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Why Worry About The Little Things When The Big Things Aren’t In Place?

Posted Dec 20 2008 5:37pm

Photo by atomicjeep

I had a conversation at work last Friday that sparked this post. One of my coworkers was calling people out for drinking water/tea out of cups made of #7 plastic, which is known to leech xenoestrogens. I pointed out that his bottle of Cherry Coke had 70g of sugar and that the plastic his drink came out of was probably a much smaller concern than that sugar (which will be discussed further in a later post).

But this got me to thinking about why we spend so much time focused on the minutiae of our lives rather than the big things that make the most difference. So many people get bogged down in the details that they fail to make even the simplest changes that could reap huge benefits. There’s no science today, no details, just high-level stuff in fitting with the theme.

Misguided Focus
So here are a few questions?

  • Should you worry about whether your cookie is made with high-fructose corn syrup or whether you are sleeping 8 hours per night?
  • Which is better: counting calories or just eating quality food?
  • Should you worry about what plastic your bottle is made of if the beverage in the bottle is a sugar-bomb?
  • Is the type of workout you do more important than just getting up and getting started with something active even if it’s not the world’s best workout?

I’d argue that focusing on the second item in each pair will yield far greater benefits and is just as easy as, and in some cases easier than, dealing with the first items. Of course, none of these are mutually exclusive. It would be all the better to drink green tea out of a glass instead of drinking Coke out of a plastic bottle. But if you have to pick one, ditch the Coke before concerning yourself with the plastic bottle.

Remember Pareto’s Principle
First identified by Vilfredo Pareto, you probably know The Pareto Principle by its more common name, the “80/20 Rule”. This rule states that “80% of X comes from 20% of Y,” or conversely “20% of X yields 80% of Y”. In business, it might be “80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers” or “20% of the defects cause 80% of the problems”. In economics, 20% of the world’s population holds just over 80% of its wealth.

So what’s my 20% that takes care of 80% of the gains you’ll make in your health, at least in terms of diet? Eat Real Food. Before worrying about quantity, focus on quality. I think there are far bigger health and performance rewards to be gained from avoiding processed grains, sugars, and fake fats than there are from eating those items in specific quantities.

As I’ve pointed out before, civilizations have thrived on various quantities of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. What remains constant across all of them is that they eat unprocessed foods and ensure that certain foods, like soy and grains, are properly fermented to neutralize their negatives.

The Other 80% Comes Later
That’s not to say that there’s no importance in avoiding xenoestrogens or in putting a focus on how much of the various macronutrients you eat. It is to say that I put those things at a lower level than cleaning up the foods you eat, ensuring that you get enough sleep, and living an active lifestyle. Remember that even the most beautiful architecture is built on a solid foundation of rock or iron before the builder ever concerns himself with the flourishes. Build your body the same way.

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