Why I Only Eat Poutine in Quebec (Or Why the 80/20 Rule is Bullshit)

Treats should be special!

Treats should be special!

January is often the time of year when people get on the healthy eating bandwagon. Doing a Whole30 or 21 Day Sugar Detox are excellent ways to re-establish your health. But what happens after your 30-day challenge? Do you stick to your new strict eating habits all the time? Or are you going to do the “80/20” paleo thing? You know, do the paleo thing most of the time and then there’s room for treats. That’s reasonable, right?

The whole 80/20, “everything in moderation” mantra is total bullshit. You’ve just invested 30 days reestablishing your health and now you’re going to let things slide because you’re going to be 80/20 paleo or 90/10 paleo or 100 percent paleo 80 percent of the time. If you’ve been clean with your diet and are now reintroducing old foods you will likely discover that some of those foods are a problem for you. Why reintroduce a problematic food “in moderation” that will only cause stomach discomfort, cravings and brain fog? Is it really worth it?

Let’s put the 80/20 rule in perspective. If you eat five meals a day that means four of them will be strict paleo while one of those meals will be an off-plan junkfest. You could, by this 80/20, everything in moderation rule, have waffles for breakfast one day, a Big Mac for lunch the next and pizza, wings and beer for dinner another night. Hey, it’s still 80/20. Okay, so maybe this is an exaggeration. Most people don’t go that much off the rails, but little things add up. Maybe you reintroduced vanilla flavoured yogurt, drink orange juice and have a whole wheat carrot muffin every day. Or you’ve been adding rice and pasta where veggies would have been a month ago. It doesn’t take much to undo the benefits gained during a Whole30 or 21-Day Sugar Detox.

The problem with the 80/20 rule is that you end up doing a piss-poor job of eating healthy. Your best effort is spent focusing on the 20 percent. When it comes to paleo (and healthy eating in general) you should focus your efforts on:

  • Strict avoidance of processed food. This one effort means you will automatically eat more fruits, vegetables and lean meat.
  • Strict avoidance of sugar. Again this means you will not be lured by the new trend of “gluten-free” cookies, cakes and crackers.
  • Proper sleep. You’ll think twice about that second glass of wine because you know that it will mess with your sleep.

I’m not saying you can’t have a piece of cake or a glass of wine ever again. I call bullshit on anyone who is that strict. “Everything in moderation” and its best pal “the 80/20 rule” allow too much latitude for poor choices. Treats need to be special. There is nothing special about M&M’s or Oreo cookies. You can have these any time. Your aunt’s famous apple pie that she only makes at Christmas is special. Dinner at a nice restaurant with your spouse is special; pizza and wings from the local pizzeria is not. Personally I think the poutine at the neighborhood burger take-out is gross and so I only eat it when I go to Quebec.

Treats absolutely have a place in your paleo diet. They need to be savored and shared with good company. No one savors crappy, no-name ice cream. No one takes the time to truly enjoy a bag of chips. If you stopped mid-fistful you’d realize what crap you’re eating and be disgusted.

Instead of labeling your diet “80/20” just focus on the 20 percent. Avoid processed food and sugar all the time, get proper sleep and enjoy an occasional, totally decadent and worth every indulgent bite of a treat.

What do you think? Do you do the 80/20 thing? How is it working for you? Tell us in the comments.

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