Remember the 80/20 Principle

We’ve officially rounded the corner into the second full week of the 30-day Primal Blueprint Challenge. Updates, anecdotes, anyone? How is everyone doing – and feeling? As the Challenge progresses, it’s inevitable that the surge of initial gusto moderates while something else – something ultimately more important, more influential – takes its place. With a week under your belt, you’re undoubtedly shaping the Blueprint to your life, using the principles but adapting the particulars to your own circumstances and tastes. That’s how it’s designed. In fact, it’s exactly how it works best! I thought now would be an apt time to add another layer of perspective to our efforts. It’s a bit of advice that nicely reflects this personal progression as well as the overall versatility of the Blueprint. I’m talking that bastion of PB pragmatism: the 80/20 Principle.

The central point of the 80/20 Principle is this: if you’re eating fully Primal 80% of the time, the other 20% offers room for well-intentioned but practical choices when we can’t be Primal or choose not to be for a variety of personal reasons. Maybe it’s the limited options for an impromptu business lunch. Maybe it’s a family get-together. Whatever the context, our Primal lenses learn to seek out the most Primal option. Nonetheless, we hardly live in a hunter-gatherer world anymore. Sometimes we do the best we can. Once in a while, we deliberately make concessions for a special occasion. Compromise, a serviceable centerpiece of life, also plays a purposeful role in the Primal Blueprint.

Truth be told, I have my “sensible vices,” foods that I love and make reasonable Primal compromises on like dark chocolate, wine, good cheese and, as I mentioned in today’s contest post, the occasional dark beer. As part of today’s mini-challenge, I hope you have fun exploring your own sensible, Primally-inspired vices and their place in your PB picture.

Going Primal is not a perfection or bust proposition. Nonetheless, the 80/20 Principle doesn’t serve as an excuse to go on a junk food bender. Nor should it be cause to lose your footing.

Consider the 80/20 Principle a guide that accentuates the truly plausible and healthy intersection of the PB with everyday real life. Internalize it in your own way to bring perspective to your overall Primal lifestyle – to not lose the forest through the trees. (Let’s just say it comes in handy when your grandmother says she’d be heartbroken if you didn’t try her freshly made apple butter.) After all, the PB isn’t a form of asceticism. Nor is it some dictatorial dogma that imbues guilt and shame for the smallest dietary transgression. The Primal Blueprint is all about enjoying eating while taking ownership of our choices. The 80/20 Principle helps give shape to that accountability, but you provide the substance.

How are you making the PB your own as the Challenge progresses? How would you say the 80/20 Principle figures into your Primal picture? Let me know how things are going at this stage of the Challenge. Best to everybody, and I’ll look forward to reading your comments!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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59 thoughts on “Remember the 80/20 Principle”

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  1. I’d have to say my best 20% moment was right before the challenge. Each year, Oakland hosts the Eat Real Fest, which is a gathering of street food vendors from all over the Bay Area for three days. Tacos, falafel, BBQ and everything in between. I spent 6 hours on Saturday, hanging out with great friends, eating fantastic food, listening to interesting music, drinking refreshing beer, all while enjoying the perfect 80 degree weather. One of the best days in a long while.

  2. Until a few years ago, my diet was atrocious, even by SAD standards. Whole pizzas, 12-packs of soda, half gallons of ice cream galore, etc., all on my lonesome. Now that I’m “on track” I only invoke the 80/20 to stave off guilt for my occasional “off track” straying ways. I don’t think about cheating anymore, because the flexibility afforded by 80/20 doesn’t make it “forbidden,” and therefore 100x more tempting. (No more all-out compulsive binging!)

    Now, I usually think, “You want a cupcake? How about a steak instead?” It works every time.

  3. Old out, new in; calculations done; good first week, but man–tough time finding the motivation today. I was amazed as how high my carb intake was; and I know this is a big struggle for me now.

  4. Husband & I went on all out Mexican food bender last Saturday night… enchiladas, 2 baskets of chips, lots of salsa and guacamole. I felt like a stuffed sausage for 24 hours and beyond. Makes me appreciate our normal eating lifestyle. Besides that hiccup, we’re doing great! Lots of meat and veggies, and some nuts and avocados. Delish! ~Karyn

  5. Everything is going pretty good for me, I was already eating Primally for several weeks before the contest started. My biggest issue to this point has been procuring good pastured meats, etc. I finally found a local farm that sells both Pastured GrassFed Beef, Eggs, and Pork.
    I need to lock down on removing some more salt from my choices.
    My energy has been good for a while now, just still tweaking my eating habits.
    I agree with the comment above I think my 20% is Fajita’s at a local Mexican place.

