The 80/20 Principle: When 20 Inches Toward 40

Among the many defining – and practical – tenets of the Primal Blueprint is the good old 80/20 Principle, the guideline that suggests we needn’t be 100% perfect 100% of the time to achieve great Primal health. It’s the sensible caveat, a functional motivator, the saving grace for many of us. It means we don’t guilt ourselves (or hand down punishing cardio sentences) when we indulge on a special occasion or get caught in circumstances that don’t allow for fully Primal conditions. It means shedding the traditional view of a “diet” and exercise program as a select list of actions we either ace or bomb. As I’ve said many a time, the PB doesn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Finally, the 80/20 Principle encourages us to wholly own every choice and respect the impact of our total lifestyle within our personal Primal commitments. An immensely empowering – but sometimes challenging – feature of the Primal Blueprint is its subjectivity. Although it offers plenty of solid guidelines, tips, lists and recipes (not to mention an incredible community of fellow adherents!), the day-in-day-out isn’t regimented into a set of check-off boxes. Bringing your honest intentions and Primal lens to each choice is usually enough to stay on track. While your Primal perspective each day is an earnest 100%, the practical execution trends toward 80% for most people, especially those new to the PB. But what happens when focus temporarily wanes or life circumstances become – well – more imperfectly “real”? How do you push back on the tendency of 80/20 to creep toward lesser ratios?

How It Happens

Life has a funny way of shifting the routine just when we get secure and comfortable. A new baby, a new job, a move, an illness, an injury, maybe just a month when the schedule picks up can throw a serious wrench in your finely tuned Primal practice. These transitions, whether they overhaul life or just make for some bumps in the road, shift everyday routines enough that suddenly the old schedule and habits don’t apply.

What used to be a “fallback” 20% gradually, insidiously gravitates toward 30%, even 40%. Instead of a margin of error, the concept of 20% takes on a new life of its own. Practical contingency gives way to self-justification. And so the cycle continues…. Primal focus and/or motivation wane, practical planning apparatus isn’t maintained, and daily habits begin to shift.

Maybe you used to make more elaborate Primal meals for lunch or dinner, but now can’t find the time. Perhaps you gave up your gym membership to save some hard earned money each month and now you struggle to get motivated enough for full workouts at home. You might have done a CSA last season, but chose not to participate this year and now feel wholly uninspired by the produce at the grocery store. A new job might include enough travel that you’re facing new challenges to keep up on your Primal eating, workouts and sleep. Maybe you moved to be closer to family, but now host so much that your meals mirror their tastes more than your Primal interests. Maybe you just feel like you’re in an overall slump and have been reverting lately to old pre-Primal habits.

How to Spot It

You might not realize you’re backsliding until you’ve been going that direction for a while. For some folks, the scale (or your trouser button) is the first to offer the suggestion. For others, it’s a delayed return to the gym only to find a downgrade on the lifting ability or new found post-workout soreness. There’s a million ways to take your Primal temperature, and I’d venture to say that most of us do it in some form consciously or unconsciously. Maybe just forgetting to do exactly that– or avoiding it – is indicator #1 that you’re indeed backsliding.

Do you find yourself more tired in the afternoon? Are you craving carbs suddenly? What’s your workout schedule these days? If you made a food journal, would you be afraid to read it? Do you ultimately feel like you’ve been investing in yourself lately? Where have things fallen short? Where have they stayed strong? Finally, what’s behind the change? Sometimes all it takes is some honest questioning. You just have to be willing to face the music.

How to Rein It In

So, how can 30 or 40 become 20 again? If you’ve been there before, trust that it will be easier to make it back than you think. The hard part will be shifting course. Once you start steering in the right direction and rebuild momentum, you’re good to go. Your Primal template might not look the same when you’re done (a good thing), but you’ll re-experience the advantages and wonder why you ever backslid in the first place.

The crux of the solution here is realizing what exactly needs to change. Life circumstances shift, and our routines need to transform with them. The Blueprint can be easily refitted to do exactly that. Whether the 30-40 lapse is related to a temporary disruption or a longer-term shift, it’s time for a healthy – and, I’d argue, periodically necessary – Primal renovation, so to speak. Choose your own metaphor: makeover, revolution, reconstruction, molting, what have you.

Examine your routine and see what still works – what fits your lifestyle and maintains your motivation. Then look at what needs a substitution, and lay out a plan for yourself. If it’s your schedule that’s got you struggling, consider the Primal for Busy People approach – food, weight loss, workout, sleep and stress management, and socialization.

Check out our past tips, and our good readers’ comments. If travel has you grappling for Primal ideas, brainstorm your plan of attack next time you have to head out into the wild blue yonder – with some help for how to forage in less desirable territory, and get a Primal worthy workout in the modest space of that beloved Microtel.

If the 20% drifted into higher territory because of motivation issues, it’s time to shake up your Primal life and get out of the box it’s narrowed to. Skip the gym and head out into the world. Go for broke with new recipes. Get out and play! Make your goal this: have some fun. Design a weekend’s Primal adventure – whether it’s in the kitchen, the mountains or your backyard. Go whole hog, and see how it makes you feel.

