I was disappointed to see #75Hard making its rounds (yet) again. I suppose I’m not really surprised, we’re rounding the corner to spring and the newsfeeds have begun filling with promises of pounds lost and “beach bodies” found (oh hey, Diet Culture).
It also doesn’t surprise me to see this deeply diet culture entrenched program rising in popularity. It’s such a stark contrast from the Body Positive movement that encourages body autonomy and body respect. And with the growth in awareness around Body Positivity, Health at Every Size (HAES®) and Intuitive Eating I’m not surprised to see some counter balancing within the cultural consciousness.
What is the #75Hard Challenge?
Here are the “rules” of the challenge as made viral by the internet.
- Exercise twice each day for 45 minutes — it doesn’t matter what the exercise is but one of these sessions must to be outdoors.
- Drink 4 litres of water per day.
- Pick a diet or eating plan and stick to that plan. No alcohol. No cheat days.
- Read a minimum of 10 pages every day of growth mindset material or self-help book. No fifty shades of grey content! stick to real life material to work on your mindset.
- Take one progress photo each day — even though this is more of a mental challenge, the byproduct will be a physical change at the end of the 75 days.
- You must complete everything on this list daily, no exceptions. If you fail to complete the list on a day you go back to day 1 until you complete 75 consecutive days.
That’s it. If we can even say that. Because “it’s” a lot. But before I get into why I think we should all question it…let me first share a bit of background.
The history of #75Hard.
This program was developed by Andy Frisella and shared on his podcast in March 2019. When I went to his website to inquire about qualifications, none were listed. Here’s what his website says:
“Andy Frisella is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, highly sought after consultant and public speaker.”
He’s also a supplement company owner (shocking, I know — insert eye roll and sarcasm) and more importantly NOT any of the following: a certified/ qualified personal trainer, registered dietitian nor licensed clinical therapist.
My alarms are already ringing and I hope yours are too.
He states that the intention of the program is “mental toughness” or “an ironman for your brain” and “it’s not a fitness program.” And yet there is only ONE rule that is anchored in personal development (and only loosely because “growth mindset material or self-help” is a pretty broad category).
Now, I will wholeheartedly agree that challenging yourself physically will absolutely help you develop mental toughness (as a gal who did an actual Ironman, I can attest to this). But what about all the other arbitrary rules? Is this really a healthy way to develop mental toughness? And what’s the potential cost? Is this even healthy?!
Why throw #75Hard under the spotlight?
My intent in writing this blog is to shine a light and encourage you to critically evaluate #75Hard, because to be honest, it’s just another fad “program.” It’s the ‘it program’ of the moment, and this too shall pass. But what I hope I do is to help you develop your critical eye when examining any program like it. So you can rock your health and fitness (and build mental toughness) your way!
I want to help encourage your healthy skepticism and help you see that this is yet another diet/ fitness plan with a slightly different frame. Developed by someone who is simply trying to build his brand (not improve your life). I know, that’s a glaring accusation. But he’s the one that listed “entrepreneur” first on his bio…so you tell me. What’s his objective?
Sure, the program itself is FREE for download, but only once you give him your email. And even if you don’t give him your email, he’s banking (literally) on the hunch that you’ll share all about your experience on social media using the #75hard and give him the business growth he’s really after.
If I weren’t so pissed off by the content and the potentially significantly negative health consequences this program will have on people who do it, I’d be impressed. From an entrepreneurial perspective Frisella is brilliant. But this isn’t a case study for business school, this is your health and your life!
If you read through this article and still think, yeah, I want to do it. You do you. I believe in body autonomy wholeheartedly. But please go in with your eyes wide open. If you’re open to re-considering so you might develop a healthy skeptical lens, read on!
My concerns with this “mental toughness” challenge (aka why I hope you’ll reconsider it):
#75Hard reinforces binary thinking.
All-or-none thinking is one of the biggest barriers I see people coming up against in the creation of truly sustainable healthy lifestyle. Why? Because binary thinking doesn’t leave any wiggle room for real life (read: illness, injury, work deadlines or sick kids). And sadly when we “fall off the wagon” or “fail” to succeed with a set of rules or a rigid program, more often than not our self-critic goes into overdrive (hello guilt and shame). This is not only really unpleasant, it’s damaging to our mental health and (ironically) to our self-efficacy and self-esteem (two of the very things Frisella claims this program builds).
