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Are rigid lifestyle programs effective?

Last Modified: January 06, 2023

Sports & Exercise, Nutrition & Recipes


This post was written by Sami Kauffman, MA, RD, CD, sports dietitian, Parkview Sports Medicine.

This time of year, our social media feeds and conversations are flooded with talk of nutrition and exercise programs, like Dry January, 75 HARD™ and Whole30®. While some of these rigorous, restrictive programs can be helpful to those who desperately want to make lifestyle changes, it’s important to evaluate the safety and practicality of the expectations before starting.

As is true with any major lifestyle change, it’s important to consult your primary care provider before introducing any new activity or drastic change to your diet.

Evaluating the options

Just a quick internet search will confirm that there are plenty of options for those looking to adjust their nutrition or exercise regimen, but there are two big factors I would encourage you to consider when choosing a lifestyle program: The goals you have in place and the kind of person you are.

For example, if your goal is to become more disciplined in all aspects of life, taking on something like 75 HARD, which incorporates several different aspects of mental and physical health, might be a good challenge. But, if your goal is strictly to get in shape and create healthy habits, an alternative program, one that is less focused on rigidity and more on incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine, however they fit in best, would be better. In this case, finding a weight training guide, working with a personal trainer or trying a new fitness app might do the trick.

When looking at your goals, you have to consider the type of person you are, as this is arguably the most important factor when choosing a program. If you are someone who does well in structured settings, or operates best when you are being held accountable, a rigid program might be right for you. Conversely, if you are the kind of person who can easily incorporate lifestyle changes and stick to them, you may not need something complex.

Also, if you tend to become obsessive, programs that have rigid rules may exacerbate that tendency. Some of these programs are marketed not as fitness or nutrition programs, but as discipline or lifestyle programs. If those are areas where you’re trying to make strides, then great! But it’s important not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t complete everything in the challenge. There is no shame in missing a day of exercise or eating less nutritious foods for a special occasion. The important thing is to be as consistent as possible and keep going!

The verdict

Programs and challenges like 75 HARD are not innately healthy or unhealthy. They are what we make of them and how they affect us uniquely, as individuals. Whatever they entail, they can be done both safely and unsafely.

When selecting a lifestyle or nutrition program, keep in mind that everybody takes different steps to accomplish their goals. The most important things are to keep your health and safety top of mind, find what works best for you, track the changes that bring the greatest positive change, and then stick with that practice or program. If you find that following a rigorous program makes you neglect things that matter more, such as being there for family, showing up for work or helping out someone in need, then that particular program is not the right fit. Choose the program that yields the most fruit in your life and the lives of those around you, and never quit. Happy hunting!

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