  6. this post today is very fitting. i was feeling stink as yesterday my eating got off as I worked from 7am to 1am to get a project done. It was so busy I really didn’t get to eat much during the day – had to go out with staff for dinner… tried my best with the menu and got carb and gluten free but I know there was probably veggie oil in it. And I had two small wines and a small miso soup.
    But out of all the stuff listed I think these were probably the better options. Usually I have a hard time with “treats” and beat myself up – remembering 80/20 is good for me to live life a little and enjoy it within reason.

  7. My “sensible vice” is full fat Fage Greek yogurt. I treat myself maybe twice a week. Other than that, I’m going strong with the challenge.

  8. So far, generally so good for me. Had a massive “sick headache” last Wednesday after day 1, but no issues other than that, excepting a low grade headache the first few days that I think was a mix of caffeine withdrawal and dehydration caused by low carb. Was worried about my willpower when my wife and I went for our regular Sunday dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, but I found a good steak and steamed vegetables entree and limited myself to just two chips–avoided my usual piled-high-with-chips-beans-and-rice selection and the three refills of Coke that I wash it down with. And didn’t feel like I missed anything.

    I do think the 80/20 principle helps — I don’t intend to stray too much, but like Aaron said above, knowing that it’s not forbidden takes away some of the desire.

  9. I’ve been doing very well in improving consistency when it comes to my workouts. I’m still working on reducing my fruit intake. I’m loving taking the time to really focus on my issues during this challenge.

  10. Took the month of August to wean off grains and then jumped right in on September 1. It’s been a solid two weeks for me, with the Labor Day holiday thrown in. Weight loss began back in August and accelerated like a house on fire for the last two weeks. I probably should not lose anymore weight, so now I have to play around with upping grams of protein and fat consumed.

    My healthy vice is a nightly glass of red wine. It’s my chance to chill out and catch my breath at the end of the day, and I really do like the whole experience of wine.

    My energy is a constant 6-7 on a 10-point scale, my patience with my kids and my dog is much-improved, and insomnia is now a non-issue. Looking forward to more of this amazing journey.

  11. The 80/20 rule is something I tell people about so that they can ease into Primal Blueprint. After seeing results from going 80/20 they usually get closer to 100% Primal and see even more results.


  12. Love this: “You want a cupcake? How about a steak instead?”

    The 80/20 Rule is completely necessary when one is looking to dive into the primal blueprint. My brother is very curious in the whole deal but has yet to make the leap. I do see him trying it for 30 days at some point but I am not sure when. I will have to remind him that he can drink his beer (just make it less) and have some chips and salsa once in a while if he wants it.

    One needs to just quit buying packaged food and then it becomes easy! And if one has a sandwich daily before diving in then simply eating an open faced sandwich is a HUGE and very simple step that one could implement.

    It is great to strive for perfection but when you simply don’t want to try to be perfect then don’t feel guilty – only when you start doing it all the time!

  13. It’s going well. The 80/20 rule is something that I tell people about when they are starting. Once they see results from this they usually get closer to 100% primal and see even more results.


  14. In the bottom rt hand corner of my computer screen I see “Remember the 80” & I’m thinking “80’s” while listening to some good 80’s punk…
    I was taking the 20% a little too far lately, well maybe just letting my carbs get ahead of me (yesterday’s post was great for me) so my 30 days I’m trying not to binge on dried fruits & such. I have been doing lots better at reining in my sweet cravings & feeling better for it. Not even a kernel of popcorn (my hardest “cheat” to avoid. SO makes it often)
    Keep these posts coming!

  15. Thanks for reminding us of Fitday, Mark! I haven’t done tracking in a while and I made an account there. I was seriously surprised at how high my carb intake was yesterday. I thought I was doing pretty decently! Oops. So now I’m tracking it and keeping it better. Hell, I feel satisfied and I haven’t touched the birthday cake on the counter at work 🙂

  16. After going prima,l eating grains has caused me so much pain that it’s not even worth 1% let alone 20%. These days, when I’m craving a treat, I’ll go for a big ol’ bag of trail mix! Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s savory, and if I’m lucky, sometimes it’s both. The assortments give me a little bit of everything… I go nuts over nuts! Throw in some dried fruit and chocolate and I’m ready to Grok on!

