As a registered dietitian, here’s what I think of the 75 Hard: It’s got virtually no proven benefits, and comes with a lot of risks.
The now infamous 75 Hard challenge is a perfect case study in how to make a wellness program go viral in this day and age. There are rigid, clear-cut rules. There are required progress pictures, which make for easy social media posts. And there’s a “this will change your entire life because of how difficult it is” message running through the whole thing. But if you’ve been wondering (understandably) about 75 Hard and eating disorders, here’s what you need to know.
What is the 75 Hard, exactly?
As its name suggests, the 75 hard lasts 75 days (and, yes, it’s hard to do). Like most “wellness” challenges, it has a strict set of rules. Here they are, verbatim from the introduction email you get when you sign up for the free program:
Follow a diet. This can be the diet of your choice, but it must be a structured plan designed with a physical improvement in mind.
You must complete two 45-minute workouts. One of those workouts MUST be outdoors.
Absolutely NO alcohol or cheat meals.
Take a progress picture every day.
Drink 1 gallon of water.
Read 10 pages of a book. **Audiobooks DO NOT COUNT.
You have until you go to sleep to complete the day.
If you fail, you MUST start over on Day 1.
The creator of the 75 Hard claims that it is a “transformative mental toughness program.”
Andy Frisella, an “entrepreneur, bestselling author, highly sought after consultant and public speaker,” created the 75 Hard program for himself. (Frisella has no medical, nutrition, or fitness credentials.) He says that it is “the only program that can permanently change your life.” But what he actually means by this is pretty vague. He lists several supposed benefits, like boosting your career, feeling confident, managing time better, becoming more self aware, and (of course) getting into “ the best physical shape of your life.”
There’s no evidence behind any of the supposed benefits of 75 Hard.
It’s not surprise that 75 Hard isn’t even trying to pretend like it’s evidence-based. This is literally one guy sharing a (very strict) protocol that he made up. The claims are intentionally vague — more confidence, more independence, getting “in shape” — because off course there’s no way to actually prove them.
Based on the marketing, 75 Hard is very much about weight loss and physical transformation.
Look, someone can say as many times as they want that their program *is about so much more than weight loss,* or whatever. But if you’re selling it with before-and-after photos that show weight loss, then there’s really no denying that actually, it is about weight loss.
Such is the case with 75 Hard, whose website includes several before-and-after testimonials. (Search the #75hardchallenge hashtag on Instagram, and you’ll see the same.)
This is a good time to point out that many, many “wellness” influencers and brands pull this same stunt. They claim that their product or program isn’t about weight loss. They talk about all kinds of other (almost always unproven) benefits. But when you actually look at the marketing and imagery, there’s no denying that it is about weight loss. By highlighting before-and-after photos and weight loss stories from former clients, they’re making it about weight loss. And of course, those short-term transformations are only part of the story. The vast majority of people who lose weight will gain it back, and will often ruin their relationship with food in the process.
The 75 Hard requires that you diet, although it doesn’t specify how.
While you’re on the 75 Hard, you must follow a diet. There’s no set diet to follow, but it must be a “structured plan designed with a physical improvement in mind.” That’s…incredibly vague.
My stance is that diets don’t work, no matter the diet. That’s not my opinion, it’s based on mounds of evidence, some of which I outline here. Yes, most people are able to follow a diet for a short amount of time (ahem, 75 days) and lose some weight. But pretty much always, that weight comes back within a year or two. Often, dieters regain more weight than they lose.
The way the 75 Hard talks about the “transformation” you’ll experience makes it seem like, after the program, you’ll have the “discipline” and “toughness” to maintain weight loss forever. This probably isn’t the case, but even if it was, it’s flawed thinking. Why? Because maintaining weight loss is very unlikely, even with loads of willpower. Contrary to what this challenge would have you believe, people don’t gain weight because they’re lazy or lack willpower. There are all kinds of physical, environmental, and social factors that play into what someone weighs. Weight loss causes shifts in your hormones and your metabolism that encourage weight gain. Diets make you feel hungry and obsessed with food. Major changes to how you eat and live just aren’t sustainable.
So, no, the 75 Hard challenge isn’t some magic new approach that will change your life and make weight loss possible.
Working out twice a day isn’t necessary, or healthy.
Dieting isn’t the only rule that you have to follow in the 75 Hard. You’re also required to exercise twice a day — 45 minutes each. That’s 90 minutes of exercise every day. Before we even get into how unnecessary that is, let’s talk about how much privilege is involved in this commandment.
Simply put, not everyone has time to devote 90 minutes a day, every day, to exercise. People have jobs, kids, social lives, hobbies, and a host of other things to do. Devoting an hour and a half of every day to exercise is excessive. Not to mention, two workouts per day mean two sets of dirty clothes to wash — another huge pain.