Finally, sometimes a brief lapse or longer slump suggests the need for reflection. Have patience and invest in that process.

Recommit to the Primal basics and do some thinking about what you want your lifestyle and overall health to look like. Examine what’s missing. Imagine what you want to take on. Re-envision. Recreate. Recommit – and Grok on.

Share your thoughts on facing – and turning around – a Primal backslide. Have you found yourself delving into fuzzy Primal math? How did you get back to the golden 80/20, and what does it mean for your Primal practice?

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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79 thoughts on “The 80/20 Principle: When 20 Inches Toward 40”

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  1. I’m in this place right now. My husband came home after 7 months and though we’ve done really well eating, there’s been some imbibing that’s just a bit too much. And my exercise schedule has changed… because I have someone else around that I want to spend time with!

    Yesterday we went to the gym after work and worked out together, which was fun. And decided no alcohol at all during the week, and only one night on the weekends. So we’re coming out of it, I think.

  2. It’s so easy to slip back into bad habits, and they tend to creep in over a period of months or even years. It’s always to get a reminder that diligence is needed.

  3. Very timely post. I recently re-evaluated my eating habits and realized my former 20% is hovering more around 40-50% for the past couple months, which have been extremely hectic and difficult for me. Things are starting to come back to normal, but honestly I think my bad eating habits are getting in the way of me fully bouncing back. In fact, so many things have gone haywire for in the last few weeks I’m re-evaluating many facets in my life, and I feel just as they slowly unraveled with each other, as I fix one habit it will branch out and lend to better habits in other areas as well. But as I always say, real food is the foundation, so I’m starting there.

  4. Im also doing good on the food end but my work out slack sometime. Last week my wife and I joined a kick ball team. We did more sprints at the games than I have done altogether. Its a kick to. Now just to get the rest of theek right.

  5. This gets at the idea of mindfulness, which has become an overused buzzword, but really does pertain to living our lives in fulfilling, productive, ENJOYABLE ways. Grok ate what he could, and optimized his physique without trying. We have WAY too much stuff — crap food, tv, blogs (oops) — to distract us from living Primally. We have to be constantly mindful (which I sort of define briefly as calm, aware vigilance) of what we are putting in our bodies, and what we are DOING (or, more likely, NOT doing) with our bodies. Yeah, I ate too much processed carbs when recently visiting my sister, and rationalized that the adult-kid soccer game was a decent workout (well, it actually kinda was), but so long as I am AWARE of what I did, how it happened, and how easily it could happen again, I can get myself back on track without too much stress.

  6. its hard when everywhere (and everyone!) around you promotes terrible eating habits.

  7. I’m with Bob on the mindfulness thing! It’s all about just being awake, being aware of the moment, and paying attention to what you’re doing.

    I find it so easy to just slide through the day in a daze. Next thing I know, I’ve slid through weeks or even months, lucky it hasn’t been years… just snoozing and sleepwalking through life. That’s no way to live! Be here now. Now is really all there is.

  8. If you know that you’re a give-an-inch take-a-mile type, you need to evaluate yourself honestly upfront and set your goal at 100/0. As a one-time alcoholic, I know firsthand that the only way you can kill a weed is at root, and that means going clean long enough to kill your metabolic syndrome once and for all. Once you really dig deep and uproot the old bad habits, *then* you can handle a cheat (or in my case a glass of red wine) here and there.

    1. You would be a former “chronic alcohol abuser” not “a one-time alcoholic”; no such thing.

      1. I think he meant “former alcoholic” and just worded it as a “one-time alcoholic.” Maybe the thought was more like a “once-upon-a-time alcoholic” but came out differently.

        1. I think Chris meant that while a “chronic alcohol abuser” may at some point rein in his abusive behaviors and enjoy alcohol in moderation, a true “alcoholic” will always be an alcoholic (just like a diabetic will always be a diabetic) and should never attempt to imbibe.

          It’s like my dad. He is an alcoholic with 15 years sober. And we laugh about how, every once in a while, he thinks, “Yeah, maybe I could just have one glass. A glass of wine with dinner…..It would be a REALLY BIG glass” …And then he realizes, as an alcoholic, he’s picturing something along the lines of a Big-Gulp.

          Of course he would never go through with it. Anyways sorry for the tangent. Just clarifying. 🙂

        2. If that was the point, then it was 100% fair. Compulsive behavior that’s psychological and curable is not the same beast as physiological addiction that’s merely treatable. I most definitely wouldn’t want to imply that it’s a good idea for an alcoholic to start slipping some drinks in here and there just to see how it goes.