  17. Couple of light beers, a few chips at a Mexican place and some red wine here or there – otherwise hanging tough with no problem. Really helps knowing there are so many people doing this.

  18. I have a few 20% vices. My first is beer. I love a good craft brew and the occasional bottle of Shiner Bock (Texas microbrew). I rarely indulge any more, but when the occasion warrants I don’t deny myself.
    Dairy is another indulgence. I don’t worry about the additional dairy-based fat in my diet. If a tablespoon of sour cream is on my taco salad, why would I freak out? I am blessed with a genetic adaption to dairy, and as long as I don’t over do it, the healthy fats are welcome.
    As for the rest? Sure, we all make bad choices occasionally that we file under “20%”. I just do my best to minimize them. A slice of cake at a wedding or a snappy piece of dark chocolate won’t kill me. I just have to decide if the “now-satisfaction” is worth the potential “later-pain” from making a bad choice.

  19. Salad dressing, not any salad dressing, just Briannas Home Style Chipotle Cheddar Dressing. I eat a salad (or two) every day I go to work, and no matter how many dressings I try I get tired to death of eating salad unless I have this stuff. I don’t know what it is, but I figure that if a couple tbsp of this stuff can keep me going it’s worth the trade.

    1. It is easy to make your own…not familiar with that brand…but just look at the ingredient label….if there are more than two or three ingredients, chuck it and make your own…Good olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, minced parsley, some of your favorite spices….keep in refrig…take along in a small Nalgene bottle to work…it’s fabulous! And so good for you…I am a flight attendant, and carry this with me on my trips. Fifteen pounds on the PB plan…gone.

      1. I forgot! Add a little bit of organic maple syrup to the above dressing…OOOoooOOOh My!

        1. The homemade dressing that finally got me off the commercial stuff (it was a commercial honey mustard one that was my downfall) is a mixture of avocado oil and balsamic vinegar. Yum!

      2. Brianna’s dressing (my fave is Poppy Seed)is much better than most dressings, and it made me fall in love with salads! They use canola oil and sugar, but no HFCS and all natural ingredients.

        That said, I would LOVE to find a recipe to make my own that I love just as much!

  20. My invoking of the 80/20 principle is primarily for social cohesion with friends and family and associates.

    If I’m at a family members birthday party…why yes, I’ll have some of the birthday cake.

    1. My family doesn’t really do “cake”. Our last two birthday parties had birthday apple crisp and birthday boysenberry crisp. We make them low sugar, with no flour in the topping, so the “treat” is the fruit and the oats in the topping (along with almonds and coconut shreds). Plus my Dad gets ice cream on his .

  21. I went to Albuquerque on vacation and had tortillas, chips and green chili enchiladas. They were good but not as good as I remembered, in fact, I felt a little disappointed. My tastes have definitely changed because I used to look forward to visiting Albuquerque specifically for the food. I couldn’t wait to get back to my Primal foods! The night I got home I ate a ton of roasted chicken and veggies and literally felt my body restoring itself and I slept great that night whereas I got terrible sleep on those vacation days.

    1. I picked up the the Primal Blueprint Cookbook yesterday and there’s a recipe in there for enchiladas!!! No tortilla of course. Looks pretty yummy.

  22. So far, so good. I’ve been 100%, mainly because if I feel the need for sweets, I have frozen organic strawberries or the occasional apple. Otherwise, I’m actually quite happy to be able to eat lots of eggs, bacon, beef, greens, butter, salad and avocado.

    And in the last 7 days, I’ve dropped from 207 – 197lbs!

  23. Thank you for this post today. I’m starting out primal again after trying it a few weeks ago and this really puts me in a positive mindset.

  24. I moved to the Pacific Northwest in March. Since then I’ve jumped head first into my two new favorite sports: rock climbing and whitewater kayaking. There are obvious, inherent dangers with both of these activities but with those dangers come excitement and camaraderie unlike any other activity I’ve been involved in. There really is nothing like getting the crux move of a tough slab or getting pulled out of the river after getting pummeled by a class V rapid (which seems to happen more often than not). After a great trip to the rock or the river, my buddies and I have a tradition of stopping at the local Mexican place for burritos as big as your head with margaritas to wash them down. It’s my 20 and it’s tradition. Afterwards we pull our drinks together and toast “To cheating death.”