Consider this: what happens when 1/2 way through 75Hard, you get sick or injured? Note: this is not an unlikely outcome, because at 75 days with no rest and no recovery and a high training volume you’re likely to get over-trained which often results in illness and/or injury. So when you get to that point where your body takes a rest day for you, if you stop or take the rest and recovery you need, you have to start again – aka you’ve “failed” by the programs standard. But you haven’t failed! You’ve gotten sick. It’s not healthy to push through illness, injury or put your body into extreme stress – it’s UNhealthy. If your desired outcome is mental toughness, are you willing to sacrifice your physical and mental health to get there? What’s the point?
#75Hard is steeped in Diet Mentality.
This entire plan (including the Diet you’re meant to follow) is a completely authoritarian approach. Sure, you have a choice regarding which diet you do and how you do the 90-minutes of daily exercise, but you must do them. Which reinforces this idea that someone other than you knows better than you what is best for your body.
This not only steals your autonomy and authentic health, it encourages you to disregard your body’s signals and follow the rules at all costs. If we continuously ignore our body’s signals, over time we lose these signals and our only real means to determine what our body needs (don’t worry, if this is you they do come back with time and practice listening and responding).
Consider this: What happens if you are hungry, but you’re not allowed to eat any more for the day? What if it’s your birthday (or your child’s) – must you skip the celebrations and not eat cake? What if you haven’t completed the second daily workout but your body is aching and you’re bone tired (literally)? Can you rest? What if instead, you listened, honoured and challenged your body – each day? Could you be more responsive to your internal body cues? What if you ditched the arbitrary rules and authoritarian approach and reclaimed your body autonomy?
#75Hard is not based in science, or common sense!
As I already stated Frisella is not qualified in exercise physiology, nutrition or psychology. It doesn’t appear as though any actual professionals were consulted either. In fact many professionals have openly criticized and questioned this trend.
As a Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer who’s worked with people for over 20 years I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to meet your body where it’s at. To consider progression and individual differences in fitness programming. To jump straight into 90-minutes per day of exercise is not only extreme, it’s dangerous. The very first thing on Frisella’s page is a medical DISCLAIMER. This should raise some alarm bells.
Additionally, while I can absolutely get behind time in nature (getting exercise in nature does actually have some health benefits), outdoor exercise is not possible or functional for everyone. What if somebody has mobility issues? What if it’s -40C or +40C? These extreme conditions aren’t healthy or safe for all bodies and can have dire consequences.
Consider this: When it comes to movement….where are you starting? Have you been regularly moving? If so, how much? Is progressing to 90-minutes per day physiologically sound for your body? Would moving this much be functional for your body/ life? Is doing 45-minutes of this outside realistic? Do you live in a climate where that’s safe? Functional? Healthy? What does your common sense say about it? Move in ways that move YOU and lean in slowly and mindfully.
#75Hard is arbitrary.
Can we talk about the 4L of water per day rule? There is literally ZERO SCIENTIFIC BASIS for this amount of water. It’s 100% arbitrary. I have no idea where he got it. But to suggest every person doing this plan needs this specific amount of water (regardless of their size and hydration needs) is not only unnecessary, it could be dangerous! You are unique, as are your hydration needs. It also reinforces the hydration myth that you need to get all your hydration from water – which is untrue! You get hydration from the foods you eat (especially water-rich foods like vegetables and fruit) as well as other beverages (smoothies, broths/ soup, and even caffeinated beverages up to 4C per day).
Consider this: A better guideline for your hydration is actually the colour of your urine (TMI, but roll with me). It is optimally a pale yellow colour. Note: certain vitamins and medications may change this, so be mindful. Instead of following this arbitrary rule, ask yourself – how is your hydration? Check in with your body (and output) and then adjust accordingly.
#75Hard reinforces the “physical transformation = improved health” mentality, but worse.
While Frisella claims “the mental changes are 100x greater than the physical changes,” the entire sales page is peppered with before and after pictures. Why? Because he’s selling a physical transformation (just like countless other diet/ fitness plans out there). And to further deepen the Diet Culture and weight bias, he’s also inherently implying that body transformation = improved health. But this Diet Culture belief that thin bodies are healthier/ fitter bodies, it’s not only steeped in bias, it’s untrue!
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who have done this (or a variant of it) and have come to me injured, sick and burned out. Injured, sick and burned out is NOT HEALTHY.
Consider this: if you’re not yet questioning at least rule #5, please consider this as well. If it’s not a “fitness program” and not about the “physical transformation” (as he states), why take daily photos? Because you’re building a marketing campaign for him – for free. You’d better believe that he’s banking on you sharing those “transformations” as social proof for his method/ brand (and his supplements too – even if you didn’t use them, though I’m sure he’s hoping you will and will likely email you to that effect, because he’s an entrepreneur first).
