During my paleo journey, I have had my ups and downs.  I would like to say that I’m on an upswing now.  However, it’s because of my paleo/non-paleo phases that I can look back and see what I was really doing.  Oftentimes I would say that I was about 80/20 paleo/non-paleo.  When I said this, what I meant that 20% of the food I ate was non-paleo.  It made sense to me, and, apparently, it made sense to other people as well!  It also gave me the “I’m not too extreme/restrictive/hard to feed” card.

While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Everyday Paleo, Jason Seib mentioned that the whole percentage thing didn’t really make sense because it’s so arbitrary.  Of course, at the time, I was what I thought to be 80/20.  However, his statement made me think genuinely and critically about my own paleo percentage claims.  I realized that Jason had a very good point.  Making these claims disregards accountability, food quantity, and food content.

  • First of all, when I said I was 80/20, I couldn’t really say that I had ANY proof to back me up.  I wasn’t tracking my foods, I just kind of felt that 20% of what I ate was “off-track”.   In reality, 30-40% of my food was probably non-paleo.  I wasn’t really being accountable.  Then when I didn’t feel good in terms of heaving headaches, getting sick, or just feeling a little too pudgy, I couldn’t figure out why.  However, it’s hard to keep track of this because food quantity is a bit arbitrary…
  • Sometimes I would equate 20% of food to 20% calories.  But really, what does 20% mean?  Is it 20% of calories?  Is it 20% in ounces?  Is it 20% of non-nutritious ingredients? Was I including beverages?  What unit of measurement was I using for this arbitrary percentage?  Let’s say I drank some Diet Coke.  This is definitely non-paleo, but it has no calories.  So did that count?  This gets to my next point…
  • What was IN this non-paleo food?  Let’s be honest here, there is NOTHING natural about Diet Coke and other sodas.  They are a bunch of chemicals mixed together, and aspartame is an awful sweetener.  So, in turn, I might not be ingesting calories, but I’m also not ingesting any nutrients.  In fact, I’m probably drinking negative nutrients.  So does that go towards my percentage?  How is this interacting with the rest of my body? Is there a percentage of pain I will be in because of the percentage of Diet Coke I drank?  I’ll pose another example.  Let’s say that I have 2 tablespoons of salad dressing that had canola or soybean oil, some high fructose corn syrup, and caramel color…just for kicks.  Is that as “bad” as having half a chocolate chip cookie?  Or a slice of cake?  The content of food matters.  I’m not a food scientist, but I find the intersection of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients fascinating.  However, it is very complicated and not definitive.  If you’re interesting in learning more about this, I would suggest reading Chris Kresser‘s website and listening to his podcast.  But the fact is, that the content of the non-paleo food is going to react to our body in ways that we won’t be able to delineate or understand, especially not in terms of quantity. If I ate a slice of cake,  it might set me back in terms of my health for a couple days even though it was only 5% or 10% of my calories.  This, of course, depends on your body and what else you ate.  The point is, the content of food matters cannot be equated to a NUMBER.  Quality is ultimately not quantity.
  • Now, I can be eating 100% paleo and still eat a lot of paleo “treats”.  I haven’t really made any paleo treats until recently.  I made some “Paleo” Chocolate Chip Cookies and they were delicious!  However, after having 2 of the cookies, I didn’t feel so hot.  It was probably because of the quantity of almond flour I used!  Or maybe it was the honey.   I am happy to treat myself, but I try to be aware of the content of that treat.  It can be dangerous to hide behind a label.  Sure, it’s Paleo, but that doesn’t mean it’s always nutritious.

Having 20% non-paleo food does not mean that you will be 20% behind of your goals or 20% fatter than if you were 100% paleo or 20% less healthier.  It just doesn’t work that way!  If I do choose to eat a non-paleo food, instead of saying i’m 80/20, I’ll just say what I ate.  Or, I will just say that I do the best that I can.  Or, I will admit that I am a sugar addict, and sometimes I just fall off the wagon.

Jason Seib, now I know what you mean 🙂