health

'When I first saw 75 Hard, I thought 'I could do that'. And that's exactly why I can't.'

Content warning: This post deals with eating disorders, and may be triggering for some readers. For help and support, you can contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673, or  via their website

My eating disorder loved a challenge, because it meant for a prescribed amount of days I could pretend I was bettering myself and ignore the unhealthy relationship I had with food, exercise and my own body. 

People praise those who can prove their mental toughness through health and fitness challenges.

‘You didn’t have a cheat meal for 30 days? Bravo - I could never do that’. 

Those kinds of comments sustained me, and continued to feed a vicious cycle that I found myself in from childhood.

I was eight when I first did a ‘challenge’ with my friend. 

We sat down and wrote out a list of all the things we could and couldn’t eat for the next week, and how much exercise we had to do each day. 

We took photos of each other and measured our body parts. 

I was 13 when my friend and I decided to only drink water for 3 days. I drank so much water that I filled myself to the brim, and I felt sick... sick enough to not eat anything. I think that was the point. 

All through high school I dipped my toe in and out of restricted eating patterns and excessive exercise, followed by a period of binge eating. 

This played on a loop as I envied my friends who brought a packed lunch every day and hadn’t cut any food groups out of it.

Watch: How to improve your daughter's body image. Post continues below.


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I spent my evenings scrolling through 'pro-ana' Tumblr accounts looking for inspiration... and challenges. 

When I left school, I became a vegan which was my biggest challenge yet. I was vegan for nearly 6 years. 

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I told myself, and everyone else, that I was vegan for the animals and the planet. And while that was true, and I know there are many people who live very healthy vegan lifestyles, I was vegan because it meant I could restrict what I ate and give it a label. 

It was a way of me controlling my body and the parameters of what went into my mouth in a palatable way for other people. ‘Sorry - I can’t have that, it has dairy in it,’ is an easier way of saying, ‘I’m terrified of how many grams of fat is in that’.

I found myself deep on YouTube, looking for inspiration from people like Freelee the Banana Girl, and for a period of time I was raw vegan. 

Yep - just raw fruits and vegetables, while I watched Freelee blend up 15 bananas into a smoothie. 

She, and the others, preached a high carb, low fat vegan diet and Monday was my special cheat day. 

I would go to my local shops and buy 10 nuts and a smoothie and enter it all into My Fitness Pal. 

I believed I was the epitome of health, and, unsurprisingly; I lost weight. The compliments flowed, and because I never looked 'sick,' there were no obvious red flags.

I didn’t realise at the time that I was unwell. I would spend all of my part-time income on juice cleanses to ‘cleanse my digestive system’. 

I would lose a few kilos of water weight, feel amazing and shit all at the same time and then as soon as I ate the weight would come back, so I’d book in another one. 

I’d jump on just about any and every challenge I came across. 30-day bikini body challenge? Absolutely, and I’ll chuck ‘no processed foods’ on to that while I’m at it. 

When I first went to my psychologist who helped with my recovery it was for anxiety, but within the first 5 minutes it became very clear that was not the reason I was sitting on her couch. 

I started crying about biscuits. I had eaten two biscuits and was grappling with that and very quickly she started to unravel my internalised fatphobia and disordered eating.

Listen to Lucy and Em as they unpack 75 Hard on The Undone. Post continues below.

With her help, I realised I had never had a healthy relationship with my body or food in my teenage or adult life. 

She asked me about veganism and if I thought that was another way of restricting, and I got immediately defensive. 

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I wasn’t ready to let go of that one yet. I didn’t until last year when doctors advised me that it was not a healthy choice for me long term due to a sudden onset autoimmune disease.

I’m 25, and from 23 to now I have come leaps and bounds in my approach to food, diet, exercise and body image. I consider myself to be recovered - although like many will tell you, recovery is lifelong, constant and slip-ups are common. 

So when I saw 75 Hard pop up on TikTok, I was confused by my immediate reaction: ‘I could do that. I’ll start tomorrow’. 

Then I quickly snapped myself back to reality. 

I have a healthy body. I exercise pretty much every morning to keep my physical and mental health in check. I go for walks and drink water already. 

I eat my vegetables, protein, fat and also lollies. I go out with my friends and have cocktails and burgers and we make memories and bond over food. I have balance - why was I so ready to disrupt it? And what would I be doing it for? I like myself, and I like my body.

When I think of 75 Hard now, I think of the women - not all, but some - who haven’t arrived there yet, who don’t feel comfortable in their bodies.

If you’re not feeling crash hot about yourself, you’re likely to see this come up on your feed and feel one of two ways. Motivated and ready to change, or despairing, because you know deep down this isn’t sustainable for you, and you could never complete this ‘challenge’. 

But rest assured, this challenge, or any of the thousands that have come before, have never promised to be sustainable. Because they can’t be - that’s why they go for a set number of days.

What happens on day 76? 

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In my experience, the first day after the challenge was the taste of freedom I’d promised myself was coming throughout it. But the little taste usually turned into a splurge, and then I felt like I’d completely undone all the ‘good work’. 

That’s because I hadn’t dealt with the root of the problem. I had just chucked a hat and sunglasses on it for a couple of months to disguise it while I ‘challenged myself’. The real challenge was going to therapy and unpicking all of this. 

I want to clarify that I believe health to be incredibly important. 

There are many times in life where challenging ourselves in the name of bettering our mental and physical health is important. 

If you feel awful when you eat fast food, challenge yourself to eat more nutritious, balanced meals. 

If you recognise that after you go for a walk you feel a lot more mental clarity, go for more walks when you can fit them in. If you’ve always dreamt of running a marathon, do it. These are all challenges.

Every individual is different when it comes to achieving their goals, but if you’re someone who keeps finding themselves starting a new diet, or a new ‘comeback’ challenge, I would encourage you to really think about why.

Are you doing it because someone with a slender body on TikTok did it? Is it because you want external validation? Is it for the progress photos you’ll show just about anyone who will indulge you (no judgment here, this was me for a long, long time. Too many of my friends have been subject to photos of me in my undies). 

There will always be exceptions to the rule. People who will do this challenge, and other challenges, and love it. 

They’ll come away feeling stronger and proud of themselves because it wouldn’t have been easy and yet they did it. 

But it’s become very clear to me amid discussions about this challenge with my circles that for a lot of women, this isn’t the case. 

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We’re doing it for the drawer of clothes that are a bit too small. But after the challenge? They’ll fit then. 

We’re doing it for the skinnier, happier version of ourselves that is promised to us if we just follow the rules. This makes me sad and makes me want to rip my hair out at the same time.

At 25, I've spent most of my life thinking about food, and my body. There has never been a day where I didn’t think about calories or the repercussions of a big meal and what that would mean when I looked in the mirror afterward.

I grew tired of it, and for that I am so grateful. We only get one body to enjoy, and if your body is healthy and assists you to do all the things you want to do - celebrate that. 

Challenge yourself to seek help from a professional if you recognise yourself in any of my experiences. Because 75 days is only a couple of months, but you’re stuck with yourself for life. 

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] 

You can also visit their website, here.

For more from Lucy Neville, you can follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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