  9. @fireandstone, Congrats on beating that particular dragon. I would add that many psychologists have begun to explore the idea that “willpower” as we define it doesn’t really exist. Walking past a chocolate cake actually makes it HARDER to do it a second time: more like holding in a sneeze than using a muscle. The strategic solution usually offered, then, is to make sure your environment reinforces your desired behavior. If you don’t like to cook, and your roommate/spouse/children insist on having doritos and oreos around all the time, then you need to insist that there is plenty of tuna and nuts and fruit and pickles and saurkraut and other easy to snack on food around as well, so you can fill up fast and not have time to waver. Ditto for taking the stairs, etc. It’s an ongoing process, but as Mark will tell us, whether it’s a struggle or an adventure is up to our attitude; and a little planning never hurts…

  10. Haha – what an absolutely perfect timing for this post…my entire weekend felt like the “20%” (due to social functions and being limited to foods I would not personally choose).

  11. It creeps up on you! After a month with a ton of stress, injuries, and travel, I finally managed three 95% Primal days in a row instead of the 50-50n nonsense I was pulling.

    Energy: back. Good mood: back. And I am no longer constantly starving. I need to write down all the benefits, which seem so obvious to me when things are going well, but seem to go out the window in times of stress!

  12. I find it’s generally pretty easy to stay on the Primal food bandwagon. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to hit up the gym so I’ll take a nice day off or do a quick workout at home. I had a bit of a tough time with meals when I started off since my family isn’t fully on board, but visiting the website often and reading old articles provided welcome reminders, and most times I can segment a primal portion of what my family is eating, like just snagging the chicken with a bit of tomato sauce from chicken parmesan 🙂

  13. Great post on primal sliding!
    Self-awareness is fundamental to achieving your goals.

    I strongly believe in the 80/20 principle and it is one of the core elements to my ‘Rule Free’ Fitness lifestyle. It’s true that 80/20 aren’t the right ratios for all of us. We all have different commitments in our life and different tolerence levels. After years of experimentation I know what my fat gain triggers are and I always try to stay within a 5% range of my preferred weight. That way things never spiral out of control.

    I encourage anybody I speak to about healthy living to consider their 80/20 balance because it isn’t healthy in my eyes to go to 100%. We need to let our bodies know who is boss (but that doesn’t mean making excuses to eat junk).

  14. I’m probably at 50/50 right now — I was changing over from carb-cycling to Primal, then dental surgery hit (genetics, not bad habits), and phlunk! Baby food and pureed food for 1 month, and no exercise at all for a couple of weeks. Been pureeing meatballs, ground turkey, spinach, yams, mushed avocados, and drinking liquid soups and Amazing Meal smoothies, but I see carbs creeping in too (baby food, etc). Man, I can’t wait to get back to Big-Ass Salads and pulled pork!

  15. @Mark – very timely, this is exactly where I am. Reevaluating and re-committing.

    @Bob – I think you’re spot on – it IS all about mindfulness.

    My challenge is finding that sweetspot again. I was super dedicated and supremely mindful for a long stretch where weight-loss and strength-building were going great. About 1.5 years. Then, I hit a plateau in weight loss although my habits didn’t really change. The frustration of the lack of progress lead to a slow deterioration of motivation, which led to more slippage in eating and a loosening of exercise protocols. Weight gain was soon to follow, which promted the cycle of de-motivation, frustration, etc.

    Mind you, I’m not doing TERRIBLE, but I’m struggling with my weight inching back up and not being able to sustain any long primal, cheat-free stretches.

    So for me, it’s really hard to find that quiet focused mindfulness again. But I haven’t given up yet.

    @fireandstone, I think you’re on to something there. I will keep trying but I keep failing to be 100%, which keeps me locked in that mad cycle.

    @Bob’s response – agreed, again. And I am not able to control and prime my entire living experience to remove all temptations, so there is that constant subconscious depletion of resources to fight against them.


    1. What you mention is interesting. I think making 100% is great in the sense that there is less room for error. When we allow temptation to get the better of us now and again, the 20% can slide easily upwards. On the other hand, personally I enjoy those times where I dip into that 20% so wouldn’t want to cut them out because that would mean, for example, no beer at the bbqs this summer etc. To stay lean and in shape though I have to claw it back somewhere else and for me I like to crank up the physical exercise if I am being a bit looser with diet. It’s a bit of a simple idea but often it is one or the other but never forgetting that ultimately you cannot out-exercise a poor diet 🙂

  16. Good post today. The approach that’s worked best for me is to not overthink meals when at home and just eat light when on the road (salads, meat & veggies).

    When I’m in doubt, I skip breakfasts or fast all day and try to look at my caloric / nutrient amounts over the week vs. the day.

    Plus, I like chocolate, bread and pizza. Gotta have it sometimes and when I do it’s that much sweeter! :0)

  17. great post – i am probably doing better at 80/20 than ever because its spring and i have tons of work to do on my property – lots of lifting etc. For me – eating out is becoming an issue, actually a drag – I generally don’t go out more than once a week but that now has become more of an issue as there’s no where to go to get great, clean food that’s primal and fab like i now make at home – big vegan/veg town so lots of organic and local but mostly pasta, grains and beans. I am no longer finding pizza, pasta etc to be treats – i want super fab primal food that i didnt have to cook 🙂 My CSA starts next month – so i hope to stay on the 80/20 path food wise – workout wise – i’ve got room for improvement…shoulder injury and old S1L5 issues keep me cautious but i am working with Gokhale’s methods and hope to be ripped like Barbeygirl by summer’s end.

