“The Pareto principle.”

This is a name used to describe the 80/20 rule we hear so often. Pareto was an Italian who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. From that beginning, economists have devised a rule of thumb that 80% of sales, for example, are made to just 20% of the customers. Of course, the exact ratios aren’t always 80/20, but the principle itself has value.

When applied to almost any business it can offer a perspective about how much energy (resources) ought to be expended. Why devote exorbitant amounts on a large group of people who don’t actually drive your bottom line? Some consultants suggest focusing attention and resources on the top 20%.

How does this relate to healthy living?

Regardless of the source, most people “in the know” suggest eating organic foods, drinking clean water, doing modest amounts of exercise, taking supplements, and avoiding chemicals and toxins. The foods should contain a larger percentage of raw vegetables, with some additional fruits. That’s great advice, but I live in the real world of cake and ice cream, cocktails, juicy steaks, hot dogs, potato chips, and even greasy burgers. In order to be as healthy as possible it seems I’m being told to forego all of those delicious options and eat just raw veggies with water.

No, that’s unacceptable, and I would guess that most people would agree with me. For heaven’s sake, how would you enjoy a child’s birthday party without having some cake? What about that cherry pie with ice cream or the crème brule?

Here’s where we can toss in Mr. Pareto’s magic rule.

How about looking at your diet in terms of percentages and rations? Seriously, alter your diet so that 80% of it falls within the best guidelines; organic veggies, small amounts of fruit, clean water, and so on. Like the business model, it doesn’t have to always be exactly 80/20. Some weeks a 90/10 ratio might be convenient. At other times, it could shift to 75/25, maybe even as far as 70/30 (it’s almost impossible to not eat the goodies at the major holidays).

Consider that you can eat any junk you want, as long as it is balanced by eating well the vast majority of the time. Perhaps this is where the idea about a balanced diet actually originated. My mom said, “Eat what’s on your plate and you can have some dessert”. It was unreasonable to think about snack foods unless they were directly connected with eating a good meal.

I’m by no means an expert on eating, but I think it makes sense to enjoy the pleasures of this wonderful world as long as we do so in a mature manner. Furthermore, eating rationally can be taught to our children. My mom told me to eat good food first. We can tell our kids the same thing – and we can demonstrate how to do it.

Just think, 20% of a week is 1.4 days. That means we can actually fall off our plan of eating well for a whole day as long as we make it up the rest of the week. That might not be the best approach, but it has some merit. The better approach would be to savor the goodies every day as long as they don’t exceed 20% of our total diet.

And yes, you can send cookies to the pharmacy. Thanks.