75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why

To all my hard-working, go-getting, goal-digging female friends:

Oh, how I wish I could sit you down and tell you how amazing you are and how hard your body works for you to keep you alive. How I wish you could truly see yourself the way I do. I would tell you to take a big deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. I would remind you that your body is safe. Your body is on your side.

Instead, I see the pressure. The pressure to punish the female body. To do extra hard things (as if your body isn’t working hard enough already). The latest and greatest in this masochistic movement masquerading as “discipline” is the 75 Hard program.

In case you’re unfamiliar, let me break it down for you.

In a program designed by a man (we’ll get back to that in a minute), it aims to promote mental toughness by engaging in the following activities DAILY for 75 days. Apparently, if you mess up, you start over.

  1. Follow any food plan designed for your goals, but zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
  2. Complete two 45-minute workouts every day – one of them outside.
  3. Every day, drink a gallon of water.
  4. Every day, read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book.
  5. Every day, take a picture of your progress.

Okay, at first glance it really seems like a great combination of holistic health – we’ve got the food piece, the movement, hydration, internal processing…. but hold up. A picture? Every day?

That’s the first thing that stands out to me that is troubling. I’ve posted many times about my personal issues with before and after pictures, so I can’t imagine the obsession a daily picture would create in me. I can just picture myself zooming in on every single roll, bulge, speck, spot, zit, crease, and stance. Making sure my pose is the exact same every day, or sucking in, not sucking in, sticking the hip out here, booty out there. Man, by the time picture time is over I could’ve been reading my 10 pages from a book! This seems to be quite triggering for anyone who struggles with body image issues – which is probably the exact type of person targeted for a program like this. Big nope for me.

Now, let’s get back to the whole “program started by a man” thing. I’m sure Andy Frisella is a very motivating person. He’s a CEO of a large company, and he gets things done. He’s created a movement. But Andy’s body is driven by a different kind of rhythm in order to get work done – the circadian rhythm. And while we females have a circadian rhythm as well, we also have something called an infradian rhythm. And where we are in that infradian rhythm – meaning, which phase of our menstrual cycle we fall into – makes a huge difference in how our bodies are going to be functioning optimally.

When we push ourselves beyond the natural limits of our very amazing, beautiful, strong bodies, we create imbalances that are very, very difficult to restore. There is an epidemic of women struggling with digestive issues, reproductive issues, migraines, high blood pressure, unexplained weight gain, mental health struggles, etc – and many of the women I support who are struggling have been pushing themselves beyond this breaking point their ENTIRE LIVES.

Most women know nothing about how to nourish themselves during their luteal phase – the 10-14 day period right before menstruation. Too much stress (whether from real life or intense workouts or caloric restriction) during that phase can lead to greater issues – one being fat storage, which is the opposite of what many women want. In fact, there are dozens of new research articles exploring the way female athletic performance varies during the entire menstrual cycle.

When we ignore the natural rhythms of our body, and fail to support them, our body will let us know.

Side note: A missing or irregular period isn’t something to celebrate or brush aside. It is a sign that one of your vital signs as a female is suffering an imbalance, and it is crying out to you for help.

This program doesn’t take into account female hormones and natural rhythms. And there’s another important body system it doesn’t account for… the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system keeps our body in balance between the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response to the sympathetic “fight, flight or freeze” response. Both are valuable tools. Being in fight or flight for a little bit is what creates survival of the human race. It helps us accomplish tasks and meet deadlines. It keeps our kids alive. It’s the adrenaline rush we love, and it’s often addicting. It can feel like a “runner’s high” in real time, rushing around to get things done and achieve our goals.

Unfortunately, when we are activating our sympathetic state too often, too long, we create huge imbalances with our health. This is where we get the term “adrenal burnout,” commonly used by practitioners but not exactly a scientific term. However, there are plenty of articulate studies that show how chronic stress and trauma impacts our health in negative ways. That is well-documented.

See? All stress isn’t bad – but we need to be able to create room for rest!

Exercise, fasting, and dietary restriction are hormetic stressors – meaning for the most part good stressors in small, controlled doses. They cause your body to undergo stress for a short period to lead to beneficial change. Unfortunately when that allostatic load of stress becomes too much to bear, the body will shut down, and unpleasant symptoms will arise.

I can’t imagine the stress of working two 45 minute workouts into my already busy schedule, then actually completing those workouts and feeling restored and refreshed. You can make the argument that both workouts are something low intensity like yoga or walking – but even the act of fitting that into my busy working mom’s schedule has me panicking a little. Some days that sounds awesome….but for 75 days in a row….while building an entire endometrial lining and then menstruating a couple times in there? No thank you!

This program is likely very appealing to certain personality types – the driven, the goal-oriented, the achievers. Being one of those people myself, I also know the dark side of this personality type – failing to meet self expectations, discouragement and despair, an inability to listen to the body’s basic needs when it is exhausted. For those of us always striving to the next level, we are perpetually hard on ourselves without a program titled “hard.” It is our nature. So why, oh why, would we jump into a plan designed to further brutalize our very nature?

Maybe the celebration is worth it. Maybe day 76 is life-giving. Maybe your period won’t get wrecked and you’ll be fully present and engaged with the other areas of your life. Maybe you will end the 75 days refreshed and renewed, fully capable of being your unruly body’s master.

But I remain skeptical. I will be here to help you with tips to breathe and restore balance when you need it. In fact, I will cheer you on regardless of whether I agree or not. At the end of the day, we are all on separate journeys to wholeness. Each journey looks different. Every body is different.

My deepest desire is that you can learn to nourish your hard-working body every day, whether it behaves the way you want it to or not. You get one body. Be kind to it.

Your forever advocate,

Erin

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