What is the 80/20 rule in Paleo?

When you hear someone say they are eating paleo, they may quantify that with a percentage. It may be 75% or 80%, or maybe even 90%. Why do people say these types of things? Most of the time, it is a way out for a few reasons.

1) Because they aren’t really serious about eating a real food diet.
2) In case someone sees them eat something they know is not Paleo so they don’t sully the idea.
3) They are in transition to full on Paleo-mode.
4) So they can know, in their own minds, why they aren’t getting all of the results and can keep moving forward.

I know that eating full paleo is difficult. I totally get that in our highly processed, totally convenient, ultra palatable culture it is hard to find real food, which is extremely sad. But you shouldn’t feel you have to quantify how often you eat real food. The whole point of Paleo is eating the things that make you feel good, and avoiding things that don’t.

If you want to eat a piece of gluten filled cake, then eat it, but if you truly have been eating paleo for some time, keep in mind that you may feel the effects of the sugar and gluten. You may not notice the effects right away, but after a couple of days, you may notice the difference in the way you feel. You may see a blood sugar drop later that day, and stomach issues over the next 48-72 hours as your body tries to get rid of something your body doesn’t like.  So, hopefully what you have done is put together a solid whole 30 to start the process and introduced questionable foods slowly to see how your body reacts so that you know what foods you might want to have along the way as treats that might not normally be on the menu.

It seems all of the big names in the Paleo world totally endorse the idea of an 80/20 rule because the Paleo “diet” is not a diet in the modern sense, but in more the biological diet of what you eat day to day as a standard. It is meant to be your lifestyle, not something to drop pounds, then go back to eating junk at every meal. It is meant to change your life and the way you look at food. Unfortunately when you go out to eat with friends, there may not be any good Paleo choices at the restaurant you go to at which point you have to decide what you want to do. Do you want to deviate from the plan and eat some standard fare; skip the meal completely and just visit with your friends; or eat something that is simply less than ideal that is just not full paleo? It’s your choice, and you don’t need to be restricted by what is and isn’t Paleo, but instead should enjoy life and food, with the knowledge of how your body reacts to different foods.

Robb Wolf has said on multiple occasions that he and his family eat corn chips and corn tortillas all of the time when they go out for Mexican food because it just isn’t an issue for them, and Mark Sisson talks about enjoying life while Chris Kresser has said that 80% of the time is enough to make your way to good health. Your percentage will likely be higher as you keep moving forward because you will learn what you want to have that is outside of the norm, and most of the time, it just won’t be worth it. At work last week, a lady from work made monkey bread. Not monkey bread in the Paleo sense, but instead the real deal using the cheapy canned biscuits. Since this was one of my favorite things, I had a bite. And when I say a bite, I do mean a bite. One thing I have learned since moving to a Paleo diet is that I do have self-control when it comes to food, and I can choose my portion sizes. Just because someone cuts a huge portion, doesn’t mean I have to eat it. And many times, with sweets, you can simply get a taste or two and be just as satisfied since it isn’t meant to fill you up, but simply stimulate your taste buds.

I guess the question isn’t what percentage of Paleo are you, but instead how far down the path to real food are you?  Don’t miss out on life just because you eat differently than your friends, while at the same time keep in mind how your body reacts to inflammatory foods, and you can choose how you want to deviate. When you see reviews and recipes on here that are not Paleo, those are part of my 20% that I know may cause a blood sugar spike, but won’t derail my progress and leave me in the bathroom for two days.

So, what is your biggest hardship when looking at an 80/20 rule? Is it getting back to eating real food once you have deviated? Or maybe it’s finding things that you want to deviate with that aren’t going to do harm to you? Whatever it is, enjoy life, and enjoy food, just enjoy it more responsibly than you had in  your former life.

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