I originally posted on my Facebook page that I’d be doing a May Whole30–which is kinda cheating since my competition prep diet is 100% Paleo (and actually compliant with Whole30 AND 21DSD…score!). But I also got to thinking. I’ve had a few cousins get into Paleo lately and complete Whole30′s of their own with great success (read Aukse’s account here). I’m so proud to have been an inspiration for my family to lead healthier lives just like my friends were an inspiration for me (Jas, I’m talking about you!).
But any of us who have completed a Whole30, or any kind of “Paleo Challenge” for that matter, faces the inevitable–”What do I do after I’m done??” Unfortunately, a lot of people will sing the praises of Paleo, touting their weight loss, improved sleep, clearer complexion, better bloodwork, etc. They will tell everyone they know that “they now eat Paleo,” or “believe in Paleo” but then…will go back to all of their old bad habits anyway. How do they justify this to skeptical family and friends who have to suffer listening to how great the Paleo diet is while simultaneously diving into the bread basket?
“All in moderation!”…”The 80/20 Principle!”…”You just have to let go sometimes!”
I’m not perfect and I never claim to be. No one is. And if you think the Paleo diet is a total load of poopie, that’s fine, too. However, what I have an issue with is this “All Talk Syndrome” that seems to fall out from so many introductory Paleo experiences. (I’m really reminded of this video…genius, pure genius!) I despise the justification of sh*t food choices with the whole notion of “enjoyment in moderation.” It’s not moderation if you do it every damn day. I mean, if that’s what you’re doing, fine, but don’t kid yourself. When you half-ass the whole thing you’re going to get half-assed results and frankly, blabbing about how great Paleo is when you’ve gained all your weight back after the Whole30 is doing the movement a disservice. Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s how I feel. Equate it to someone who tells you that being Vegan changed her life but who you know for a fact eats eggs for breakfast a few times a week and scarfs Oreos daily (believe it or not, they’re Vegan-friendly).
So what’s this 80/20 business? Quite simply, it’s a way to keep the perfect from being the enemy of the good. While we KNOW that being 100% Whole30 compliant 100% of the time is probably the best thing for us, it’s not sustainable for most of us and that’s OK. If nothing else, we risk harming ourselves through performance anxiety…and undue stress is just as bad for you as a crappy diet. Mark Sisson defines the 80/20 Principle as a practical baseline…it means that 80% of everything you eat needs to be good, whole, healthy food that aligns with the principles of the Paleo diet and whatever you consider to be “Your Paleo.” It’s a no-nonsense approach that makes it livable . We can’t be perfect 100% of the time in ANYTHING, so why beat yourself up about it?
HOWEVER…while 100% compliance is not expected, 100% COMMITMENT is. Again, I have an issues (HUGE ISSUES) with people who are all like, “Oh, I just live the 80/20 Principle!” when it’s obvious it’s 50/50 at best…or like 10/90. Or those who think this means they are “allowed” to have 20%of their dietary intake to be complete sh*t and still consider themselves “healthy.” Yeah, you know who you are.