  18. I have found that when people take their health & wellness journey too seriously, they (including myself) tend to lapse faster and more often than when they take it one step at a time while enjoying the process. I experienced this while following other programs, however it was necessary for me to go through because I can now recognize balance.

    Although I have been viewed as an extremist at times, I have relaxed over the last 2 years and I feel much better. I love my food, enjoy my exercise and have time to play, read, and learn new skills. All this while spending time with my family and friends.

    This journey can be difficult if we choose it to be. It can also be fantastic when we relax about some of the forbidden things and missed workouts. This is why the PB lifestyle and the 80/20 principle works well.

  19. I think that the 80/20 rule is a really effective part of the Primal Blueprint. The most common problem for people trying to stick to something is the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach of “Oh well, I’ve strayed from the path, it’s all ruined, I might as well go mad (with my lack of exercise /eating / smoking / whatever).

    The flexibility it adds to your thinking means that the process is never ‘broken’, just ‘better’ or ‘worse’, which is much more realistic for something that is to be followed long-term.

    Personally, I used to be all-or-nothing with the gym, but since finding MDA I’ve stopped going altogether and get my exercise from a combination of home exercises and working outside. I’m in better shape than I ever was in 15 years of gym work. (With about 1/4 of the time commitment 😉

    I find that remembering how you felt when you first started out on something is a good way to remind yourself of your reasons and motivations and get back on track.

    1. I find the 80/20 to be vital for exactly this reason. When I did Eades’ PP in the past, I lost a ton of weight. But we were in grad school and flat broke. Protein food can be expensive food. So, if I blew lunch, and turned the insulin switch on, then I had a hard time justifying eating the expensive good food for dinner. It felt like wasting.

      With this, and the carb curve, then it is possible to say – lunch was bad, but the whole day won’t be blown, until dinner is bad too.

      And of course, with a plateau, and that mindset, it was just a matter of time to lose all those gains with the passing years.

  20. I shoot for 100%…this way if I slide it is to the 80/20 mark. But it is nice to know that I’m not the only one who can’t be perfect…as hard as it is to admit! Thanks for all the enlightening articles, Mark!

  21. ok. so today i feel like tired/ crap, and had a piece of carb/sugary cinnamon roll. a little piece i must say, but now i feel totally guilty. have i undone my no/low carb diet by screwing w/ a carb-y loaded bite? i know the body goes into ketosis, etc….does a thing like this really throw you back?

    1. Beeface, don’t worry about it!! Everyone will mess up once in a while. The key is to move on and do it right after that. Don’t obsess about food like that, it will consume your life. You’re allowed to make mistakes. Just make the choice not to have the bite next time! You know what I mean? Good luck!

    2. One little piece huh? I ate an entire bag of doritos! I don’t feel guilty though. I do it once in a while because I used to love doritos. Well….I was addicted to doritos! All though I admit when I do something stupid like that I do extreme cardio to burn the crap up.

      1. I so get the Dorito thing. In the UK they contain Gluten 🙁 However there are some alternaties that are just as epic and sometimes you just have to go for the cram and get it back out your system 😉

  22. I don’t do 80/20, I do 100%. Of course, it is easy when you are zero carb, and you don’t get hungry or crave anything, and you have the best energy. You see anything other than meat and eggs and animal products as non foods.

  23. Thank you so much for this timely post. This is the first week in a while since I’ve started Primal that I felt I’ve really slipped.

    I tend to be “Primal” 100% 6 days a week and used my 80/20 for Saturdays (I love my few lovely indulgences such as Dim Sum and chocolate). But for some reason, life has seemed a little overwhelming lately. I don’t feel like excercising and I’ve been 80/20 everyday this week. I must admit, I feel a little guilty. I am using this time for reflection and rest in the evenings. I think it’s time for a vacation, it’s probably a reaction to burnout from work.

    Thanks again for this post! It’s just what I needed to get back on track!

  24. Social gatherings usually seem to be my downfall when it comes to taking me out of the 80/20 rule. However, whenever this happens, I hone in on either one or some little factors that sent me over the edge. When I say “over the edge,” I’m referring to like a whole bottle of Napa Cabernet along with two slices of chocolate cheese cake (and that’s always AFTER dinner)! OVER THE EDGE! Seriously though, social gatherings with family and friends are a time to enjoy good company, conversation, food and activities to name but a few. I don’t indulge anymore like I described above but I certainly don’t feel guilty when I sometimes (but rarely) go over the 20%. I think a lot of us have to remember that along with diet and exercise we need spirituality in what ever shape or form that may be. A few weekends ago I almost missed out on a camping trip with 10 of my closest buddies and all of our wives due to some circumstances. However, I ended up going but, I also took myself way out of the 80/20 rule. But, I laughed a lot and I was in nature, walking, swimming and being active. This is my version of spirituality; being with friends, laughing and playing. Did I feel sluggish the next day from the beer and camp-fire smores? You bet. But, I wouldn’t trade times like those for anything and was easily back in action the next day, close to 100%. Mark’s spot on. Initially “getting going” after some indulgence can be tough, but once on track, it’s relatively smooth sailing.