#75Hard is not sustainable.
As a qualified Personal Trainer with a degree in Kinesiology I have major concerns about the lack of rest/ recovery days alone. Exercise is catabolic – which means it breaks your body down. This is a good thing! It’s what triggers the cascade of responses in the body to re-build (stronger and better). But this re-building only happens with adequate rest. In this approach, for 75 days you don’t get that rest. Which means you’re not only stifling your actual “results” you’re more than likely headed towards overtraining and injury!
And even if you do make it to day 75, injury free, what happens on Day 76? Do you keep doing all the things? Is that functional with your real life? What happens when you “break the streak?” After 75+ days of going “hard” how will you feel about yourself if you miss a day?
What I often see with highly regimented programs such as this, is a huge pendulum swing in the opposite direction at their completion. This is our natural response to severe restriction! And it’s this yo-yo in health habits that is most detrimental to our health. And this cost isn’t just mental, it’s also physical! There is research to show that weight cycling (losing/ gaining cycle) that we see around restrictive programs is actually MORE harmful to cardio-metabolic health. (Here’s one article, but there are more, ask me if you’d like them.)
Consider this: What is your intention? If you’re looking to improve your overall health and well-being is #75Hard the way to build a sustainable healthy lifestyle? If it’s not something you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, then why do it? What’s in it for you? Is there value? What is the point? Is the purported benefit of “mental toughness” worth the physical and mental costs? Get clear on what you’re looking to accomplish and then build your health habits strategies from there (not the other way around).
#75Hard is punitive.
If you fail at any point (even day 74), you must start again. Ouch. While I get the intention around building fortuity and mental toughness, this feels downright punitive and demeaning. And here’s the challenge with that: fear of failing/ punishment might help us “tow the line” or follow the rules, but it sucks all the joy from it. And us humans, we’re pleasure seeking.
Consider this: Food and movement are meant to be enjoyable! There is a reason delicious food is delicious. And why moving your body in joyful ways feels good. What if your approach around food and movement could be grounded in satisfaction – both in the experience and the accomplishment? Of course we all want to be successful with our health and in life. And finding your determination, perseverance and willingness to do hard work is essential to that. But what if it can synchronously be joyful and bring you pleasure rather than pain? Do you think it might be a bit more sustainable? Would satisfaction make it more innately rewarding, and thus increase the probability of your success? What would happen if you led with joy and satisfaction with a side of determination, perseverance and hard work?
My alternative suggestion:
If you want to create some healthy lifestyle habits (that stick) consider these steps instead:
1. Explore what “healthy” means to you.
Be specific. Notice if the outcome you’re seeking is aesthetic (ex. pounds lost, fitting a certain clothing size, a specific physique or feature being enhanced). Ask yourself, what will achieving this outcome do for my overall health – physical, mental, spiritual? If the answer is nothing, consider whether that aesthetic outcome is worth the costs of the work to get “there.” And also whether getting “there” will ever be enough. My experience both personally and professionally are that aesthetic goals are moving targets (ie. once you achieve them you’re still not happy). Instead consider reframing how you view health and fitness. Re-think what you believe about health with a lens free from diet culture and fitness mentality. What do you want to be able to do? How do you want to feel in your body?
2. Evaluate (compassionately) where you are in relation to where you’d like to be.
Is there a gap? Sometimes people realize there isn’t one when I ask this question. Cool. Carry on sista! You are awesome! If there is a gap, what’s the gap? Trust your intuition and have an honest (but kind) chat with yourself. What needs to shift to help you feel and do the things you’d like?
3. Get the information you need to be successful.
If you’re looking for information online be skeptical. Look for information from a qualified professional (Registered Dietitian, Kinesiologist or Credentialed Personal Trainer). Bonus if they are Health at Every Size (HAES®) informed. Note: be cautious around the “Personal Trainer” qualifications. Sadly, there is no over-arching governing body and not all qualifications are equal. Ask questions about a professionals qualifications and philosophy before you commit. If they don’t have their qualifications listed on their blog/ website or bristle or get defensive if you ask questions – be weary!
4. Lean in mindfully with ONE habit shift at a time.
We don’t learn by jumping “all in.” More often than not that overwhelms our brains! This is not optimal for learning (which is what new habit formation is!). Instead, start with ONE small shift. Something that moves you towards where you’d like to be, but isn’t so challenging it feels overwhelming. Bring your intention and attention to that ONE thing. I know it’s hard, but trust me, time and again this is how I see lasting change develop.