So how do you know if you’re living the 80/20 Principle for real? Think of it this way…say you eat 3 meals a day. In a week, that’s 21 meals. 80% of 21 meals is 4.2 meals. That means that if you have 4.2 non-Paleo meals you’re living 80/20. What do 4.2 “non-Paleo” meals in a week look like? OK, so Monday night you get home and have a few bites from a bar of rich, dark chocolate and a single 5-ounce glass of red wine. That’s one. Tuesday and Wednesday you’re a good boy or girl, but Thursday your boss takes you to lunch and you grab a fresh, hot roll from the bread basket. That’s two. Then figure you might as well put that expense account to use and order a martini. Three. Friday night you go out to the bar down the street and grab a couple beers. That’s four and five. Then you have a plate of nachos…I’ll be nice and assume you only had a small handful, so we’re up to six. Saturday you go out to a restaurant with your family and figure it’s time for a “cheat meal” and have a burger and fries with another beer. Seven, eight, and nine…probably more considering restaurant portions are huge, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Sunday you’re totally clean and the cycle continues. While it’s tough to really break down percentages of your total food intake, when we consider that all of these munchies and drinks are so calorie dense and nutrient poor, it’s astonishing how much space this stuff takes up inside our bodies. For the purposes of my example, this person might be thinking they’re doing better than 80/20 but in reality, at NINE “cheats” a week, whether you want to count in terms of meals or snacks or whatever, this guy or gal is somewhere around 60/40…and that’s assuming EVERYTHING they eat besides those nine “cheats” is 100% clean and Paleo with no additives, nasty packaging, sugary condiments, nut or seed oils…I could go on forever just on the sh*t we don’t even realize we’re eating. And worst part is, the choice of “cheats” in this scenario,while common, are all things that even in small doses are permeating your gut and inflaming your system. I also think I should mention that “Paleo” desserts or gluten-free baked goods or whatever should be included on the Crap List. Yeah, they’re “better” choices than a beer or gluten bomb, but they’re sure as sh*t not “good for you,” either, so don’t think you can be 100% compliant and eat Paleo brownies every day.
Is this kind of pattern at all familiar?
Paleo is only a template, and everyone needs to know what is and isn’t part of their own “Personal Paleo.” I, for example, include raw and pastured dairy products (but not milk) but not eat white potatoes or rice in “My Paleo.” At the moment, even, I’m on the fence about nuts…and I certainly don’t eat roasted or heat-treated nuts or nut butters of any kind. My non-Paleo “cheats” (I hate that word) are still gluten-free because I’ve realized what gluten and most grains do to my body and I don’t like how I feel the morning after (like, I’d rather take 21 shots of tequila). I avoid this stuff, though not 100% of the time, because I’ve realized there is almost always a better alternative. But that’s me. You need to figure out what’s you. And you need to own it.
OK, so here’s my 80/20 Challenge for you (and yes, I’m doing it too and so is my husband…whether he likes it or not). I challenge you to get a notebook or Excel sheet or whatever and record everything you eat for the next month. Hell, just try it for a week and see what happens. But you have to record EVERYTHING you put in your mouth. No counting calories or macros or anything, just do what you would do normally…but write it all down. Also, on the top of the page, define what you believe to be “Your Paleo.” For example, on top of my page, I have written “I eat all foods traditionally defined as ‘Paleo’ as well as raw and pastured dairy products and raw natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and palm sugar).”
For the purposes of this challenge, “Traditional Paleo” equates to the Whole30 guidelines, which is why I note that I eat dairy and certain natural sweetening agents. Also for the purposes of this challenge, things that are “acceptable treats” like dark chocolate and red wine are NOT Paleo. ”Fringe Foods” like white potatoes, white rice, and dairy products may or may not be “Paleo” to you depending on how you tolerate them. Make sense?
No worries, I will answer any and all questions about this whole deal. Just leave a comment or shoot me an email.
Don’t even look back at your log entries till the end of each week, then go back and highlight anything and everything that falls outside the definition of YOUR PALEO. Don’t worry if it’s not Whole30 or 21DSD-friendly. This is about YOU. This is an exercise in self-awareness, so don’t shame yourself into eating only Paleo-compliant stuff just because you have to write it down…I say again: don’t change anything, just record it.
Then do a little math. How often are you really compliant? This is why the longer you work on this little experiment, the more accurate it will be. I’ll show you my and Ross’s diet logs and you can share yours. Hopefully it will be an eye-opening experience for you. Are you really 80/20? Maybe you’re a superstar and have 90/10. Maybe you’re 70/30, 50/50…or less…and didn’t realize it. Here’s your chance to know yourself a little bit better and troubleshoot as you see fit. If you’re 50/50 and can live with that, cool, but at least you’ll know. Honesty, especially to oneself, is really what matters.