In the real food/Paleo community that I associate myself with, there is the concept of the 80/20 Rule, which I felt needed explanation and attention in today's post.
The premise behind the 80/20 rule is that over the course of a day, week, or even a lifetime, you are choosing real, whole, nutrient dense food 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time might be taken up by other food choices that aren't as real or wholesome.
The 80/20 rule can sometimes be hard to gauge over the course of a day, but using the measure of a week gives us a better understanding of the big picture.
Grab a piece of paper, and let's map out (roughly) what your ratio is right now. First, write down a typical day's worth of meals. If you have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack throughout the day, write those down. Most of us tend to choose the same or similar foods each day, so it will transfer from day to day. Here's a sample of what your day might look like:
1. Breakfast - cereal, orange juice, skim milk
2. Lunch - turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, sliced cheese, mayo, apple
3. Snack - energy bar or flavored yogurt
4. Dinner - chicken breast, broccoli, sweet potato with butter
By normal nutritional standards, this day might be "perfect," but by real food standards, not so much! So, over the course of the week, you've had about 28 meals/snacks (4 per day x 7 days). Out of those 28 meals, about 7 are somewhat real food based (dinner in this example). This gives us an approximate ratio of 25/75, real food/not-so-real-food (7/28 for real food, 21/28 for not-so-real-food).
Now, this isn't meant to be demeaning or judgmental, but rather helpful for you to realistically evaluate your plate over the course of a couple of days or a week. How many times are you actually eating vegetables (the most important!), healthy fats, and animal protein? How many times are you reaching for a prepackaged or processed food?
This exercise is helpful to also see where you can start making switches to take that 25/75 ratio and slowly start working it up to 50/50, and then eventually 80/20. Maybe breakfast changes from cereal, OJ, and skim milk to 3 scrambled eggs with spinach sauteed in butter and an apple with almond butter. Lunch might become leftovers from dinner the night before, adding in another couple of servings of veggies and a great source of animal protein. The snack might change from a bar or yogurt to raw almonds and carrots or hard-boiled eggs and an avocado.
Slowly but surely, making small little swaps and changes over the course of a week or month, your ratio has shifted as well to become more favored towards real food!
Now, there are also other "iterations" of the rule, like 85/15 or 90/10 or even 95/5 - the exact ratio isn't what is important. What is important is that you find what ratio works best for your lifestyle and health goals.
For instance, someone who is struggling with Celiac disease, chronic stress, terrible allergies, lack of sleep, hormonal issues, skin problems, constant sickness, or digestive distress, the 90/10 or 95/5 ratio might be a better idea starting out while they give their body the chance to heal, recover, and fill up their nutrient stores.
On the other hand, those who don't suffer from chronic symptoms on a regular basis (which in today's society is hard to come by...) might be better able to handle the 80/20 or 85/15 ratio.
Either way, there really is no right or wrong answer - what is important is that we are choosing more real, whole foods over nutrient poor foods on a consistent basis over the course of our day, week, and lifetime.
Now, I'll be very upfront and clear - I really don't follow the 80/20 rule. I prefer to eat the way I eat about 100% of the time, choosing nutrient dense foods from wholesome sources. I don't share this to put myself on a pedestal above everyone else, but I have come to this way of eating over the course of several years, and it's what I've found to be best for me. Now, in 5 or 10 years, this might not still be valid, but for now, it's what I'm planning on sticking with for the present.
What ratio are you at currently? Where would you like to be? What is your plan to get to that ratio?