One of my favorite books about nutrition and exercise is “The Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson. One of the key principles he talks about in the book is that he believes you should aim to follow your nutrition plan 80% of the time. There are 2 key reasons for this suggestion:
2 Reasons for the 80/20 Nutrition Rule
- Practicality. Following a nutrition plan is hard. We aren’t robots. We aren’t perfect. We all have limitations in our discipline and self-control. If you try to tell yourself that you are NEVER going to eat pizza, or drink a margarita, for the rest of your life… Let’s just say for most of us, it isn’t going to happen. We might be able to “white-knuckle” it for a while, but sooner or later, we’re going to fall off the wagon. It’s better to get on a wagon you can stick with for the long haul. Sticking with a nutrition plan 80% of the time is more reasonable. You can go out and have a hamburger and french fries occasionally. You can have popcorn at the movie theater. You can order a beer and hot dog at the baseball game. As long as you’re sticking with your nutrition plan the majority of the time, you’re in good shape.
- The science supports it. I don’t understand all the details of the science, but research studies have found that it can actually be good for your metabolism and overall health to eat a cheat meal every once in a while. Don’t do it every day, but there are some health benefits to splurging on occasion.
This 80/20 principle has been a game-changer for me, not only for my nutrition but for other areas of life as well. For example, I used to work out every day, never giving myself a break. But then my body would get worn down or injured. It’s actually better for my body if I rest a couple of times a week. The rest gives my body time to recover, and I’m able to come back harder and faster the next time around. That 20% helps me to stay healthy for the long haul.
Work and Career
Or consider work and career: I used to work pretty much every day, even on weekends. But after doing this for a while, I got burnt out. I wasn’t efficient with my time. By giving myself days off and alternating between stress and rest, I’m able to be more effective and focused when I’m working. That 20% helps me to not burn out and stay engaged with my work week in and week out.
Or consider relationships: I used to think that I needed the perfect partner—someone who met all the criteria I had in my head. But in real-life, the perfect partner didn’t exist. And the ways in which my partner doesn’t match my fantasy, it gives me an opportunity to extend love and grace even when things aren’t perfect. That 20% helps me in my emotional and spiritual growth process.
Or consider kids: Most parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to succeed in school, sports, music, etc. Parents often try to protect their kids from struggle or failure, wanting things to be easy and smooth. But this strategy robs kids of the important experience of failure. How can kids learn to bounce back from struggle and failure if they never experience it? That 20% is helpful for their growth and development.
What do you think about the 80/20 principle in life? Is there an area of your life where you are really shooting for 100%, but it’s not working? What would it look like to dial back to 80/20?