  25. It’s amazing that in the short time since I started PB (I started on July 28), I have incredible energy, I sleep like a baby (I used to have insomnia), I’ve lost weight, and a lot of other benefits. I started the Challenge mostly because I wanted the boost and encouragement to enhance my fitness routine (no, actually, I want to win a COW! he-he). For the past two or three weeks, I have been able to follow the Lift Heavy Things routine twice a week–previously I was only able to do it once a week, and for very short reps. But, I feel stronger than ever, and I have stamina now that I never had before. (Imagine walking for a few blocks and then feeling too fatigued to cross the street to get home–and I was never morbidly obese or had heart problems; I just had fatigue, for most of my life–truly debilitating, and it severely restricted any type of activity I wanted to participate in.) The fatigue–physical and mental–is gone, and I am determined to keep it gone. I will indulge sensibly, occasionally, on something worthwhile, like dark chocolate or delicious wine (I’m partial to reds, but a good Asti or Ice Wine are a weakness), but I will always remember what it is like to have ill health and the detrimental effects of the SAD. I don’t want to revisit that stage in my life. I just love how I feel now! Being able to move how I want and to think clearly is the best kind of freedom. No amount of pressure from friends or family will convince me to give it up. I am so thankful for this website and others like it that encourages healthy living. Thanks so much, Mark!

  26. Mark – thanks for working so hard and devoting so much time to research, only to share with anyone and everyone who wants to be healthier! I went primal 3 weeks ago and never thought I’d be able to give up carbs. But I have – with no problems or regrets. And I feel better than I have in YEARS. Yeah – the weight is coming off, which is nice – but the fact that I feel so good and don’t feel trapped by food anymore is worth its weight in gold. this is the healthiest relationship to food I’ve ever had.

    Thank you…

  27. I have found PB to be the answer that I have been looking for, for a long time. I have found it very easy to follow. Yet there are those times that just don’t work out. I love ice cream but have had little urge to partake in the past month and a half since going primal. I just sent my oldest daughter off to college. The first to leave the nest. Right before she left, I took her to the ice cream parlor we have frequented since she was a toddler. It was a warm sunny day and we both ordered our favorites. I got Mackinaw Island Fudge double dip on a cake cone. We toasted the end of her childhood and ate our treat with no regrets, with warmth in our hearts, and sweet in our bellies. It was the best 20 I have had yet.

  28. One thing I have learned is that Wheat is never going to be in my 20%. I can eat corn chips at a Mexican restaurant or A bit of rice with some Chinese, but Gluten is never worth the price I pay. My thought is “If I am going to cheat, I won’t eat wheat!”

    1. Me too…and thankfully its much easier to eat gluten free now than it was even a few years ago. wheat = evil!

  29. I feel this lifestyle is really effortless…I don’t want to go off and eat foods that don’t provide me with optimal health. That is doing a disservice to my body and well-being. Sure it takes a bit of discipline and willpower. But when I see my loved ones suffering from effects of poor choices I want to help them because I have been there and I never wish to go back.

    PB is for me, and that does not stand for “peanut butter” =)

  30. Dear Mark, This 80/20 rule is not always applicable. Some things have to be done for 100%. Example? When you suffer from an autoimmune diseases and grains, legumes or nightshades are the cause, you must avoid those foods for 100%. Otherwise, you will stay sick. We wrote a very popular, layman level post on this . Very best regards, Hans

  31. The challenge has gotten me off my plateau. And it has gotten me thinking of the 80/20 rule as it is considered in management and productivity studies, where it is said that 80 per cent of one’s results come from 20 per cent of one’s effort. So, I am thinking about the 20 per cent extra effort that improves my results by 80 percent. So, I can think about it as 20 slack when I’m at my weight goal. Not yet, but soon, I hope.

  32. The past 9 days have been an eye opener! My diet wasn’t horrible before compared to the TAD, I always cooked from scratch. Been lurking about on this website for about a year, finally decided to take the challenge. My goal for the month is to simply not eat grains, I cannot believe the improvement in such a short time. Steady energy throught the day, hunger is no longer the crazy monster that used to rear it’s head every few hours, etc. Going to stick with this beyond the challenge and work on continuing to clean up my diet!

  33. I love the 80/20 rule, because it helps to stay flexible! Anyway, I mostly don’t use the whole 20% anymore because by now I’ve found good substitutes for foods I’ve missed the most (especially almond milk instead of cow’s milk). I like to have a glass of white wine in the evening, though. 🙂

  34. Doing pretty well here to, but I am finding that curbing my ‘fruitbat’yness is a bit of a struggle. The fresh food has been yummy, but I miss my 3-4 fruit pieces a day. I’m currently at one piece and hoping once I can go into the maintenance plan of 100-150g carbs that I will be able to add a second piece of fresh fruit!

