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The 80/20 Rule & Your Health

Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule?

It’s also called the law of the vital few and was originally called The Pareto Principle. It started way back in the early 1900s when Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people.  While out in his garden pondering this thought, he also realized that 80% of the peas in his garden were produced by 20% of his pea plants.

Maybe you’ve heard or read this:

  • The richest 20% of people on the planet control about 80% of the world’s income.
  • In health care, 20% of the patients consume 80% of the national resources.
  • 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals — the worst offenders.
  • If you work for yourself, you know that 80% of your income comes from just 20% of your labor or
  • 20% of your customers lead to 80% of your sales.

So, to use the 80/20 rule for business, you focus on the 20% of your best customers who are giving you 80% of your sales.  To use the 80/20 rule to manage your time, you focus on the 20% of the things you do that really move the dial for you or your business. In other words, your highest-valued activities.

Can this rule be applied to your personal health goals?

Yes it can, sort of.  When it comes to your health, the ratio is reversed: you can achieve better health when the majority of your choices are healthy.   If you spend the majority of your time (80%) making the right decisions, and you will love your results.  What about the 20%…those are the things you can stop obsessing over because they have little to no impact on your overall health.

It’s not about circumstances, it’s about choices.  A healthy lifestyle is achieved by the total sum of all of your choices. Losing weight, getting healthier or becoming more fit is the culmination of your habits and your daily decisions. This rule is about moderation. Yes, you can have that dessert. No, you cannot have dessert every night. Yes, you should work out most days. No, you don’t have to beat yourself up if you skip a day.

I get asked a LOT of questions on a daily basis about health improvement.  Some are really great questions but sometimes I stand there thinking, “Is that really what they are spending their energy thinking about?”  Here are a few examples of things I get asked that I believe are the 20% that are just not relevant on a day to day basis to help you improve your health:

  • What do you think is better for me, this protein bar or this Atkin’s bar?
  • What do you think is better, reverse osmosis or distilled water?
  • I heard that tomatoes sold here are GMOs. Should I worry?
  • What do you think of infrared saunas?
  • Do you think these stretches in my yoga video (that I never work out to) are maybe better than the ones you gave me?
  • Do you think I should be taking a cold shower to improve my fat loss?
  • How often do you think I should have my ears candled?

I get it, people want the magic bullet.  Here’s the thing, they don’t exist.  I see too many people spending too much time on things that don’t matter as much, obsessing over details while neglecting the bigger picture.  Although this is debatable, I would say that most of the concerns of health-conscious people fall under the category of “less significant” when it comes to achieving real results. In other words, they spend too much time on the 20% and not enough time getting the 80% right.

  • I have a patient who spends more time asking me which of the prescribed postural stretching exercises he really needs to be doing, than he does actually performing the exercises. How is that going to help his posture and flexibility?
  • Another patient obsesses over which vitamins and homeopathic remedies will improve her heart, circulation and lung function. She reads up on it all the time and is always asking my opinion about something she read on the internet…yet, she is a smoker.
  • There are those patients who desire to lose weight and devote more time and energy trying to decide whether they should eat Paleo, Ketogenic, and Vegetarian or to follow some other program, than they actually spend simply being consistent with healthy food choices.
  • Last example, I have a patient who really just needs to get a chiropractic adjustment twice per month and stretch more to keep his arthritic joints moving and pain free. Yet he chooses to spend his money on braces and analgesic creams, massage tools and gimmicks, and missing work because he’s incapacitated from the pain that his Chiropractic care has helped and would continue to help keep at bay if he’d just show up and get adjusted as recommended.

You know what’s so great about this rule?

You can use it for eating:  You know it’s challenging to eat clean all the time. Work parties, BBQs, cookouts, pot-luck gatherings, cocktail parties, restaurant temptations, travel… all those things can make clean eating a bit of a challenge. But if you can work toward eating clean the majority of the time (80% of the time), you are going to see a difference in your body and in how you feel.  And it’s not just what you eat, but how much you eat.  If you control your portion along with what you eat, more often than not (80% of the time), you can effectively manage your weight.  (And sometimes that means eating more…usually more veggies).

  • Eat a daily diet that keeps your blood sugar stable.
  • Avoid refined, processed and packaged foods and sugar (man-made foods).
  • Ensure nutrient needs are met to avoid long-term deficiencies (take a good multivitamin every day and probably a few others like Vitamin D3 and a probiotic.
  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Detox through intermittent fasting, periods of eating only raw food and simpler meals.
  • Avoid excess: alcohol, caffeine, rich foods, unnecessary drugs, or stimulants, etc.
  • Whatever intake you follow (Paleo, Ketogenic, Vegetarian)…stick with it at least 80% of the time.

You can use it for exercise:  It’s really easy to fall out of your workout routine when you travel, or when you have family in town, or when a rerun of Real Housewives has you mesmerized in front of the TV, but get right back in the saddle and get back at it. Don’t let a break from your exercise routine become a break-up from exercise. Push toward that 80 percent.

  • Do at least 20 minutes of exercise a day. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are moving your body – just do it.
  • If you work out longer than 20 minutes at a time, good for you! You may only have to do that 5-6 days out of the week to keep with the 80/20 rule.

You can apply it to Lifestyle:  It’s a lifestyle rule, not a fad.   You know what I dislike about diets? People are either on or off diets. But the word diet was never meant to describe a specific way of eating, it just simply is what you eat most of the time…80% of the time.

Look, I help people lose weight, so I understand that if you have not been taking great care of yourself as I’ve been describing here, an intervention may be needed to jump start some weight loss and get you on the right track.  But my goal with all of my weight loss patients is ultimately to help them transition from the “intervention diet” to a life-long daily diet that is anti-inflammatory, full of fresh vegetables and fruit and which is  very limited in sugar, complex carbohydrates and ‘man-made food’.  The 80/20 rule is a lifestyle gauge.  You aren’t on it or off it, and it’s not about perfection, you just lean toward health.

  • Get adequate sleep (for me that’s at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep).
  • Don’t smoke (this should go without saying).
  • Have meaningful relationships and an active social life.
  • Get sunshine every day.
  • Eliminate stress and practice meditation, deep breathing or whatever helps you destress to mitigate it.
  • Avoid toxic chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer.
  • Express your creativity and talents doing something you love.
  • Get your spine and nervous system checked and adjusted regularly

So, what about those smaller things…that 20%?

It’s just my opinion, but here it is: it’s not worth it to pay attention to those smaller things until you’ve handled the “Big Five”:

  1. Daily Diet
  2. Sleep
  3. Stress
  4. Exercise
  5. Alignment and Nervous System Integrity

Stress will kill you faster than drinking unfiltered water from the tap, and no amount of massage or sauna therapy will fix the problems caused by excessive caloric intake or lack of exercise.  Eating protein bars while great in the case of an ‘emergency’ will never be as good for you as REAL food.  Lastly, can you never really be healthy if your nervous system isn’t communicating with the rest of your body, ensuring that it is functioning at its best?

Most people wait until there is some sort of crisis before they make these changes.  But, back to the 80/20…wouldn’t it make more sense to be proactive and avoid the crisis altogether or at least be prepared?   It’s in time of crisis that the groundwork you’ve paved will be there to assist you in handling the crisis and the effects of it.  Prepare for the challenge so when you meet it, your body adapts and responds easily.

Dr. Hoch (pronounced Hoke), is a 1988 Graduate of Peotone High School and a 1990 Graduate of Joliet Junior College. She Received both her B.S. in Human Biology (1991) and her Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.) (1993) from The National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, IL. She also received her graduate and post-graduate certifications in Acupuncture from NCC.

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