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It’s January! Which means it’s time for the annual, “New year, new you” bullshit to make its way from the internet or TV to your ears and make you feel crappy about yourself. Sigh.
But it really, truly doesn’t have to be like that. If you’re on TikTok, it’s highly likely your feed has served up a friend or influencer doing something called the 75 Hard Challenge. The hashtags #75HardChallenge and #75Hard have more than 31 million views, collectively.*
And while questionable weight-loss trends are not new (sup, keto diet, Whole30 recipes, and intermittent fasting?), this 75-day plan created by motivational speaker, podcaster, author, and supplement company owner Andy Frisella is going viral (AGAIN) for all the wrong reasons.
Before we get into all of this, I feel like it’s my duty to tell you that losing weight does not necessarily make you healthier and that the number on the scale has very, very little to do with your overall health. Also, diets and challenges aren’t sustainable. Period. That’s why they don’t work. Another thing: You don’t need to make a resolution (especially if your goal is to look different or stick to a routine that doesn’t leave space for rest or having fun). Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox. And if you read this far, ILU.
What is the 75 Hard Challenge?
In March 2019, Frisella, who is not a certified trainer, dietitian, or licensed clinical therapist, introduced the concept of the 75 Hard Challenge on his podcast, Real AF, suggesting that it’s a way to change your life for the better and lose weight. “I’ve spent more than 20 years figuring out how to master mental toughness and I’m putting everything I’ve learned into a program I call 75HARD,” he writes in the episode notes.
On his website, Frisella writes that 75 Hard is “NOT A REGULAR FITNESS PROGRAM.” Rather, it’s a “MENTAL TOUGHNESS PROGRAM” that he is qualified to teach based on his “20 years of intensive study and real-life experience.” He does not reference any health, fitness, or therapy courses.
The basic principles of his challenge include:
But is it dangerous?
Honestly, yes. Besides the seemingly arbitrary rules, there are many other reasons to be worried about the impact Frisella’s challenge can have on your physical and mental health.
For starters, following a “diet” for 75 days can mean different things to different people. While some may decide that their “diet” is limiting how much takeout they order, others might take it upon themselves to cut out entire food groups—especially if their motivation to do the challenge is to lose weight.
That can completely eff with a person’s relationship with food, says licensed clinical social worker and therapist Ayana Ali.
That can set you up for a disordered cycle of bingeing and restriction.
“Diets that severely restrict food often result in the creation of a negative relationship between individuals and how they nourish themselves,” says Ali. It works like this: When you categorize foods as “bad” or “cheat foods” and avoid them, you may crave those foods more intensely. And once you eat them, “you will likely overindulge and subsequently drown in guilt and shame for having consumed so much of it,” says Ali. That can set you up for a disordered cycle of bingeing and restriction.
What’s worse: “Extremely restrictive eating means you may never actually learn healthy eating habits or honor your body’s desires,” says Ali.
Then there are the fitness rules that don’t take into account your underlying health conditions, previous injuries, or current fitness levels. Exercising for 90 minutes a day, with 45 minutes spent outside regardless of the temp, is not safe for everyone.
And like the diet rules, the fitness recommendations are basically a choose your own adventure. That means some might take it upon themselves to go HAM with burpees, cardio, strength, or workouts they’ve never tried before. Which, yeah, is super problematic.
“The workout plan is so nonspecific that you’re at great risk for injury,” confirms registered dietitian Albert R. Matheny, certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of the SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. And for a lot of people, working out twice a day is too much too fast.
Before starting any fitness plan, you should get a physical from your doctor and an assessment from an actual certified personal trainer. This ensures you develop a plan that is safe, effective, and personally aligned toward your goals, says Matheny.
Oh, and it’s also not sustainable, says Matheny. Workout routines are best when you can gradually increase what you’re doing every week. But doing the same thing every day for 75 days can get extremely monotonous and you may lose motivation fast or just burn out, says Matheny. If the only thing that’s motivating you is your daily “progress” picture, that’s a major problem too.
Although the plan is meant to improve your “mental toughness,” this challenge is more detrimental to your mental health than it is helpful, says Ali.
Succeeding isn’t so cut and dried—and it has literally nothing to do with what you eat or how much you work out.
“Being extremely regimented can damage your mental health,” she says. If you believe (as Frisella suggests) that success only looks like completing a laundry list of random, time-consuming activities, you might see yourself as a failure when you can’t complete them. But succeeding isn’t so cut and dried—and it has literally nothing to do with what you eat or how much you work out.
“If the ability, or lack thereof, to stick to a highly prescriptive plan for 75 days is held out as a measure of mental health, anyone following this diet who does anything less than what the plan details may inaccurately believe that she is weak or that her mental health quotient is low,” says Ali. “This can lead to feelings of self-deprecation and an inability to appreciate other measures of progress toward better emotional health.”
So, what’s the point of this?
In a 2017 interview with Forbes covering Frisella’s use of social media to earn $100 million in sales for his supplement company, he told reporters: “When I first started posting things [for my company] online, I looked at all our competitors and all they were posting were pictures of protein powder. I thought that was so boring, and I wanted to do something different, so I catered our content around motivation instead, the lifestyle our customers wanted to live,” said Frisella.
And this may be just another non-boring, motivational way Frisella aims to gain more sales, even if the plan is totally free.
“He’s trying to sell you something,” says Matheny. The goal of the 75 Hard Challenge isn’t to improve your mental toughness, it’s to motivate you to unconsciously spread his name, his brand, and his supplement company to your friends. TL;DR: He’s using people who do his challenge as free advertising, fam.
For more information on eating disorders and resources that can help, visit the National Eating Disorders Association or the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. If you need to talk to someone right now, call NEDA’s hotline at 800-931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741-741 to connect with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
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