The 80/20 Rule: Why Less Than Perfect is Perfectly Fine

80-20 rule
We’d all love to be perfect, right? But if one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s better to be “real” than be “perfect”.

I’m not going to eat a perfectly organic, healthy meal every time a bit of food passes my lips. Ladies, y’all know I eat some Chik-Fil-A!

But if I can stick to my 80/20 Rule, I feel good  about myself –  and my body feels good.

The principle was suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

What exactly Is The 80/20 Rule? In business, and in life really,  it means that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs.

But with food it means you eat well 80% of the time and 20% of the time you can eat whatever the hell you want.

For me, my 20% is made up of red wine and chocolate or the occasional pizza or potato chips. I eat perfectly throughout the week and then have a couple of whatever the hell I want treats.

Eating this way has gotten me really far on my health journey. In the past I would try to be perfect and follow a diet or food philosophy to a “T” and would always fail. Any diet that told me I couldn’t have something, ever. I would freak out and not only need to have that food item, I would usually end up binging on it.

But eating by the 80/20 rule took all the pressure off and the “rules” away so that I could consistently make better food choices and eat healthier. And consistently is what wins the race and gets the job done.

The perfectionist in me still tries to beat myself up sometimes for the 20% and for the occasions where my 20% is really more like 40%, but I work hard at being kind and allowing myself the 20% treats. I would like to get to 90/10 one day, but I just keep moving in the right direction and eventually I will get there.

Also, of note, if you are in a major health crisis, say diverticulitis, diabetes, mental illness or cancer, you don’t have the luxury of the 20%. This rule is for generally healthy people who want to improve their health, or for people who are healthy and looking to maintain their health. But if you got major stuff going on, your diet needs to be perfect (I recommend the GAPS Diet  book and Health, Home, and Happiness website for people who got major stuff going on and need a complete healing).

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  • angela
    March 29, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Perfect timing…with Easter coming up! I think, perhaps, that if I didn’t read this I’d sit at our block’s Easter Egg hunt with a frown, while the other Moms chip away at the foil wrapped chocolate eggs.

    My health journey started 10 or so years ago. Similar to you….vegetarian, vegan, pissed off, upset, anxious – then I discovered your whole world about 3 yrs ago and read everything you had, wellnessmama, WAPF, Nourishing Traditions, etc. I feel great now. Off the Zoloft thanks to fermented cod liver oil. But there’s one problem…I am literally afraid to eat, chew, lick, breath anything that isn’t 100% clean. So I am basically perfect except for 1-2 bottles of red wine per week. My husband calls me a snob. (and we are not a rich family. I work FT bc we need a 2nd income). And I know others think it. So I decided enough is enough last fall. That I needed to start incorporating some crap in my diet. I had Halloween candy which included some dairy. I ended up in the ER with my first ever ear infection. (I didn’t know what the pain was). My holistic doctor said it was all the crap I ate. That my body was like wtf is this you’re putting in me. After that ear infection/cold I went back to 100% perfect with red wine. Then, a few weeks ago on vacation, I had gluten and dairy. And I was stuck with stomach cramps for a week after! wtf! I have no medical conditions like you mention above. Am guessing I am have non-celatic gluten intolerance, maybe.

    So my question is……is it possible to be to perfect?!? I really think after reading this I need to go down to 90/20 or 80/20. I realize now that I can’t live in my bubble of clean eating if I want to really get out there and enjoy life outside the kitchen. I want to stand by the other moms and pick tin foil off a chocolate egg on Sunday

    • Stephanie
      March 29, 2013 at 4:07 PM

      I think it is possible to be perfect in eating, IF it makes you happy. If you long to eat chocolate on Sunday with the rest of the world, then I would say that perfect is not worth it then. BUT if that one chocolate egg gives you major issues, I think its perfectly fine to choose to feel good and not pay the price of eating the chocolate. I think that if you do the GAPS Diet, the theory is that after a certain time (some people 6 weeks, others 2 years) that you heal your digestion enough that when you have gluten or chocolate here and there you don’t have major reactions to it. Homeopathy and NAET (alternative allergy healing) is something else to look into as well.
      And thanks so much for sharing, its so nice to know that people are changing and healing their lives from this website. Keep up the hard work.

  • angela
    March 29, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Thanks! I didn’t realize that part about the GAPS Diet…that after a certain time, you might be able to eat stuff w/o major reactions. I think I remember you said you might try GAPS, so I look forward to if you share your story in an upcoming post. If the whole family isn’t doing it, it’s gotta be really time consuming! That’s what’s holding me back right now.

    And YES…I am defiantly changing and healing my life because of Mama And Baby Love….Thank you!!! A lot of other blogs and sites are so overwhelming and make me feel like giving up bc they give the allusion that they are perfect, and that the only way to be healthy is to be perfect. I love that you share your mistakes and occasional downfalls. It makes me feel normal. In fact, someone I follow on facebook (you probably follow them too) just posted that their family got through this cold/flu season with out getting sick. I just felt like a failure reading that bc my kids got sick one time each. I was reading it saying, “what am I doing wrong??!!!” My bff (who is a nurse) always reminds me that it’s good for your immune system to get sick once in awhile…that it makes it stronger. So I’ll cling to that.

    • Stephanie
      March 29, 2013 at 8:15 PM

      I agree with your friend! Also, the occasional cold/flu IS healthy. It’s the body’s natural way of detoxing. And getting sick once a season is a million times better than the average person who gets sick once every 4 weeks. You are doing great.

  • Kelly
    March 7, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    I remember when my 3 kids were babes and we stayed with my parents. I woke up one morning and found my dad giving the kids chocolate cake and ice cream for breakfast…I almost passed out!! Dad, what are you doing!! His response…I’ve learned children won’t die or forget what healthy food is by having dessert first, learn to lighten up and live life to it’s fullest. Wise man…my kids are 19, 21 and 23, have eaten countless “backwards suppers” on the condition they eat their veges first. Living in their own, I am filled with pride when I ask “what’s for dinner?”. Oh, steamed broccoli, quinoa and chicken…it’s all about balance and a love for good food and company. Because, yes, all those years ago…we all sat down as a family and ate the cake together. 🙂