The 90/10 Rule
July 29, 2019
When you have written as many articles as I have about health as it relates to nutrition and lifestyle, you start to get labeled as an all or nothing person. There is some mild truth to it, however, nothing is ever 100%. I cannot remember the last time that I discussed this topic so here we go.
When I show up in a grocery store and someone recognizes me, they always do two things:
first, they immediately blush and stutter with speech if they realize that I may see the contents of their cart (assuming it has junk in it); second, they always inspect my cart to see if I am walking the walk. Both are reasonable reactions in my mind. I distinctly remember scrutinizing Dr. Weil's eating habits during fellowship training. Human nature I guess.
After speaking with a group of guys about healthy eating, I thought that I would do a piece on the reality of existence eating versus perfection in eating. The truth around nutrition for most people is that if you eat healthy whole foods most of the time, your body will appropriately handle the impurities of the small volumes of food that are less healthy. We have endogenous detox pathways that are specifically designed to handle chemicals and impurities. We have metabolic pathways that are set up to metabolize all macro and micronutrients presented to the body. The human body is extremely efficient at handling abnormal food stuffs and chemicals in reasonable volumes.
The problem clearly lies more with an unhealthy volume than with any one food or combinations of foods. Large amounts of unhealthy foods will unfortunately saturate the mechanistic pathways that are available to keeps us healthy leading to an at risk state that if perpetuated chronically will lead to a diseased state. The only caveat to the volume theory is the world of food allergy and food sensitivity. In general, any exposure to these foods can and will usually cause rapid dysfunction. For example, a peanut allergic person or a gluten sensitive celiac person should totally avoid the known trigger of reaction.
Therefore, assuming the absence of food allergy or sensitivity, the 90/10 rule comes into play. I am a firm believer that having a positive attitude towards your food is always important and leads to a better immunological food relationship. Having a high quality diet that occasionally takes in chicken wings, burgers and French fries and the like will NOT be associated with increased disease risk for the vast majority of humans. The all or nothing lifestyle is absolutely unnecessary and frankly likely mentally less healthy for the vast majority of us as it will bring along some social strife because food drives our interpersonal relationships.
The rub is clearly the "can we maintain a 90/10 rule for ourselves"? Can we be mostly perfect when it comes to food? Can we see and understand the reality of a life where food is poorly consumed? The answer to the last question is a simple yes. We all see the results of poor choices around food as all cause disease morbidity and mortality are skyrocketing in lock step with obesity and the Standard American Diet.
When a group or an individual sets out to change their relationship with food, our job is to simply educate, witness and aid the process with little or preferably no judgement. When speaking to a skinny, overweight or normal weight individual, the education should be the same. It is all about health. Body structure is little more than a known marker of risk and not the end arbiter. I am living proof of this reality as I am skinny and on the surface healthy. However, familial heart risks make it impossible for me to eat anything without repercussion. We all need to be aware of the reality of our genetic risks placed against our food and chemical exposure events.
Wherever you are on the 90/10 continuum, that is your launch point. Take each day as a challenge. What can I change today to push the healthy food side closer to 90%? Can I eat a few more vegetables instead of pasta? Can I swap out that steak for a piece of salmon? Can I dump the sugar beverage and drink a flavored seltzer? Can I be a leader in my family? Can I be a leader in my local community?
1) Remember to keep a positive attitude towards all food eaten. It is a blessing to have food on the table.
2) Remember to take any kind of step that you can. Baby steps are fine. Leaps are also fine.
3) An antiinflammatory diet is an ideal end goal. See Dr. Weil's link under quick links 3 to the left.
4) If you are struggling, enlist a buddy to be your partner in the process. This is part of the excellent success of weight watchers and alcoholics anonymous.
5) You are worth it. Look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself that "I am worth this effort".
6) If you fall off the wagon or take a slight step back, dust yourself off and start again. Remember that many failures often are the route to success.
7) Consider 6 healthy days and one cheat day. In 21 meals over 7 days, can you keep 15-18 healthy? Hopefully, you are eventually working towards only 1-2 cheat meals over 7 days.
8) If you know that your eating habits are significantly emotionally driven, seek counseling to free yourself from the gravitational pull of food. Neurofeedback and counseling are excellent methods for healing from food addictions.
9) Consider intermittent fasting to reduce the meal number from 21 to 14. Then use this place as your starting point for meal choice. 90% healthy means that your goal is 1.4 less healthy meals per week. I promise you that it is doable.
10) Take your time. Be patient with yourself. Love your existence. Love yourself so much that you want this outcome.