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75 Hard and Every TikTok Weight Loss Trend Ranked By an Expert

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Maxwell Barna

Published 02/16/2024

Spend a while scrolling through social media, especially TikTok, and odds are you’ll encounter someone enthusiastically sharing their experience with a new fitness or weight loss program. These days, it can feel like health and wellness challenges are proliferating so quickly it’s hard to keep up. By the time you’ve got your fitness equipment ready to jump onto one, there’s a new one taking the internet by storm.

But how effective are the hashtag-friendly regimens we’ve been seeing more of lately, and what makes them so alluring anyway? Well, like most things, the answers depend on a lot of complicated factors. But there are some important throughlines.

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In general, we tend to be drawn to challenges like the “30-30-30 approach,” which has recently gone viral on TikTok, when they speak to a need we’ve already identified for ourselves. If you know that you’ve been wanting to lose weight, the simple structure of 30-30-30 (eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up followed by 30 minutes of exercise) just might help you harness some motivation to get started on that journey. And if you experience some initial success within the framework of a specific, focused challenge—as opposed to a more nebulous resolution to lose weight—you may also notice an uptick in inspiration to keep going. 

Another important factor helps explain why joining these programs can sometimes lead to a boost in willpower: Many popular challenges are social undertakings, explains Jessica Yu, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Sr. Director of Patient Experience at Hims & Hers. “There's that sense of being part of a bigger movement,” she says. “Human beings, by nature, are social creatures, so we love the idea of being part of something that’s bigger than ourselves.”

So does that mean anyone interested in weight loss should rush to pick from the expanding menu of social media-friendly fitness regimens? Are we all doomed to repeat the chaotic, even dangerous missteps of the TidePod challenge era? Not quite. 

We asked Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA, a physician specializing in obesity medicine and Senior Vice President of Weight Loss  at Hims & Hers, to share his thoughts on some of the most viral weight loss challenges and trends circulating online. Here’s his take on seven popular methods, ranked from best to worst according to what’s most effective and sustainable.

  1. Dry January: Cutting out alcohol for an entire month
    This one’s a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who’s normally a social drinker. Its positive effects extend to many different parts of the body, and it’s hard to argue with as a boost to weight loss: At the most basic level, cutting back on alcohol means cutting out unnecessary calories. That may be especially effective among young people, who are most likely to see their drinking habits contribute to obesity risk. Ditching the booze also means you’re likely to sleep better and have more energy overall, which makes it a lot easier to get consistent exercise. And, best of all, cutting alcohol for a full month might make it easier to realize that you don’t always need it in social situations. Some people who go back to consuming alcohol after an initial Dry January challenge say that they find themselves drinking less or reconsidering their relationship to alcohol.”

  2. Intermittent fasting: Concentrating your eating in specific hours of the day
    Intermittent fasting has been obviously huge for about five to eight years now. It’s been shown to work just as well as standard, caloric-restriction dieting. It may even be a little bit better in people with insulin resistance or diabetes. It’s sustainable for some people, but not everyone. Time-restricted eating, the most common kind, is best when it makes sense for people’s lifestyles. For example, you probably aren’t going to succeed if you try to stop eating for the entire day at 2 pm. But it’s often possible—and effective—to structure your day so that you’re not doing much eating after, say, 7 p.m.”

  3. Running a mile every day for 30 days
    There are lots of reasons to love this one—not even for weight loss, per se. Running, or even just walking, one mile a day is good exercise without being overpowering. Most people can do it, and it’s not timed. Exercise is a keystone habit, so when you’re exercising regularly, you’re also likely to sleep better. When you sleep better, you can diet better—and have energy to exercise. So on and so forth.”

  4. 12-3-30: Setting your treadmill to an incline of 12 and speed of 3 miles per hour, walking for 30 minutes
    I would say this one’s firmly in the middle, neither good nor bad. I only heard about this recently, in part because there’s no medical science behind it. It was done by an influencer, who saw a noticeable change after she tried it. I don’t doubt that she found it helpful, but the average person who has a medium amount of weight to lose may find it very hard to start out at 12% incline for 30 minutes. If it had a ramp-up in the first two weeks—maybe starting at less of an incline or for fewer than 30 minutes—I would think it’s more sustainable. That said, if you are able to do it, I think it’s a solid one, especially if you’re aiming for four to five days a week rather than every single day.” 

  5. Whole30: A nutritional change program that requires eliminating foods such as dairy, grains and added sugar from your diet
    I think this is going to be one of the challenges that causes people problems because it’s avoidance-based. Avoid, avoid, avoid—and what a long list, too! It seems to encourage all-or-nothing thinking as well, which we know can be very counterproductive. If you take one bite of something with dairy in it, for example, you’d need to start all over again. That feels needlessly punitive to me. Unless you’ve got allergies, one bite of pretty much anything isn’t going to kill you.”

  6. 75 Hard/30 Hard: A “mental toughness” program in which you must adhere to a set diet, cut alcohol, drink a gallon of water, work out twice, read 10 pages of a non-fiction book and take a progress photo—every single day for 75 days (or, in the modified version, 30 days)
    Did you get tired just reading that? I did. And I really don’t like this one. First of all, because the diet portion isn’t set by the program, we actually don’t have any proof that someone sticking to whatever diet they pick for 75 or 30 days will have the desired effects. The exercise portion is outlandish for anyone who’s not already in a consistent fitness routine. Going from zero to 100 here would be close to impossible for most people—how many working people have an hour and a half in our days to start exercising twice and reading non-fiction books? The answer drops even lower if you consider people with kids. And if you fail any one day, you have to start all over again. I know two people who’ve done it and were really excited about the accomplishment, but I can tell you for sure that when their 75 days are over, they’re not sticking to the same regimen. It really doesn’t encourage good long-term habits.” 

  7. Intuitive eating: Eating according to hunger and satiety cues
    I know that this works for many people, and some of my frustration is rooted in my own personal biases on this one. It’s also been around forever. There’s a book called Intuitive Eating that was first published almost 30 years ago. I understand the appeal of the premise—if you’ve been on a ton of diets before, of course it’s refreshing to consider acting like you’re not on one. But the average American who struggles with their weight doesn’t necessarily believe they’re on a strict diet day to day. Without clear guidance for how to shift your relationship to food and really listen to your body’s cues, this strikes me as too wishy-washy to really work. And, crucially, many people with obesity and other diseases don’t have the same food cues that other people do. They either get hungry faster or they stay hungry longer. To me, telling someone with a disease that affects their hunger cues to simply snap out of it feels a little like telling a depressed person to just cheer up.”

Where does that leave people who are serious about weight loss and looking for the lifestyle-change support that challenges can provide? Well, a number of the challenges above are intriguing, as Dr. Primack notes. But if you want to help setting realistic goals or evaluating new reports about diet trends, try measuring any proposed regimen against the SMART criteria: Is it specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (or relevant) and timely? That can be an incredibly helpful tool.

And of course, don’t be afraid to seek out additional help from physicians and dietitians if you’ve been going it alone for a long time already. Losing weight can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

8 Sources

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  8. Bovend’Eerdt, T. J., Botell, R. E., & Wade, D. T. (2009). Writing smart rehabilitation goals and achieving goal attainment scaling: A practical guide. Clinical Rehabilitation, 23(4), 352–361. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269215508101741
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