Sometimes, 20% is Enough

What is the 80/20 rule?

You’re probably familiar with the Pareto Principle, even if you didn’t know it had an official name. It’s the idea that for many events, roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. You may have heard it described as the 80/20 rule, or getting “the 80 for the 20.” It’s a common business axiom that “80% of sales come from 20% of clients,” for example.

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto is credited with developing this principle over 100 years ago. It has humble origins: He apparently observed that only about 20% of the peapods in his garden -- a “vital few” -- contained 80% of the peas. Then he realized that this ratio figured in many aspects of economics and life.

Ever since, the 80/20 rule has been applied to business, time management, politics -- even diets and dating! Search on Amazon, and you’ll find hundreds of books with this theme. So, could it help those of us living with IBS? Maybe.

How does the 80/20 rule apply to IBS?

Here’s how I see it. Living with IBS requires us to adopt regimens and rules that can seem overwhelming. Eat this; don’t eat that. Track this; forget that. We may impose conditions on ourselves that are impossible to perform 100% of the time. When we don’t, we may beat ourselves up – and stress itself is a powerful trigger.

The 80/20 rule tells us that, well, maybe we don’t have to do 100% all the time. When we’re traveling, or sick, or having a flare-up and just can’t do everything, maybe there are a “vital few” things we can do to feel better. And we can focus on accomplishing those first.

When I think of my top 10 strategies for managing my symptoms (aside from taking my prescribed medications), it looks something like this:

  1. Take my probiotics/supplements every day.
  2. Avoid liquid dairy products.
  3. Eat food with soluble fiber at least one meal a day.
  4. Keep working on substituting water for Diet Coke.
  5. Get 45 minutes of exercise at least 4 days a week.
  6. Get off the couch and onto the floor to stretch every evening.
  7. Go to bed earlier.
  8. Manage work stress by taking stretch or walk breaks every hour.
  9. Avoid political discussions on social media.
  10. Meditate at least 10 minutes every day.

All of these strategies do help me feel better. But if I want to get the 80 for the 20, I need to take my probiotics/supplements and consume enough soluble fiber. Those have the most impact on my symptoms. Now, I can’t neglect the other strategies all the time. But on days when my sanity is already stretched thin, I give myself permission to focus on the vital 20%.

Everybody’s 20% is bound to look different. And to be honest, some people may find their IBS insists on 70/30, or a ratio that’s even worse. Sadly, people (and IBS) aren’t as predictable as peapods!

I think the important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – 20% can be good enough for today, if it’s the right 20% for you. Grazie, Signor Pareto! (Thank you, Mr. Pareto!)

So, what does your 20% look like?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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