Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 May

80/20 Principle

For anyone who’s ever adopted a new diet plan for weight loss or overall health, it’s a familiar nightmare. The backdrop varies (an all you can eat buffet, holiday party, dark and silent kitchen in the middle of the night), but the suspense is universal. The temptation, a mental struggle, the cautious scanning of the room. A subliminal background track climbs in crescendo. You give into the slightest slip, a minor indiscretion, really, and suddenly there you are, dropping through a trap door, plummeting down a dark, cavernous shoot, screaming in terror, only to fall into a sorry heap of shame at the fiery center of the earth (or other subconscious setting for doom or disgrace).

Though the vision itself is imaginary, the performance anxiety is often real. “Will I measure up?” “Can I hack it?” “How can I be that strict 100% of the time?” Questions (and doubts) abound for many as they contemplate a diet and lifestyle overhaul, including the Primal Blueprint. Perfectionism, the letter of the law, looms large in these moments.

We’ve tackled the angst-ridden questions, taken on the transition trials before, but there’s an overarching PB principle to be noted here. The Primal Blueprint, as we say, is all about Primal living. Living. Enjoying. Even chilling out. This is not a lab controlled experiment or a boot camp. No interns in white coats with clip boards will show up at your door or spy on you. No screaming sergeants will get in your face. As we’ve noted before – on a personal level, it’s your own process, your own journey. But even at the heart of its philosophy, the PB isn’t an austere all or nothing proposition. Enter the 80/20 principle….

We often say, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And for good reason. The target of the PB is deep-seated: the long haul of a healthful life, not a brief stop off for cosmetic fixes. The necessary approach, then, is centered around sustainability. One hundred percent compliance with PB principles is ideal, sure, but consider it the ultimate representation – a consummate form rather than typical daily function. The PB is rooted in life, not just research, after all. A practical baseline is this: if you align your life with the PB principles 80% of the time, consider yourself on course.

However… Even though 100% compliance isn’t the exact everyday expectation, 100% commitment is the intention. While we concede that real life happens, the acknowledgement is a necessary reality check, not an easy excuse. PB living does require steady commitment, genuine effort and daily dedication. But the key here is personal commitment – a primal “lens” you develop and learn to view decisions through. Think of your PB transition and continuing evolution in terms of process-oriented goals rather than the rigid commandments of typical diet plans. Give your PB plan 100%, and understand it’s O.K. when daily life moderates the overall picture. An 80% end result will have you well on your way to success and sustainable health.

That said, some aspects of the Blueprint do call for consistent adherence in the interest of meaningful impact. Particular among these is avoidance of processed carbs. The fact is, the physiological effects of processed carbs simply are harsher and harder to recover from – especially when they’re a regular player in the body’s daily functioning. It’s not that your body can’t bounce back. It’s just an unnecessary detour in your progress – a diversion and interruption (albeit temporary) in the physiological homeostasis that maximizes hormonal balance, fat burning and energy consistency.

As you continue the Primal transition, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. Taste buds have a strange way of adapting themselves. Once you’re off the physiological sugar roller coaster, the psychological habit has a way of falling by the wayside. You find recipes, workouts, stress management practices you genuinely enjoy. In fact, you miss them if you have to or choose to skip a day. You actually look forward to getting back to the routine. After learning/relearning how a good night’s sleep can make you feel, you’re now unwilling to go without it unnecessarily. Earnest perseverance facilitates compliance, which begins to come naturally. You see and feel the benefits. Going backward seems unrewarding.

Rest assured, in the course of the transition you’ll make the pieces fit comfortably into your own life. As a lifestyle and process-oriented plan, the PB inherently cultivates an internal compass.

PB living will become less about regimen and more about natural gravitation toward the lifestyle that offers vitality and balance. Eventually, the process will take on its own momentum and actually require less effort and thought over time.

The take home message is this. The PB is not a white knuckle ride. Loosen the grip, look for smart adjustments, absorb the overall vision and weave it into your life instead of nailing it over top your old habits.