  25. Good post.
    I agree with some that the way to an 80/20 lifestyle is to always shoot for 100%. If you live for the 20% and the 80% seems like a punishment or a struggle, then the 20% will always slide upwards.
    Part of staying fit, I believe, has to do with training (for lack of a better term) the people around you. Stick to your guns enough around them with your food choices and they’ll just stop tempting you.
    Let them know when they want to schedule something during your workout time that their plans will have to wait, not your workout. Soon, the people around you will understand your priorities and respect them. That alone stops so many pitfalls we fall into.

  26. As soon as I read the title I knew you were talking to me! Thanks for the reminder and the tips.

  27. Fantastic timing on this post. My husband and I are starting to move ourselves back to 80/20 from our 50/50 (at best) lately.
    I like [email protected]’s idea above with 100% 6 days a week with 1 day where some of that 20% is cool. I think we may need something more gradual – 3 days 100% then a 20% kind of day. Something like that.

  28. One of my mentors in business always reiterates the point of keeping score (preferably) of everything you do in life.
    when you wake up, when go to bed, how many calls youve made, how many appointments, how many days you worked, etc.
    it seems like a simple thing to do, until you start doing it.
    I have come up with a system (naturally) that I later found other people have suggested also. I made a simple table in word format with 31 columns (one for each day) and as many rows as I could fit on the page down. in each row I put activities like: wake up, exercise, meditate, brush teeth, read for 1 hour, walk, etc. any tasks you want and then at the end of each day or during the day I put a mark at the ones I have accomplished.
    this helps keep track and be aware of things you do and also use it for your goals as a measure to mark progress.
    o sheet of paper like this can do wonders. try it!

  29. Still hung over from a couple of Sabrett hotdogs and a coke for an afternoon snack. I’m glad I came home and read this post. It reminds me that even though I may not be perfect all the time its about understanding that I need to keep the proper balance. Even if I can’t stay 100% and have to give in once in awhile…as long as I stay 80/20 or better than I am going in the right direction. Every day we are faced with decisions…and the less we give in then the less “eaters remorse” we will have.

  30. I am new to living primally – about 3 weeks into it. I am lucky to say it is going very well – better than I expected.

    I have been able to stay about 95% primal regarding diet. It would be 100% if I was living on my own, but when your mother cooks a nice Dinner that includes a baked potato, well, eating half of one seems fair for both of us.

    I plan on traveling a lot very soon so the many articles within this one will help me a lot.

    Grok on!

    1. I’m TRYING to go Primal but I had headaches for a week, zero energy and got so constipated. I was miserable. I think some of us (I call us Renaissance People!!) just don’t have the ol’ Paleo gut any more.

  31. My personality is very much all-or-nothing. My first taste of success on the PB lit me up with ever-increasing cravings for more. I want my body to feel and perform its very best, and I guard my progress so jealously that I am never seriously tempted to eat anything anti-primal like grains, sugar, or bad fats.

    But I still leverage the wisdom of the 80/20 rule. My 20% consists of my pre-planned, semi-primal favorites — sugar-free chocolate with nut butter, zero-carb protein powder, and meat that is less than organic or grass-fed. Although these aren’t primal, each plays a constructive role in my diet, and I include them because I think I’ll have better health results this way than by getting all orthorexic and ruling them out.

    I do agree that we mustn’t have an overly rigid mentality. One of these days — I keep putting it off — I am going to eat an atrociously unprimal Mexican meal, as an entertaining experiment, a kind of extreme sport, and as a way to remind myself that if some bad calories happen to enter my system, I am not going to explode.

    1. I’m just back from a week away and catching up with the MDA posts and boy this one really hits the spot.

      I ate Primal, although it raised a number of eyebrows at the two hotels we stayed at, but I ate more than normal, particularly protein, and I did have a couple of creme brulees (primal bar the sugar on top) and I didn’t sleep well all week and started to feel very hungry again, a horrible reminder of how I used to live my life.

      Since returning home and back to my cooking my sleep has magically returned but I still feel the effects of the energy roller-coaster a bit and that has dipped my motivation.

      I would probably have been 80% last week (always difficult to tell just how they cook things even when they appear Primal) but it reminded me that I really do function best 100%.

      A number of friends are switching their eating which is great, but most rely on the 80/20 and use the 20 to include things they don’t think they can drop, like porridge, or a slice of bread, or brown rice … I hope that after a period of time they will find they just don’t want the 20s because 100% is just so much better!

      Do the Mexican if you really want Timothy but stand by for feeling horrible!

