body composition, some dietary choices affect our quality of sleep. When one takes on the Paleo diet, they should really be adopting the entire lifestyle approach, not just what foods to eat. It’s basically everything in moderation, including moderation.1
Do you adhere to the 80/20 rule? How do you define it? Comment below to let us know your experience!
- Sisson, M. (2012). The Primal Blueprint. London, UK: Vermilion.