Let’s Not Overthink Things: The 80/20 Rule

I like doing research and drilling down to find the core reason(s) for something. The Irish in me gave me the gift of gab, and the gift of thinking, yet, even I feel a slight tinge of overwhelm when I contemplate the myriad maze of information being foisted upon us, to help us determine what’s best to eat and not eat, so that we can all live longer, happier lives. It’s confusing, especially when it seems one thing cancels out the other.

Take being a vegan. You are a meat eater, but for health or ethical reasons, you decide to become a vegan. Great. Where to begin? Let’s say you watched a famous day time talk show host a few weeks ago, interview a famous female author about her new book on being vegan, and watched her go to a famous grocery store to purchase certain products to replace meat and dairy. Then, you follow suit and go to your local grocery store to stock up on similar items. (Side note: I am purposely not naming names, because I feel, that is part of the dilemma; running defense against a specific person, or brand. I agree, sometimes we have to call them out, but that’s not what I am doing here.) Okay so, you’ve now stocked your fridge and your pantry with new items, and you are on your way to being vegan, at least for now. But, if you followed the famous author’s advice and bought faux-meat and faux-dairy, thinking it is healthier for you, and better for the earth, you may want to think again. Next paragraph.

Faux-meat, otherwise known as: meat substitutes or meat replacements, are made from a multitude of processed ingredients, not the least of which are substances known as: free glutamates. MSG is a free glutamate. Free-glutamates are excitotoxins. Excitotoxins stimulate the brain to make you want to eat more, so, guess what? You eat more. And, free glutamates also make you gain weight, even on a calorie restricted diet. It’s true, they do. (see an article I wrote about MSG and Weight Gain).

Faux-dairy; i.e. imitation butter spreads, even if they are organic, are still highly processed, using heat and chemicals. Then, if the faux-butter spread has been made from, for example, palm oil, that adds another layer of complexity. Palm oil comes from the palm tree. When harvesting the palm tree for palm oil, the trees are completely removed, therein, destroying a habitat for, among many creatures, the orangutan. The palm oil industry also uses under-paid migrant workers. So, when you start adding it all up: highly processed; ruining an ecosystem; exploiting labor. How is this better than butter?

So, what is it then, to eat healthy, right? It can be confusing, and unless you’re willing to read, and do the research, without becoming overwhelmed, you will probably throw in the towel, and just keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s exhausting. Well, there are benefits to cleaning up one’s diet, and there is an easier way to go about it, that does not require a PhD in biochemistry. I call it, The 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule is part of the 10 Guidelines I follow, listed below. I have been following these guidelines since 1988. I was introduced to them by my health mentor, Dr. Albert Neal, a nutritionist. I went to Albert on the recommendation of a colleague at Ralph Lauren. I was traveling a lot and always feeling fatigued. Albert’s advice, as outlined below, was not new to me, but it reinforced what I already knew. I think you will find, when you read them, below, that they will do the same thing for you.

Okay. On to Albert’s wise, sage advice:

1. Eat close to the earth.

Albert always told me to eat close to the earth. No, not physically, but in choosing what to eat and not eat. That meant, eating whole and wholesome food most of the time; i.e. a grilled piece of salmon instead of fried fish, or a processed meat sandwich. I know. I said it was not rocket science, but you would be surprised at how often I have to invoke this guideline, to be sure I am eating well. This core principle morphed into what I now call, The 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule is simply a guideline to eat whole and wholesome food at least 80% of the time. For me, that 80% is plant-based, whole food, and the 20% is protein. The protein can be meat, fish, or legumes., again, whole, not processed. No, you do not have to butcher your own meat, or go fly fishing, but do know the source of your protein. Eat protein that was raised eating what it was meant to eat, and not only corn or grain. Also eat protein from a clean source; i.e. unpolluted waters, grass-fed beef, organic free range chicken. If you can’t, so be it, but as often as you can, try to eat protein from the best source possible, not just for the earth, and the animal, but for your health. It makes a difference. (see my article about NEFAs – Non Esterified Fatty Acids).