  32. Great timing on this post. I’m been living primally for the past 5 months and have seen fantastic results from it. I am a Crossfit trainer and was introduced to the Primal lifestyle via that route. I’m also a Marine and recently returned to living in a Barracks situation for training. The chow here is horrendous. The offer you one protein (not organic), one starch (NO THANKS!) and one veggie (Can I PLEASE get both??Nope.) Luckily the salad bar isn’t bad if you bring your own Primal approved dressing.

    I’ve adapted to keeping my own hard-boiled eggs, some protein powder and plenty of nuts and seeds in my room but it is getting really hard to stay on track. I am lucky enough to be able to go home to my wife on the weekends and she cooks great PB meals for me. What I really fear is when my field training picks up. The shove MRE’s (,_Ready-to-Eat) at you and force you to eat them. It’s pretty bad.

    At this point I know I need to make a more concerted effort to keep to my guns as best I can and realize that some situations are just beyond my control. I know I can’t be eating all organic here and as a result, my body will probably suffer. I know once I get out of here in 6 months, I’ll get right back to eating how I like to eat.

    Thanks for all the great info, I love the site Mark!

  33. 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, sometimes even a small amount of good whiskey here and there. All of these also fall under my 20.

  34. All of us stray a bit, at times, from where we want to be. My rule is to stay within 5-7 lbs of my ‘ripped’ (it’s all relative) weight.

    You’ll always reign yourself in quickly if you feel your pants a bit snug or hop on a scale and see that you’re up a few pounds. Fixing it is easy. Cut back on your calories a little, recheck your macros, perhaps up your activity and get right back on track. But do not beat yourself up; it does no good at all. Just get back in gear and keep moving forward.

    Everyone has a craving to eat some crap or their ‘bad’ or ‘craved’ food every once and a while. While it’s probably not a good choice for a variety of reasons, sometimes you have to say ‘what the hell’. BUT don’t set up a tent there. Eat it. Get the hell out. And then get back to the lifestyle that affords you a healthy, sick-free, symptom-free life.

  35. Awesome post!!! Seems the message forum is filled with people “craving” and “falling off thw wagon lately so this is good timing!

    I personally do not understand merging from pimal…it makes no sense to me and it is nothing I would ever do. Non primal food is just not food. I cannot seem to be convinced otherwise.
    I am not a hardcore ZC primal because I use butter and sour cream and eat all vegetables in season, but the whole idea of people having chips/soda/muffin/____ whatever it is, I dunno I don’t get it. Just don’t do it. You cant beat the mental part of it if you don’t fight it.
    Last year this time I was just giving up diet soda and all artifical sweetners. If I can relate peoples fall offs to my artifical sweetner addiction, then yeah it sucks, its hard, I got headaches, withdrawl and cravings galore, BUT I QUIT them all cold turkey.

    The whole point of my comment, I think people make much more of the primal blueprint and food choices or food in general than is needed. Some obsessing, stop worrying. You know what you can eat and you know what you cant. Getting into the grey area and questioning your every choice and food decision makes weight loss that much harder

  36. ….Perhaps also prudent to remember that we’re so self deluded and self deceiving that being mindful(whatever this truly means..after spending some years in both Zen and Thera monasteries it like so many tings can mean very different things in application to as many different folks)isn’t some prescription that avoids deception..sadly !

  37. Alexey, I am so with you there! I think the 80/20 “guideline” is useful for other reasons..
    I am a control freak. Given. My hubby and I have worked in the restaurant industry for 20 yrs..We are of Portuguese and French Canadian descent. We are foodies. I have NO problem eating Primally….until I decide I NEED a hunk of fresh bread to sop up the juice from the pot of Mussels, or courico, or I DESERVE a fat Portuguese lunch that is a well seasoned protein with 2 sides of starch!! (yes I usually skip the starch in favor of a glass of wine!)But I certainly feel it the next day. The extra fluid retention, sluggishness and “muffin top” are enough to reign me in…till next time I NEED Doritos and suffer all over again…Sorry for the long post, but my point is, I have good control, I make aware choices, and will SEE and/or FEEL the direct results!My body is much more sensitive to grains/chemicals. Takes a lot of self punishment to knowingly do that to yourself again.

    1. OOPS I sent it before spell check! My point is that someone as controlled as I am (quit smoking cold turkey, give birth naturally, go occasionally eat/consume something that will taste yummy but will have (known)negative results..exactly what kind of chemicals are we dealing with here? I dont think Grokette dug up a mess of yams and said “oh shit, we are gonna regret this tomorrow..but its gonna taste SOOO GOOD!” She ate and gathered what was available….I rationalize that I occasionally come accross some tasty garbage that I just couldn’t resist!!! I Will try to do my best again tomorrrow….LOL GROK ON! and yes, I just pre ordered my cookbook!Thanks for all the positive feedback in this community!

  38. Sometimes it does seem as though one thing leads to another and pretty soon those skinny jeans get tight again. I have been primal for almost a year and I have managed to keep off 70 pounds so far. I have back slid a few times, but go right back on track. I think the important part is to catch it there and recommit.

