Re-thinking the 80/20 Rule: 5 low-effort healthy habits that can create a huge impact

Re-thinking the 80/20 Rule: 5 low-effort healthy habits that can create a huge impact
Heather Nicholds, C.H.N.

The 80/20 rule

A lot of health coaches and advocates talk about the 80:20 rule, in that they eat healthfully 80% of the time and leave 20% to indulge. That’s a great strategy, I probably do something similar.

But that isn’t the original concept of the 80:20 rule, which is to find the 20% of your effort that creates 80% of your results.

The point is that you can focus on what’s important to refine your efficiency, and you can throw away the 80% of your effort that’s not getting you much in terms of results.

After hearing so much of the surface level 80:20 talk in the nutrition world, I wanted to try a little thought experiment…

Could the real 80:20 rule apply to nutrition?

On first glance, I thought no – because you do have to bring yourself fully to the table to create wellness.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you have to bring awareness to what you eat, what you don’t eat, your activity and exercise, your stress levels, your sleep habits, your attitude, and your mindset – at a very basic level, does what you eat and how you live make you happy? So that’s not a 20% kind of approach.

But if I think a little deeper on this… there are some things we can do that take minimal effort and create huge results. I like to start with clients building health through the changes and actions that are doable for them – the baby steps that can generate huge leaps.

1. Drinking enough water

Things like drinking enough water in the day. Putting that intention into your day shouldn’t take too much effort, but the impacts are huge.

They range from hydrating all of your body’s systems – your colon only moves properly when it’s hydrated, your immune system relies on water, all of the cells of your body need water, we are about 60% water – to making sure that you don’t eat when you’re actually thirsty.

Infographic from The USGS Water Science School

2. Throw some parsley in a meal

In my meal plans and cleanses, I show you how to bring in the super nutrient dense foods that can give you a huge amount of nutrition from a relatively small amount of effort. All of the foods are important, but there are some that are real game changers.

Parsley is a tiny little leaf, that we usually think of as a garnish, but we can chop up to add to dishes, and it brings in a huge amount of nutrients:

  • Vitamin A: good for your eyes, skin and immune system.
  • Folate: most notably important for pregnant women, but also for everyone else to have healthy blood, contributes to cardiovascular health and supports your brain function.
  • Vitamin C: famous for boosting your immune system, it’s also an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory agent, and a key nutrient for your adrenal glands.
  • Vitamin K: helps your blood clot properly and plays a role in bone mineralization – parsley tops the charts with 273% of your daily needs in just a quarter cup.
  • Iron: the transporter of oxygen to your tissues and the garbage collector getting rid of carbon dioxide – and since it also has lots of vitamin C it should be absorbed very well.
  • Has powerful antioxidants that are protective against specifically cancers of the lungs and help neutralize carcinogens in cigarette and charcoal grill smoke.

3. Add some flax seeds to breakfast

Adding just 1 tablespoon of flax (or chia) seeds to your morning cereal, porridge, or smoothie – or bake it into muffins – can help boost your omega-3 for the day, as well as add lignans (which act as both fiber and antioxidants, and can help decrease risk of colon cancer) and water-soluble fiber to help digestion and absorption of nutrients.

The omega-3, lignan, manganese, and fiber combination in flax seeds make them really powerful in working against inflammation and cholesterol in the cardiovascular system, so a small amount daily can have a huge effect. That’s why I always include 1 Tbsp of flax seeds every single day in my meal plan programs.

4. Start your day with a bit of activity

Just 5 minutes of exercise in the morning can help activate your metabolism, your adrenal glands, your lymphatic system, your energy to have a great start to your day. It can carry results well past those 5 minutes, by releasing endorphins that put you in a better mood, by giving you a feeling of accomplishment, and of having put yourself first.

If you do HIIT exercise, you’ve also extended the boost in your metabolism well after the activity itself.

5. Stop to breathe

Stopping in the middle of a busy afternoon to take a deep breath… and fully exhaling… can instantly calm and center your thoughts and intentions. This is one that I’m working on incorporating more into my day.

The real revelation, and the true beauty of the 80:20 rule is that we can throw out the 80% of our effort that only gives us 20% of our results.

This is the power of focusing on your strengths rather than on trying to improve your weaknesses.

Again, this doesn’t have a direct translation to nutrition on the surface… but if you look a little deeper, let’s think about the stress we put on ourselves to be perfect that is actually working against our health. Restricting calories, counting fat and carbohydrate grams, using exercise to work off the donuts. Does that really create a healthy body and mind? Does that nourish our soul?

What if we could throw out that mental clutter that doesn’t really serve us, and instead focus our intentions on actually enjoying life?

Taking a minute at the end of your day to think of something that made you happy, or that you feel grateful for, can start to re-wire your neural pathways and make you more liable to feel happiness and gratitude as you move through life.

This is called neuroplasticity, and you can watch all kinds of Ted Talks about it from people more knowledgeable than me on this topic, so I’m not going to say too much.

My goal for myself is to create a life that I love, and I’ve found that by coming from a place of inspiration rather than obligation it all just falls into place.

I don’t have to try really hard to healthful vegan foods through my day, it just happens. It’s just what I choose to enjoy. I don’t see a difference in indulging because I’m always allowing myself to enjoy pleasure.

When I stop trying so hard to avoid chocolate, I can tell when I would really actually rather enjoy some grapes. And I can tell when I would really enjoy some chocolate.

Our bodies do need the right fuel and the right balance, so it does take some knowledge to walk this path, and I have an advantage because I’ve been through school to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. So that knowledge is just working in the background of my mind.

That’s what I aim to help with: the nutritional background so that you don’t have to work to focus too hard on the small details.

It’s why I set up meal plans and cleanse programs the way I do. I work out all the numbers for balance, portions, grocery lists… so that you don’t have to put your effort or energy into that side of things. You can just do, and enjoy the delicious foods and meals.

My wish for you is to recognize and radiate the beauty and energy that’s inside you.

If I can help you to simplify, reframe, and up-level your healthy eating game, then I have succeeded. If I can help you shift to a more sustainable and compassionate way of life – to yourself, to animals, to our planet – I am grateful for being able to spread that awareness.

Thank you for sharing this time with me, and exploring these thoughts.

I don’t mean to pick apart the basis of others’ nutritional philosophies. Worrying about the proper definition of the 80:20 rule doesn’t matter in itself, it’s an example of the 80% of thoughts that aren’t important in the big scheme.

It’s just fun to explore thoughts, and see if we can create a new understanding that can help us move forward.


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