2. Eat in moderation.

Again, not rocket science, but studies have shown that it is healthier to eat enough to be satiated, but not to eat until we are full. That’s going to be different for everyone, and someone trying to lose weight is going to have a different plan to follow, but the overriding principle here is, moderation. This is why I think some restaurants should offer their food in S-M-L. I am not going to eat an omelet the size of an entire plate, but a guy who weighs 250 lbs. will and, he can. So, in a country where everything is big, I know it’s not easy to invoke moderation, but maybe that’s why we have to-go containers.

3. Drink water throughout the day, preferably clean, spring water, and at least one liter a day.

Anyone who enjoys drinking water, and/or who drinks at least a liter of water a day, will tell you, they simply feel better. Water does not mean, liquids. Water is water, and drinking water is not for everyone, but, if you can, drink at least one liter a day. The source and quality of water is a topic that could be written about for days. Try to have your water be as clean and pure as possible. The best water is filtered, ionized, structured water, and very few of us have access to this kind of water, so, do the best you can. Try to filter your own water, and if you can, try to find a travel water filter to take with you on trips, or to the office.

4. Know to what you are allergic, or sensitive, and avoid those things.

We all have food allergies and food sensitivities, but you would be surprised at how few of us actually know, by having had a test done. There are blood tests that can determine food allergies and sensitivities. I highly recommend having one done. Food allergies and food sensitivities can cause a myriad of health problems, not the least of which, is weight gain (dairy will do this, and so will soy, for some people). Know your food allergies and sensitivities. It may mean having to give up a favorite type of food (wheat), but your health will improve immeasurably. 

5. Exercise.

Your choice. From yoga to spinning. Just make sure you enjoy it.

6. Laugh.

It is important to laugh, when it’s appropriate, and as often as possible. Dr. Norman Cousins was a huge proponent of laughter, and used it to help cure himself of cancer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Cousins

7. Take supplements and herbs to boost immunity.

In 1988, on Albert’s advice, I started taking Echinacea and astragalus to boost my immunity. As I said, above, I went to him to rectify my chronic fatigue. No, I did not have CFS, I was just traveling too much, drinking too much coffee, and eating the wrong foods. Taking these herbs, in liquid form, though, made a huge difference. To this day, they are part of my immune boosting regimen, along with D3 and colloidal silver. I rarely get sick, and when I do, it’s usually when I have not been taking any of these substances, and as soon as I start taking them again, I am able to get my health back on track. Look into what herbs and supplements might help you boost your immunity. I highly recommend the ones mentioned here, especially the D3 and colloidal silver.

8. Mix it up. Have variety.

We all have our favorite foods, and can go through phases of eating the same thing, everyday, say, for breakfast (granola with berries and milk), or lunch (salad with grilled chicken), but, it’s best to try to eat a variety of foods, ongoingly, and as always, follow the 80/20 Rule.

9. Have something spiritual going on in your life, whether it be religious, or not, or, just meditation.

Make it a practice. Life comes into focus when we tend to our spiritual selves. It’s not just a groovy idea, it’s a necessity. Our souls need it, like our lungs need air.

10. Love your food. Be grateful for it.

Show appreciation for it; no matter what it is, whether it’s a double cheeseburger with fries, and a milkshake, or a bowl of brown rice and steamed veggies – ENJOY IT, BLESS IT, THANK IT, AND BE GRATEFUL for everyone and everything that made it possible for you to be having that food. Life is meant to be savored. As you get older, you know what you should and should not eat; you do. So, if you decide to go outside the lines a bit, for the love of life on earth, please enjoy yourself! Then, the next day, just get back in the saddle.

So, therein lies the sage advice of my mentor, Albert Neal, mixed with some advice of my own, based on 20+ years of experience. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t have to be confusing to be good. We live in a time when our air, water, and food is not as clean and as pure as it was for our grandparents. Don’t be overwhelmed and give up. Just get back to basics, literally and figuratively, and, most importantly, enjoy!

 Sharon, The Eco Chef


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