  39. Thanks Mark, your posts always seem to be perfectly timed!

    I’ve been waning a bit this week and I need to pull it in. I’ve been having intense chocolate cravings to the point where I felt like I might be sick if I didn’t have some (this was physical, not mental although that must’ve had something to do with it). I’ve also noticed that I’ve been eating bigger portions of my primal food than I would usually eat, so I need to watch myself with that too. I need to remember to really listen to what my body needs and stop when I’m no longer hungry.

    I have to go away with family for the weekend this weekend so I’ll need to be doubly vigilant. I want to strive for 100% as I’m really an all or nothing person. Hopefully this will deter me from binging or overdoing it, and I should stay in the 80-100% primal range.

  40. As a psychologist, I just wanted to add to this thread some more of my thoughts. PERFECTIONISM is a mental illness, people! Wanting to be healthier, happier, etc. is s good way to go, as is wanting to keep bad things like toxins and diseases out of your body. BUT, getting down on yourself for the occasional lapse (even if that lapse is the size and shape of a bag of Doritos or a whole pizza) is never the answer. WE ALL SLIP: part of what makes us human (unfortunately) is our endless capacity for self-deception, distraction, and shame. The more rigid and unforgiving we are about being Primal, the more likely we will be to slip, and the bigger the slip will be. Calm, relaxed, forgiving of self, focussed AND committed is what 80/20 is (I think) all about. I’ve never met Mark, but c’mon, does he really seem like such a humorless robot about this stuff? He acknowledges what our coolest founding father once stated: Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy. Now, Ben Franklin was a fatso, but he probably ate more Primally than we do, except when he didn’t. And he made it to age 85, while inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and America! Doubt he was doing too many squats or dead-lifts either. The point is, lightening up is not only more fun, it actually INCREASES our chances for success. If we acknowledge a slip, feel guilt or shame or whatever for about 90 seconds, and then move on, we are less likely to slip again any time soon than if we stand in front of the mirror shouting obscenities (or whatever your ritual is). Except beeface, she is officially kicked out of the Primal Lifestyle, and is banned from this blog forever, forced to live on twinkies, soy milk and granola (kidding!).

  41. kicked out? 🙂
    I got over it. thanks for the support.
    finished out the day correctly. no worries.
    but i do want a piece of chocolate. always do after a hard workout. MUST RESIST!
    Yeah 80/20 no way Jose! all or nada, (w/ the occasional slipup of course)
    So i guess i should say ALl or 99%.
    Have a good weekend folks.

  42. My diet has remained pretty good. My body tells me when it has been a bad day. I have never really calculated it, but I think on average I would put it around 90/10. That said the shift wasn’t too hard as I had already cut out sugar and refined foods years ago. So the only major change was cutting back/out grains, which were mostly whole.

    I do however have no set workout schedule. It just happens, but I recently moved and realized that for the past week since doing so I hadn’t really exercised. Reading this post made me realize that.

    I immediately dropped and did a set of 65 push-ups in my business suit.

  43. wow. i wish i could “forget” to exercise.
    it is what i base my days upon.
    i am trying to find balance. but i LOVE running, and i mean, love it. dont care how fast, what type (tempo, long, sprints, etc) IT is the only thing that keeps my head screwed on:)
    I realize Paleo says dont do tons of cardio, but it is a necessary evil.
    someone needs to strap me down, so i would take a day off.
    good you did your pushups. sometimes 100 pushups, 100 crunches is just the thing to get us motivated. do those everyday, and you will see a difference FAST:)

  44. beeface,
    I grew up playing a sport every season of the year. I do really enjoy sprinting. Sometimes I will just randomly go outside and sprint the block. I understand your love of running, there is just something about it that is very liberating.

    But simple things like pushups, pullups, and crunches DO make a difference very quickly.

    Despite my background I was embarrassingly out of shape when I started exercising again. I mean like pushup sets of 10. Now I can do around 75 in a set, but I scale it back to 65 to do a couple sets a day.

    This site has been great support and inspiration.

  45. wow. that is a lot in a set!
    I can usually do about 20 at a time. that is it! but try to do several sets.
    also i am in LOVE w/ P90X.
    love it.
    anyone else done this?
    it is a butt kicker!
    esp the yoga, and ab ripper. and plyo.
    talk about getting yourself “tuned up”
    look into it.

    1. I finished P90X in 104 days the first time. Ate primal and ignored the “nutrition guide”. Lost 20 lbs and am leaner, stronger and in the best shape of my life. Started the whole program again, but at my own pace (I am trying to stay on track but I don’t beat myself up if I skip a couple days – you tend to give yourself a bit more leeway when your “before” pics are now the “after” pics from the first 90 days!). I have however let my 80/20 primal balance slide to more like 60/40…. Reading this has refocussed me on my diet, and reminded me that even if you have achieved a lean ripped physique, eating primal is about fundamentally about good health!

