More than once, trusted friends have explained to me why I don’t have more friends. “You scare people,” they say.
I scare people?
Not physically, they hasten to add. It’s not like anyone thinks I’m going to beat them up. “But, you know, physically. And intellectually. And you’re kind of…”
“Yeah, that’s it. And you’re so driven. They feel like they can’t compete. Most people need to chill out more. And…”
They assume I’m judging them.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me be the first to tell you: A personality like mine is a double-edged sword. It’s true that there are great rewards to being an intrinsically motivated, goal-driven, will-powered, laser-focused, athletic nutrition geek. I accomplish just about whatever I put my mind to, and I do it well.
On the other hand, I tend to put myself under a lot of unnecessary pressure. Nobody but me cares whether I accomplish X goal within Y time period. I know that, and yet I must do it. I am compelled.
Secretly, folks, I envy the ability many of you have to Just. Chill. Out.
Would I prefer to be different? Honestly, no.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t want you to be different, either.
Are you intimidated by the intensity of my commitment to paleo eating and primal workouts? Do people like me sometimes scare you away from starting because you fear you can’t finish? Please, don’t let our idiosyncracies hinder you from making more moderate changes!
Poke around the primal and paleo communities for a while, and you’ll find hundreds — no, thousands — of people who get tremendous benefit from a less-than-pristine shift toward primal living. Many of them, including Ironman, thrive on Mark Sisson’s 80/20 concept; that is, shooting for 100% compliance but not beating themselves up over 20% slippage. I explored “80/20” in my post Halfway House and have subsequently observed its effectiveness again and again.
For those who want to give primal living a shot, but don’t want to go whole-hog, here are some priorities on which to focus. You can take a shotgun approach and put a few pellets through all of them, or you can start at the top of the list (with the most important stuff) and baby-step your way along as you adjust.
1. Remove gluten grains. There’s just no getting around the damage wreaked by wheat, barley, and rye. Non-gluten grains like rice, oats, and corn are still high in carbohydrate, but at least they won’t tear up your intestinal lining as badly as gluten will.
2. Remove sugar. This is tough at first, but the addiction will release its hold after a week or two. Remember that almost all packaged/processed foods contain sugar — but really, did you want to eat all those nasty preservatives anyway? Also remember that as long as you’re removing most dietary sugar, a little sweetener in your coffee or honey in your salad dressing isn’t that big a deal.
3. Remove legumes and non-gluten grains. Yes, I’m afraid these are very high-carb and contain gut-damaging lectins, too, though they aren’t as bad as gluten. Grains are addictive — they activate the same pleasure centers as opiates — so here’s some advice on how to go shift toward grain-free living.
4. Find your inner athlete. You’re not trying to burn calories! You’re simply flipping the hormonal switches that tell your body to burn bodyfat. So, feel free to skip those long, daily sessions on the stationary bike. Go for walks at a brisk but comfortable pace. Lift weights or do a few pushups and air squats twice a week or so. When you’re in the mood, try a few 10-20 second sprints. Mark Sisson’s free e-book offers an excellent program.
5. The other stuff. Sure, there’s more if you want to explore it. Many people feel best when they eschew dairy products. Some break fat-loss plateaus by cutting down their nut consumption or eating less fruit. Some thrive on a very low carb regimen (under 50g daily), while others feel best when they eat 100g or so. Individuals struggling with touchy innards may want to try going without nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, etc.) for a while.
But for most people, all that is gravy. Feel free to pour on the strictness when you’re trying to lean out for your wedding or a cruise, or exploring solutions to chronic health issues. If you’re like me, you’ll be extra strict because you actually enjoy it — but if you don’t enjoy it, no one says you have to do it!
Will 80/20 get you the best possible results? Physically, of course not — but it’ll come darn close, and the mental ease of such an approach is worth it to many people. (Ironman calls it “staying sane.”) Even 70/30 will make you much healthier and leaner than the conventional wisdom approach.
Besides, not everyone wants to be ripped. Not everyone likes the super-lean look. Not everyone cares how much iron they can press or how fast they can sprint.
That. Is. Fine. Really!
Never let a perfectionist keep you from being exactly who you want to be.