  35. I’ve been following a mostly primal lifestyle for about six months, and I definitely feel better when I avoid the things I know I should avoid–grains, sweets, big portions, you all know the deal. One thing I crave is crunchiness, and there’s nothing like a couple of corn tortilla chips with a little squeeze of Sriracha chili sauce to satisfy my crunch and spice cravings. (I know the chili sauce has a few things in it that aren’t ideal, but I haven’t found a substitute for this magical stuff. Any suggestions?)

  36. Dry roasted peanuts. They’ve been my go-to staple snack item for years and years. When I read that peanuts were on the Primal list of foods to avoid I almost balked at going Primal because I love ’em so much. But now I follow the 80/20 rule and have a handful now and then (mixed with almonds of course) or I sprinkle some on salads and enjoy guilt free. Oh, yeah…I also gotta have a good piece of fresh artisan bread with butter now and then too….

  37. I must say this isn’t as hard as I imagined. My 20% is wine to relax after a day with over 500 kids, and a night with two very active ones.

    I was losing like a demon the first week…and not so much now. My first real 20% will be on my daughter’s birthday. I’m so having a cupcake. Then, I’ll have steak!

    1. Eat the steak before the birthday party. Then the cupcake won’t be as likely to give you a headache or stomachache. For me, some protein and fat before a sweet is the only way I can tolerate the sweet.

  38. I’ve been Primal for almost 6 months now and I do not miss the old way of eating at all.

    Ditching Grains, Sugar, Legumes, Nuts and anything else that is high in Phytates like Chocolate was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

    My list of health benefits is very long. I’ve cured constipation, IBS, hard stools, frequent non-feverish ‘colds’ which I thought were allergies, brittle nails gone, lower back pain gone, teary eyes gone, headaches gone, joint pain in fingers gone, lost 30 lbs of pure body fat, gained 10 lbs of muscle, teeth are whiter, beige fluoride deposits gone and replaced with clear enamel, also healed up 4 soft spots and 1 molar cavity including Butter Oil and Cod Liver Oil into my diet, no more Menstruation Acne, no more PMS…in fact I usually forget all about it and just find the drops when going to the bathroom, my body feels denser, hands and feet are hard and tough, I also feel like I’ve gained bone density but have no way of providing evidence,…

    The list goes on.
    I know I’m not on the subject but I just wanted to share!

  39. I enjoyed a glass of red wine last night. However, I did this while enjoying beef, chicken, scallops and assorted veggies roasted on a stick. That does make up for it right?

  40. Your use of 80/20 principle is a bit odd – it usually means that out of a 100, only 20% has some effect(sales, profit, happiness), rest of the 80% is pretty much useless. So you need to figure out the 20% and focus on it, not on the wasteful 80%. Now this could apply very well to food, only 20% is primal(and useful), rest of the 80% is junk(and harmful). So the focus should be to maximize the 20% of primal intake and cut down the wasteful 80%.

  41. My achilles heel is basmatti rice and raw organic honey. I limit both to only one serving per week and so far, so good…

  42. Cheese and Rice. I used them for bulking mostly. After being away from them and reintroducing them they don’t negatively effect my health to a noticeable degree.

    I always aim to eat as much fruits and vegetables as possible, but due to money issues I can’t always eat meat, but do so as often as possible.

  43. I am on week 5. I can honestly say that my body loves PALEO. WHEN I CRAVE CARBS I have full fat yummy cheese or i pour some yummy raw cream over raspberries. The other day i ventured out and had some tortilla chips and beans YES i said beans. My stomach has beeN MESSED UP for three days. Also body aches and depression too. SO NOT WORTH IT when there are so many wonderful things to eat.
    lesson learned.

  44. Howdy! ?’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to sa? I lo?e re?ding y?ur blog and
    lo?k forward to all your posts! Carry on the great work!

  45. I was up all nite trying to decide what to eat at the baby naming affair today. I knew i couldnt eat bagels and cream cheese! It turned out i ate white fish, roast beef slices, and fruit. I felt really good and proud of myself, until they brought out this absolutely gorgeous cake! It was magnificent. So i asked for a thin slice and enjoyed it immensely! And now i am reading the 80/20 rule! Thank u for understanding !!!!!