80/20 Rule and Finding A Healthy Balance

Originally posted by Brynn on rxnurition.ca 2/4/15

When people bring desserts and candy around at work and I kindly say no thank you, the most commonly thing I hear is “Common Brynn, just live a little” or “stop being so healthy all the time.” I take it as a compliment that I am known for being healthy, but that doesn't mean I am 100% healthy, 100% of the time. Those that know me best have seen me indulge in chocolate, candy, cookies etc (mainly chocolate). I think it is actually healthy for me to do this. I take pride in my healthy choices, I like how I feel when I eat healthy, but as most people know it become can become restrictive when you are socializing, eating out or traveling. This is why I like to live by the “80/20 rule” and I think it is the best way to set yourself up for successful healthy lifestyle. This means that I eat healthy 80% of the time and leave 20% for flexibility. The 80/20 rule can mean different things to many people. For me, by eating very clean throughout the weekdays, it allows my weekends to have more flexibility. This doesn’t mean weekends are a free for all but it does mean I can go out to eat or a to party and not feel guilty about it. This “rule” is not a specific diet or prescription and don't be concerned with the math of how much 80% of a week is but by being “good” the majority of the time it really just leaves room for failing to plan a meal, having a treat when you want it or whatever will allow you to stay on track. By giving yourself this flexibility allows your healthy lifestyle to be more realistic and sustainable. 

Starting studying nutrition and meeting and following a lot of different people on the healthy living scale, I have learned that some people can take living healthy to such an extreme it actually becomes very unhealthy. It is actually a condition I only just recently learned about call Orthorexia. As I mentioned trying to be healthy 100% of the time can become very restrictive but diving too deeply into a restricted style of eating can be a signal that a desire to eat healthy foods has gone too far.  Orthorexia usually starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but people who struggle with Orthorexia become really preoccupied with food quality versus food quantity and food rules begin to take up a great deal of time and energy exactly like they do for people with other disordered eating, such as anorexia. There’s no flexibility around food so it starts to interfere with relationships and normal routines and eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  I have met people like this, where it seems like they are taking so many supplements to make sure they get every single nutrient they think their body needs, that it seems like they aren’t eating any real food, or those who wont eat out because it can’t be guaranteed it is 100% organic. I even felt myself become a little like this when I was eating paleo. This was a couple years ago when I first started Crossfit and learned about the paleo lifestyle. I started with a 30 day paleo challenge which led into months of strict paleo eating. This means zero grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, alcohol and absolutely no processed or junk food. My social life suffered; I wouldn't go out to eat and I would skip a lot of parties that involved food as it seemed easier to avoid versus having to explain myself to anyone. I do really believe in the paleo lifestyle and follow a majority of the principles today but at 22 years old I did need to "live a little." I was being too strict with my eating (not calories but with all the paleo rules) and this “healthy” lifestyle was becoming too restrictive for me and was causing more stress than good. If I had had some flexibility in my diet, it probably would not have caused so much stress, I would have had a healthier mindset around it and I may have lasted longer eating paleo. 

The whole point of me writing this is not to tell anyone not to focus on eating healthy or to go ahead and eat junk food, it is to share that in order to stay healthy we all need to find a balance that works with our lifestyle. It is very important to make healthy choices and live a healthy lifestyle, but it is also very difficult and can become extremely unhealthy to do this 100% of the time. Yes I think everyone would feel great if we all ate perfectly clean 100% the time, but part of being healthy is about having balance and letting go of perfection. In order to achieve and maintain good health, we should make good choices most of the time, but the key word there is most. Strict, restrictive diets and lifestyles is where most people fall apart. It is not sustainable or realistic and will cause guilt and stress. Life is meant to be lived, and everything can be enjoyed in moderation. So eat your cake and your kale too :) 

Moderation is the only rule of a healthful life. This means moderation in all things wholesome
— Herbert M Shelton