As this SELF article explains, working out twice per day can also wreak havoc on how you feel. Exercise is a stressor. Intense exercise, particularly strength training, causes tiny tears in your muscle fibers. That’s a good thing, because it’s when these muscle fibers repair themselves that you get stronger. But if you don’t give them time to rebuild, you’re not really giving yourself a chance to build strength. Most fitness experts recommend that you only strength train three or four times per week, for this reason.
A similar thing holds true for cardio workouts. Your body needs time to recover. If it doesn’t get that time, you’ll end up going into every workout feeling gassed, and you won’t be able to give it much effort. It’s far better to give yourself ample time to rest in between workouts, so that you actually feel good while you’re exercising.
The bottom line? Working out twice a day undermines your progress towards any fitness goals you might have. It increases your risk for injury, because your body doesn’t have time to recover. And, it makes working out really not fun, since you’ll always go in feeling exhausted.
#NoCheatDays is a really stupid rule.
To be clear, I also don’t recommend having cheat days. Rather, it’s best to just give yourself unconditional permission to eat what your body wants, whenever.
Do some people worry that they’ll lose control and binge if they allow themselves to eat without rules? Of course. But — and I’ve written about this binge-restrict cycle in great detail here — that’s not exactly how it works. Yes, it’s common to binge after long periods of restriction. That’s why people who have “cheat days” tend to eat until they’re uncomfortably full, and feel guilty afterwards. But this isn’t because food is “addictive,” or because you can’t be trusted around it. Instead, it’s a result of restriction. When you can’t have something, you want it that much more. And when you start eating it, you feel unable to stop. Your body and brain aren’t sure when you’ll be “allowed” to eat it again, so they prompt you to eat as much as possible. Even if it makes you feel painfully full.
On the 75 Hard, you aren’t allowed any cheat days. Most likely, that means that when the 75 days are over, you’ll experience intense food cravings and will likely binge on foods that were previously off limits.
Taking progress pictures causes you to hyperfocus on how your body looks, which is terrible for body image.
Frankly, no one needs to take “progress pictures,” ever. When you get into the habit of doing this, you’re training your brain to always be analyzing and critiquing what your body looks like. That’s not healthy at all.
And even if you notice that your body is changing throughout the 75 days, this can leave you feeling worse in the long run. Again, it’s very unlikely that you’ll maintain any of these changes. The progress pictures will just become another point of comparison that makes you feel bad down the road.
If you struggle with body image, a better approach is probably to avoid any type of body checking for a while. That means not analyzing your body in mirrors or in photos. Over time, this lessened focus on what your body looks like can help you feel better in your own skin.
Drinking a gallon of water per day is way too much.
As a point of comparison, drinking eight glasses of water per day (eight ounces each) equals about half a gallon. That’s the rule that many of us grew up hearing. And while hydration needs actually vary from person to person, and also depend on activities and temperature, the 8×8 rule is a pretty good one.
There’s no need to try and drink twice that much. While a gallon of water per day probably won’t harm you, it will make you have to stop what you’re doing and go to the bathroom far more often. And, it won’t have any benefit. So, why bother? Why is this a rule? Who knows, but skip it.
Challenges like 75 Hard really normalize disordered behavior and orthorexia, and can even morph into eating disorders.
You likely already know that dieting is a huge risk factor for eating disorders. Does every dieter go on to develop an eating disorder? Of course not. But given the fact that diets are hard, unpleasant, and ineffective, why bother?
More specifically, the 75 Hard encourages orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, often accompanied by an intense exercise regime. That’s literally what this “challenge” is all about: forcing yourself to be extremely strict with how you eat and exercise, no excuses. Eating disorder behaviors thrive in situations like the 75 Hard, because restriction and overexercise are celebrated.
The bottom line is that the 75 Hard is extremely high risk, and has no proven benefits.
“Wellness” challenges like the 75 Hard might seem harmless — what’s a few weeks of strict diet and exercise, right? — but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The rules of the challenge are incredibly strict and decidedly not healthy. Dieting often leads to bingeing and weight cycling. Overexercising can lead to injury, and makes exercise feel really unpleasant. Taking photos of your body daily will wreak havoc on your body image. And while reading and avoiding alcohol are perfectly healthy behaviors, you can just as easily put them into practice without committing to this challenge.
If you struggle with an eating disorder, disordered eating, bingeing, or constant food cravings, 75 Hard is not the answer. Most likely, it’ll make your problems worse. Instead, working with a registered dietitian can help you break free from unhealthy patterns for good. To learn more about my nutrition counseling services, go here (virtual coaching) or here (in-person counseling in Raleigh, NC).