And remember that the essence of the Blueprint (and its success) is found in the overall picture – your own encompassing and idiosyncratic embodiment – not the collection of minute details. (No checklists here.) It’s less about what you do at any one meal or single bout at the gym and more about what you do over the course of a given week or month. Think the spirit rather than letter of the law. Where full commitment and full life intersect – that’s the seat of the Primal success and the logic of its 80% principle.

How does the 80% principle play out in your Primal lifestyle? Share your thoughts and questions on the concept.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I crave protein a lot even if there are awesome breads or cakes around (which I love).

    I’d like to know if anyone has the same problem as me. Once you start it’s tough to stop. If I don’t “need” cake, I’ll skip it. However, if I have one tiny piece, I find that I’ll want more. Or some other carb. Same with red wine. If I have more than 1-2 glasses I want other processed carbs. Odd. I thought it was alcohol impairing my judgement (LOL) but no I think it is driven by my insulin reaction. Thoughts?

    Beck wrote on October 26th, 2009
  2. Wow! I’m glad someone else goes by the 80/20 rule….. I try to get my clients to understand this principle by seeing the big picture of sticking to the 80/20 whole heartedly!!! No slacking or it’s the 70/30, or 60/40 rule.You just have to stick to your guns and hold on, it’s not easy. If it was, every one would be thin and in perfect shape.Sit down figure out what 80% of your meals would be and make them your good ones, now allow yourself 20% of slack for those times to be human and live a little. Then get right back on track and stick to your 80%!
    CSCS/Personal Trainer
    Haywood Regional Health & Fitness

    Jodie wrote on December 27th, 2009
  3. The way I look at 80/20 is not exactly to just have a cheat day when I eat whatever I want. Instead 80/20 is part of my daily life, I try to follow the diet as close as possible (don’t eat potatoes, rice, pasta, processed food, etc) but I do still have one piece of sprouted whole grain bread with my lunch and maybe 1 small scoop of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast (i lift weights in the gym and don’t get the required energy just from protein and vegetable alone, i try to listen to my body). Sometimes, a greek yogurt with frozen berries as a snack. Small amounts of bread and oatmeal fall under my 20. Still way better than an average American diet with piles of white carbs. Also, I enjoy a glass of red wine, good strong beer, dark chocolate, small piece of good aged cheese, sometime even a small amount of good whiskey here and there. All of these also fall under my 20.

    Alexey wrote on April 21st, 2010
  4. It was really hard at first to make the transition. I got on and off it a few times.

    But I knew what I wanted and at some point, this shift happened in my mind and I stopped making excuses.

    Jeff wrote on November 13th, 2010
  5. i am glad for the 80/20 i’m new to PB and it feels more approachable and doable than any other food change i have done. there is a lot to change in foods i eat, habits and even understanding the concepts. so the 80/20 gives me a base to start off from and the more i learn and understand AND feel good i think i can strive for 90/10, then 100%. but i do agree sometimes life happens whether it’s good like celebrating a special birthday or bad like a funeral. and it’s not when we fall that matters it’s how we rise in the end and move forward.

    jos wrote on January 6th, 2011
  6. Challenges first 2 months going Primal, and remaining focused.
    Fancy dinner at Italian restaurant with fresh baked bread. I ordered grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens..Yum! Weekly breakfast at local diner, used to order eggs, buttered toast, sausage and home fries, coffee with Splenda. Now I order, 2 poached eggs, w/2 strips of bacon, black coffee and hot sauce.
    Pot luck dinner at friends house, was fasting that week, so I ate nothing.

    I spent all Saturday creating 8 different dishes, from Spanish, Indian and Italian influences and freezing them. No, they are not for me, they are for my husband, so I have more time to cook the new veggie recipes and not be concerned with cooking 2 seperate meals in one night.
    Every challenge motivates me to stick to Paleo options …you can always find and alternative and fasting is still very new to me, but skipping a meal will not harm me.
    Thanks for the easy recipes.

    Katia Saenz wrote on May 6th, 2011

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