5. Regularly pause and reflect.
How is this new habit working for you? Is it? If not, what needs to be tweaked? Is it worth revising or revamping completely? Or do you just need to release it? Sometimes we need to cut our losses and recognize this version of the habit isn’t a good fit for us – right now. That’s ok. It’s not you…it’s the habit! Don’t take it personally or be self-critical (that will just stifle your motivation and likelihood of success). Start again with a NEW approach to achieve the same desired outcome and see how that goes.
6. Be patient.
While they don’t take 21 days to develop (as is commonly touted) nor 75 ( a totally random number), new habits take time to build. According to research on average, most habits take around 66 days. Take your time and remember Rome wasn’t built in a day, it was built by laying one brick at a time, by many people over many days… which leads me to my next point.
7. Get support!
Sometimes some outside guidance can be really helpful. Because when you’re “in it” you don’t always see the way. Support can come in many forms. You might choose to connect with a qualified professional. You also might choose to find a good friend or loved one who is on the same page (ie. is taking a health-centric health at every size approach) and wants to take a kinder, gentler approach to health and wellness with you! Whatever you do, don’t discount the tremendous value of having people in your court. This is especially important when you’re taking a counter-cultural approach (aka. ditching diet culture in favour of a health-centric, weight neutral approach).
8. Grant yourself permission to evolve.
Very few health habits will be lifetime habits. For example, right now I’m loving my near daily dips in the ocean. I’ve been doing it since November and it’s absolutely a health practice. But I’m not attached to it. At some point I may decide that it’s no longer a “fit” for my lifestyle, for my interests or my body. And when/if that point comes, I’ll gratefully acknowledge the habit for it’s purpose (it’s been so helpful for my mental health through this Covid winter), and move on. BUT…I’ll actively check in to see if there is another habit I need to explore to continue the benefits to my mental health. If so, I’ll explore what that NEW habit could be and repeat this process again.
You have FULL permission to grow, evolve and change with time. Your habits are meant to support, nourish and fulfill you. If at any point you find yourself really struggling with a habit that used to be “easy” it’s a great opportunity to pause and reflect.
If you really want to build “Mental Toughness” consider this:
There are a bunch of different definitions of mental toughness, but at its essence it is the ability to persevere in the face of challenges, without an impact to effort, attitude or enthusiasm.
It’s helpful, I won’t discount that. The need to be able to persevere in tough times and carry on has never been so obvious.
And, I wonder if it’s mental toughness (the grit to persevere through tough times) or is it resilience (the ability to adapt in periods of stress) that is more vital to our overall health, wellbeing and success in life?
I’m not about to suggest I know what is right for you – but what I do know is this. For me, it’s easy to use mental toughness and ‘grit’ through something, but more often than not my mental or physical health takes a hit with that approach. Because let’s be honest, when we’re up against tough stuff, something’s gotta give. And when something gives when I was trying to “barrel through” I often end up losing confidence and belief in my abilities (not great).
Personally, I’d rather be resilient. So that when I’m faced with challenging situations or stressors, I can recover quickly. So that I might be able to “pivot” and adjust course readily and easily rather than bulldoze through things. This enables me to be responsive to my real life and consistently feel successful – on my terms.
If that resonates with you, consider exploring how you might develop your resilience, self-compassion and self-kindness – especially how they pertain to your practice of health. Here‘s a great article from the American Psychological Association about Resilience. You also might really enjoy my FREE 5-day virtual course on Building Resilience.
If you’ve read through this and something about #75Hard still resonates, You do you. But please, go in with your eyes wide open. Get really clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And complete all 75 days with respect at the forefront. And have a clear plan about what happens on day 76 and beyond.
Back in the fall when this ‘program’ was picking up speed I shared this on social media, fixed, of course! This is what I’ll leave you with today.
We don’t need to focus on how we look. We need to focus on how we feel.
Arbitrary rules that offer no wiggle room aren’t helpful for most people. We need space in our approach to health for real life.
Punishing ourselves when we struggle is simply adding insult to injury. Instead, we need to offer ourselves grace in the face of challenges.
We don’t need pressure, guilt or shame for taking a day off when our bodies need it. We need to listen, honour and challenge our bodies where they’re at each day.
Failure is not the enemy. It is an opportunity to explore what didn’t work and use that intel to move forward mindfully and respectfully.
Cookie cutter approaches work for very few people. We need to recognize that we are unique and our approach to health needs to be too!
You are awesome. Don’t fall in these diet culture traps. You and your body deserve better.
If you found yourself reading this and thinking, yes! But…how?! Let’s chat! I’d love to support you in developing your own unique approach to health and fitness that truly brings you joy!