Most of us have a goal or two that seem kind of wistful. Year in and year out, we can’t or don’t quite stick to the plan that will lead to success in…losing weight, paying off debt, or [fill in the blank]. There are also some of us who can’t stay away from the goodies in the snack cabinet.
Grit can help. Mental toughness can help. I love that grit is defined as passion and perseverance for long term goals. You need both because perseverance with no passion is no fun and passion without perseverance leads nowhere.
This past January, my weight was up from the holidays and my on-off habit of stress snacking was decidedly in the “on” position. I was single-handedly chipping away at a bag of Nestle semisweet morsels that were purchased strictly for baking, ha-ha. It was about that time that I was invited to join a group of women doing the 75-Hard Challenge, created by Andy Frisella. Have you heard of it? I thought “everyone” had heard of it, but realized that assumption came from traveling in fitness circles and 75-Hard is well known among fitness enthusiasts.
The premise of the challenge is to do five things daily without fail for 75 days:
If you miss even one item, even partially, on any given day, you must start again on day one. Yikes! You can’t even cheat a little bit? A whole gallon of water? Ninety minutes of exercise every single day? What about moderation? What about listening to your body? Despite knowing about the challenge for years, I was never a fan because as a fitness professional I considered it excessive, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous for some people. Most of all, I worried what would happen to participants on day 76. I now see that I was being a know-it-all fitness industry snob. Certainly, it’s not right for everyone, but as it turns out, 75-Hard was not created as a fitness challenge, but rather as an exercise in building mental grit.
Hmm. I could use more grit, that’s for sure, and I needed a little help getting out of my stress snacking cycle this time around. I knew that the camaraderie and accountability of doing something with a group would be an added benefit but my pride was on the fence. I was used to leading fitness challenges, not being a participant. I had to keep reminding myself it wasn't a fitness challenge and decided it was high time to get more humble, be more open-minded, and see what I could learn from it. And learn I did!
Sticking to the eating and exercise requirements were huge grit-builders for me. They were both similar to what I was already doing but the "absolutes" part annoyed me. I am generally a very disciplined person for things that I'VE decided are important. What about developing grit when I'm NOT in charge? I could use a little work in that area!
I was already typically working out 90+ minutes most days, but I now needed to ensure 45 minutes of it was outside every day and to never have a day off or fall short of the 90-minute total. I was not in charge of my own workouts! I had to just follow orders. Humbling and grit-building for sure. I was nervous because it was winter! Thankfully, it was fairly mild. Turns out that bundling up works. Who knew?! I underestimated the value of being outdoors DAILY. Fresh air is addictive! Sunshine boosts our mood. I began to crave my outdoor time. My workouts include strength training, elliptical, or yoga indoors, and either brisk walking or hiking outdoors. I knew my feet were going to need some breaks so for the outdoor portion, if my joints needed a break from walking/hiking, I did yoga outside. The scheduling required to get these workouts done no matter what made me build laser focus, resolve, and planning for 75 days straight.
THE EATING PLAN:
This was the most transformative portion of the challenge for me. I didn't change my normal professed and preferred way of eating, I just finally stuck to it without fail every darn day! For me, this is a high protein Mediterranean diet with no processed foods, and I used this period to fine tune the calories and macros that would keep me feeling full and also get me back to my preferred weight. When my weight is up, my joints don't feel great and I feel less agile. I also know that when my sweet tooth hits, once I have some kind of treat, it usually leads to more and I have a hard time getting back on track. The rules specifying not to include even a morsel of food "off plan" actually worked great for me. I put it out of my mind as a non-negotiable and found that the absence of sugar meant no more cravings. My energy level went through the roof and my mood was consistently happier. Weird, huh? You’d think I would be grumpy from no treats, but it was the exact opposite. Research backs this up! Ultra processed foods change our gut bacteria linked to mood, increasing anxiety and depression. We have better mental health days when we cut out the processed foods. And the stress snacking? It turns out that processed foods are formulated to actually change our brain chemistry and be addictive. It makes sense that 75 days without any processed foods changed my brain chemistry to eliminate the addictive cycle!
At the end of the 75 days, I felt triumphant over my own cravings, I felt proud of myself for maintaining focus on every item every day. I was down 18 pounds, my clothes fit better and in order to do it all, I had to get up earlier every day so I started going to bed earlier, which also helped my energy level and mood.
TAKE HOME MESSAGES:
Seventy-five days is a long enough time to build and sustain new habits, and literally change my brain chemistry and my gut bacteria. Wow. Those goals were not even on my radar but I am so grateful. I don’t look at food the same way anymore. I now allow myself some treats, but I’m smarter to mostly avoid the ones that I know are addictive for me. It’s just not worth getting back into that cycle and I now know that my mood is better without chocolate than with it. And if I'm going to eat it, to use smart strategies to keep it reasonable. More on that another time! My workout schedule is back to including rest days but I do still try to exercise outdoors on most days to keep the sunshine factor working!
I'll also amend my professional advice to GO FOR IT if you are generally in good health, as long as you adjust the content and intensity of the exercise for your body since there are no off days, and most importantly that you plan well for day 76! The biggest risk of an overly stringent period is the rebound effect afterwards. Use the program as a springboard to morph it into what you can sustain!
I hope this was helpful to you! Need help? Reach out! I'm here to cheer for you on your own journey!
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