  46. I was going through the seesaw percentage for months. I did a 30 day Primal Challenge and I found that my appetite for bad carbs was being enticed by my glass of wine (or two) with dinner. I would eat as clean as Grok from sun up to dinner time. It was my evenings where I would “make and excuse” to have something sweet or salty (fill in the blank with your choice of unhealthy snack).

    I completely gave up all alcohol to see if that was the catalyst…guess what?

    Yep…it was.

    Since giving up alcohol isn’t such a bad idea anyway, I kept it up and now find myself enjoying every minute of my Primal Day without any urges for junk. My evening snacks (if I have one) are usually berries and maybe a little bit of dark chocolate.

    From time to time I will have something decadent such as strawberries dipped in dark chocolate and served with fresh whipped cream for dipping but even at that, I don’t worry about it 🙂

  47. awesome!
    i gave up alcohol too. about a year ago.
    and now only have one martini every 4 months or so, or when pressured into it, like on New years.
    so pretty much done w/ that. and i feel hella better too.
    do you guys know if berries have a heavy blood sugar impact? i eat a lot of them, and am wondering why the weight aint dropping.
    do you think it could be that???
    i tend to binge on cranberries, blue, rasp, straw, rhubarb:) just asking..

  48. @beeface, i think berries are fine, they have carbs but also a lot of fiber to balance out the net. I think berries are even allowed on the atkins diet. I personally don’t think that primal should equal no or even low carb. If a primal man would find some honey or sweet fruits or something similar, he/she would be eating that up like no tomorrow. You mentioned that you “binge”. I think the key to healthy eating habits is moderation. I don’t think a primal man was concerned with blood sugar impact. They pretty much ate whatever they could gather and hunt. Just stay away from processed stuff. Also, read the labels, a lot of dried cranberries and other berries have sugar added to them. Make sure to get the unsweetened.

    1. I’ve found a lot of the dried berries in the UK have added vegetable oil too. Bizarrely the most prominent ingredient in a pack of Tesco dried cranberries are Pineapple juice, so it’s good to check you are only getting berries.

  49. It is a well-known observation in diet studies that adherence to any plan relaxes over time and that old habits eventually return. It could be that most PBers eventually suffer the same fate. Sad but possibly true.

  50. Dried fruit is FULL of crap half the time.
    you really need to read the label. there are added oils, sulfates, sulfites, salt, sugars. i cannot believe companies would tamper w/ natures goodies.
    fresh fruit or berries is the way to go, if you are going to enjoy them.
    I have noticed what the previous person wrote is often true. it is easy to fall off the wagon. I guess the TRICK is to make your “diet” a “lifestyle” change, not a 4 letter word. we tend to think diet is a short term, or longish term project, of which will have an ending. but i think if we change our Point of View, and see it as a habit change for the better, we may be better ablet to adhere, does that make sense? i mean, i dont plan on making pie a regular evening snack once i drop some weight or think my habits are stellar. BUT that doesnt mean once in a blue moon, i wont enjoy a piece of pie. i will just be choosy about when it happens (and the pie better be freaking awesome and worth it) ….

  51. yup once you get used to the diet you shouldn’t be hard on yourself! live life free of guilt 🙂

  52. OOps, I just ate 2 processed protein bars for lunch at my desk, b/c I forget my primal lunchbox at home! Feeling sluggish 🙁

  53. this was a great post very timely. I was not having a backslide,just having a severe attitude adjustment. the problem is I am not having the energy that people speak of or the weight loss(actually weight gain). so my biggest backslide is my attitude. I am 100% primal/80% no gain, so my enthusiasm is difficult to maintain. reading your responses definitely helps me stay the course and persevere. since my gains are minimal,my family thinks I am killing myself with fat!!

  54. after a while, i realized that i was starting to plan for my 20% deviation. it is a devious, insidiously slippery slope! better to use it as a contingency, rather than as an anticipated break. but maybe i’m the only one who needs to break the reward/”comfort food” connection…

  55. I have read some good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a wonderful informative website.

  56. Fantastic post! I was just wondering about this. So how do you determine if you’re doing 80%? I tend to be an all or nothing person – i.e. 100% primal for a week, then I’ll go out to dinner w/a friend and have some bread, and then feel like I’ve screwed up and then I’ll give up and eat crap for a week until my body can’t stand it anymore and then I start all over.
    I’d love to hear what other people do to be 80% and feel successful – i.e. ‘I know I’m 80% when I only have two non-primal meals a week.’ or ‘I know I’m 80% if I eat 100% primal but have 2 glasses of wine a day.’ I tried to figure it out on fit day but can’t figure out the math. For instance, if I generally have 4 small meals a day, 28 per week, can 6 of them be cheat meals and still be 80%? But what if one of the cheat meals is an entire bag of chips? I’ve been struggling with this for a while – any suggestions would be much appreciated!

  57. My latest blood work up shows the good results of Primal eating. At 73 my Doc said my blood is the same as a healthy 50 year old.

    I don’t think I could do 80/20 Primal anymore than I could do the “social smoker” thing. I’ve been tobacco free for 4 years now and would never jeopardize my quit with a social smoke.